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We all know RTÉ is a mess - but it’s not the only mess in town

‘There cannot be one special level of scrutiny for our national broadcaster and a broad lack of scrutiny of others’

What would happen to any public body, government department, local authority, or publicly funded entity were they subject to the granular scrutiny RTÉ has come under for the guts of a year? And if we know that the skeletons would come dancing out of the closets, is that not a worthy process to pursue?

The week before the country was learning about who said what in a meeting with Catherine Martin, who opened their mouth or didn’t, who was sitting in a car with the minister on the way to Prime Time’s studio, and all the rest, the National Children’s Hospital quietly scooted outrageously over its budget yet again to the tune of €500 million. Another half a billion thrown at a building in Dublin 8, while the minutiae of a media organisation’s remuneration committee mechanisms was leading national news bulletins.

Transparency and accountability regarding RTÉ are important. But why only the national broadcaster? Why not everything else taxpayers’ money is spent on? It’s not one or the other. This torrid chapter in RTÉ's history must be closed so that the organisation can be saved, improved, and funded efficiently, with the right people in charge of its operations. But we also need a dose of perspective. The RTÉ saga represents many things, but one of those is how fantastic it has been as a focal point for the Government. Politicians may say they’re sick of it, but it has surely served a fine purpose for distracting and diverting from so many other issues, scandals, and incidents of waste and wild expenditure.

The latest twist in the RTÉ saga, explained

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One very obvious piece of work that should be done is an audit of exit and redundancy payments across the public sector, State bodies, government departments, and any entity that is publicly funded or paid for by the taxpayer. This is important for transparency, but also for everyone to consider whether the taxpayer is getting value for money.


The report by Martin Wall in this newspaper last Thursday that Dean Sullivan, a senior executive in the Health Service Executive, secured a redundancy package of €389,000 having worked in the organisation for just six years, is surprising to many people. We are told that this exit package was the outcome of a legal process and was in line with Government policy. And yet, this is a package equivalent to €64,833 for each year’s work in the organisation. Sullivan was the deputy director general and chief strategy and planning officer for the HSE, meaning his salary would be about €200,000. The package is close to two years’ salary. Given that the median annual salary in Ireland for men is €45,537 and €37,782 for women, it would take the average woman worker more than a decade to earn the total of Sullivan’s exit package alone, before tax.

Imagine how amazing it would be to walk out of a six-year stint in the public service with more than the cost of the average five-bedroom detached house in Kerry, which stands at €351,000, plus change of €38,000 to furnish and decorate it. Meanwhile, many junior nurses in Ireland have to up sticks to Australia and the Middle East in an attempt to scrape together savings for a mortgage, thousands of miles from their families and friends.

People are fired from their jobs every day and given nothing. That’s not fair. People on zero-hours contracts have their shifts cut and that’s that. That’s not fair either. Ordinary workers can only dream of the payouts we’ve been hearing about, from RTÉ to the HSE, and everything in between we don’t yet know about. That certainly doesn’t feel fair.

Today, statutory redundancy in Ireland is two weeks’ gross pay per year of service up to a ceiling of €600 per week plus one week’s pay, which is also subject to the ceiling of €600. Clearly, we have in Ireland an inequitable redundancy system. One cohort of workers — the lower paid —have statutory redundancy. Others — the well paid — have exit packages, mediation processes, and confidentiality agreements, where an entire system of legal advice and HR wrangling kicks in to administer and protect what you get on your way out the door.

We all know RTÉ is a mess. We also know that it’s not the only mess in town. It’s in the ha’penny place compared to the chicanery and waste that goes on elsewhere in the public service. Media must continue to report on RTÉ and enlighten the public in the pursuit of accountability and transparency. But it is also time to cast the net wider. This is a wake-up call around public trust in the institutions and bodies that form the architecture of the Irish State. People who are not in senior roles in publicly funded workplaces look at these payouts and wonder how they’re reasonable. This all causes resentment, the driving emotion in contemporary voter sentiment. There cannot be one special level of scrutiny for RTÉ and a broad lack of scrutiny of others. A reckoning for one institution cannot, and should not, mean everything else is off the hook.