Little prospect of RTÉ exit package details becoming public, Bakhurst says

Director general in a ‘quite unusual’ position with some politicians effectively asking him to break law and reveal confidential information

RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst has accepted there is little prospect of the details of exit packages paid to senior executives who have left the broadcaster over the past two years being revealed.

Minister for Media Catherine Martin asked Mr Bakhurst during a two-hour meeting on Monday to explore every possible avenue to bring clarity on how much taxpayers’ money was paid to former senior managers in RTÉ, including former head of strategy Rory Coveney and ex-director of finance Richard Collins.

Both have left the organisation since he became director general last year, with their exit deals involving undisclosed payments.

Ms Martin said on Monday approaching the individuals involved to ask if they would agree to waive the confidentiality clauses that formed part of their agreements was an option.


It was reported over the weekend that Mr Coveney, who oversaw the failed Toy Show the Musical project, which lost some €2.3 million, was paid about €200,000 when he left RTÉ last year.

Mr Bakhurst would not be drawn on the accuracy of that figure, but he confirmed that Mr Coveney’s exit package was far less than what it might have been if he had, for example, pursued a case at the Workplace Relations Commission.

In an interview on RTÉ radio‘s Drivetime programme, Mr Bakhurst insisted the law was very clear on the non-disclosure elements of such agreements. He also suggested that some elected politicians, but not Ms Martin, were effectively asking him to break the law, which put him in a “quite unusual” position.

He said RTÉ was taking legal advice on bringing more clarity to the agreements but also said confidentiality was standard in mediated situations. “I had a discussion with the Minister about pursuing every avenue possible, which is what I said would do on achieving maximum transparency. And the Minister is very well aware of Ireland’s employment laws, and the legal constraints.”

Mr Bakhurst argued that he had wanted to refresh the RTÉ management team and there were no grounds for firing Mr Coveney or Mr Collins, which meant exit packages had to be negotiated in both cases.

“I think the underlying thing is when you work in the semi-State [sector] like we do in RTÉ, we’re not in America, you can’t just fire people willy-nilly with no repercussions,” he said.

“Had I gone down that route, it would have resulted in a liability substantially more than what we ended up paying because we’d have legal cases taken against us.”

Earlier, Mr Bakhurst took issue with the suggestion that the deals were secret. He said he had disclosed in an interview last July that Mr Coveney had received a payment.

However, he rowed back on that during the interview, accepting he had said at the time that Mr Coveney had not received a payment “going out the door” but was entitled to a statutory payment, which would have been a fraction of the sum he is reported to have received.

He accepted that Toy Show the Musical was a “disaster” but said Mr Coveney had a 16-year career at the station and had presided over really successful initiatives during that time. He also argued that there was a zero net cost to the broadcaster as the position had not been filled.

After her meeting with Mr Bakhurst and RTÉ chairwoman Siún Ní Raghallaigh on Monday, Ms Martin said she had expressed “concern and frustration” at how the ongoing controversy was undermining the reform programme at the broadcaster.

Ms Martin said she fully supported a cap being put on exit payments in future. It emerged last week that former RTÉ chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe was given a redundancy payout of €450,000.

“We should not see the eye-watering, shocking amounts that we saw last week ever again,” the Minister said.

She expressed confidence in Mr Bakhurst notwithstanding the current controversy, saying: “I think he is the best person to be the DG of RTÉ.”

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Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times