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Fintan O’Toole: In the end, Ryan Tubridy resorted to the Father Ted defence

The broadcaster had three tasks in the most important live show of his career

The crackle of static emanating from our TV speakers while we were watching Ryan Tubridy and his agent Noel Kelly answer questions before the Oireachtas committees was not interference. It was the noise of bridges being burned: hiss, scrunch, whoosh!

Tubridy’s task in the most important live show of his career was to rebuild a relationship of trust to three crucial constituencies: the political system, his employer RTÉ and, most importantly, the public.

By that metric, the performance was a failure as comprehensive as the Toy Show musical.

First, Tubridy and Kelly insulted the committees by giving them 39 pages of documents only hours before the hearings began and then tried to sell them lines of explanation they were patently not buying.


Second, Tubridy attacked RTÉ so strongly (albeit with some justification) that it is very hard to see how relations can be repaired.

And most crucially, the duo showed no real capacity to confront and account for the most basic fact in the whole saga: that Tubridy at no time thought to inform his listeners or viewers that the figures reported in hundreds of news stories about his payments from RTÉ were bogus.

It is all about the T words: truth and trust. The first was so important to Tubridy that he used it or its derivatives 17 times in his opening statement. He even wrote it in block capitals: “The full TRUTH was concealed.”

Yet after all the hours of questioning, there was still no explanation for how a man of TRUTH with unique and direct access to the Irish public never once thought to correct so many patent falsities.

Before his evidence to the committees there was one possible explanation, albeit a remote one: that he simply did not know that the published figures were wrong. That possibility was dispelled very early in the first session: Tubridy made entirely clear that he was well aware that RTÉ's figures were not correct and was “very surprised” when he saw them.

The Tubridy/Kelly story of what happened in relation to the undeclared payments of €225,000 to Tubridy by RTÉ in return for his planned appearances in Renault showrooms depends on two propositions that stretch credulity.

Ryan Tubridy at the Oireachtas: what we learned

Listen | 22:09

The first of these is that, as Kelly put it, this money “was never an RTÉ payment”. It was “a separate commercial arrangement” between Tubridy and Renault and, in Kelly’s words, “if RTÉ paid [Renault], that was an RTÉ thing”.

This makes no sense whatsoever. The Renault deal was suggested by RTÉ to Kelly and Tubridy. It cost Renault nothing.

It was underwritten by RTÉ and ultimately partly paid from the public purse. It was even RTÉ that paid the costs of staging the mock Late Late Show events in the Renault showrooms.

And, if Kelly and Tubridy thought the money were not RTÉ payments, why did Kelly start to pressure RTÉ to pay it during the Covid pandemic?

Few people in the political system or in the general public will buy the line that a deal organised and paid for by RTÉ was really a private arrangement.

To do so, one would have to find credible the parallel that Tubridy himself suggested: that this was exactly like him doing a deal with a publisher to write a book. For the parallel to work, RTÉ would have had to suggest the contents of Tubridy’s book, guarantee that the publisher would not have to pay a cent and promise Tubridy that he would get paid even if the publisher rejected the book. That scenario is utterly fantastical – but it is what Tubridy expects the committees and the public to accept.

Secondly, a crucial part of the Tubridy/Kelly narrative is that the nature of the Renault deal was not a secret and that they therefore had no part in a deceptive process. Again, Tubridy resorted to capitals: “RTÉ's underwriting of Renault’s payment obligations was NOT a secret.”

Really? No one is going to believe this when the invoices were (a) deliberately anonymised to conceal Tubridy’s identity; (b) made out to a London company that Kelly claimed he had never heard of before and had no reason to believe was connected to RTÉ; (c) falsely described as “consultancy fees”; and (d) routed through a Kelly-owned company not otherwise used for Tubridy’s payments.

Tubridy’s own position on all of this is bafflingly contradictory. On the one hand, he is emphatic that the process was NOT a secret. On the other, he is equally emphatic that he himself knew nothing about it: “I don’t get into invoices and that sort of thing.”

How could he possibly make the first claim if the second is true? If, as Tubridy insisted, “Everyone in RTÉ who needed to know knew”, is it not remarkable that this did not include the actual beneficiary, Ryan Tubridy?

And in the end, Tubridy resorted to the Father Ted defence: the money was only resting in his account. He always planned to give it back if he did not do all the Renault shows.

These are very weak foundations of “truth” on which to rebuild anything, let alone what Kelly claimed to be his client’s position as “the most trusted man in Ireland”.

Tubridy’s nod towards contrition was his acknowledgement that he was “not without blame” for not correcting the figure given for his earnings and that he “should have been more inquisitive”. It’s not a great claim in mitigation for a man whose entire professional life and reputation is based on being inquisitive.

He conceded that there is “room for perception issues” in the whole saga – a very roundabout way of saying that the whole thing looks bad. He could not bring himself to accept that RTÉ paying him the Renault money was “wrong” – “unorthodox” was his best shot.

But in any case, these notes of sorrow were drowned by his anger and self-pity. His leitmotif was victimhood: “I’ve been dragged into a mess not of my making”. As Kelly put it, the whole debacle was “nothing to do with us”.

In addressing the issue of trust, Tubridy made it plain that he continues to see it as something, not that he lost by his own failures, but that, as he put it, “was taken from me”. His “name has been sullied… for what?”

There are, undoubtedly, many Tubridy fans who will echo that plaintive cry of victimhood. But a restoration of public trust demands a much more convincing sense that he understands “for what” he lost it.