RTÉ crisis: Siún Ní Raghallaigh was not willing to receive letter or meet, Catherine Martin tells committee

Minister for Media Catherine Martin is in front of Oireachtas committee over resignation of RTÉ board chair last week


Minister for Media Catherine Martin is facing questions from members of the Oireachtas Media Committee over the resignation of former RTÉ board chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh last week.

In the latest chapter of the RTÉ pay crisis, Ms Ni Ní Raghallaigh resigned from her role after Ms Martin failed to express confidence in her in a Prime Time interview, and expressed her disappointment that she had been misinformed about exit packages for RTÉ executives.

Follow the committee meeting live here.


Well that marks the end of an intense session of the Oireachtas media committee lasting over three hours.

There was no shortage of questions from TDs and Senators eager to pick apart exactly what led up to last week’s resignation of former RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh but Minister Catherine Martin held firm, declining a break and seeming to field each question with relative ease.

You can pick up on further Irish Times coverage tomorrow to see the reaction and analysis of how it all went down. Until then, thanks as always for following today’s live events as they unfolded. Good night.


Here is a timeline of events last Thursday, as set out by Ms Martin to the committee when asked by Sinn Féin’s Ruairí Ó Murchú.

  • At 10am there was a call from Siún Ní Raghallaigh to the assistant secretary at the Department to say she had inadvertently given the Minister incorrect information earlier that week and that the remuneration board had actually approved exit payments.
  • At about 11am the Minister was told. “I was quite taken aback,” Ms Martin said, adding that she would have to write to the chair because it was a “significant error”.
  • The assistant secretary then contacted Ms Ní Raghallaigh and told her of the Minister’s concerns and that the Minister intended to write her a letter setting out her disappointment.
  • The chair said she believed she had phoned the department’s former secretary general Katherine Licken last year to say the process had concluded, that Mr Collins would leave and that the remuneration committee would have played its part.
  • At about 2.30pm, Ms Ní Raghallaigh rang the secretary general and expressed her unhappiness at the prospect of getting a letter from the Minister. She would see that as a lack of confidence and she would have to consider her position, the committee heard.
  • At 4.30pm Ms Ní Raghallaigh called the assistant secretary and said RTÉ had received a press query about the role of the remuneration committee in exit packages.
  • The assistant secretary then called former secretary general Katherine Licken to check the information with her. The former secretary general recalled that a settlement had been reached but she had no recollection of having been told of a role by the remuneration committee.
  • At 6:45pm there was a call from the secretary general to Ms Ní Raghallaigh saying a letter would be sent and a meeting would be called for the following day. Also, she was told Ms Martin was going on Prime Time in a pre-arranged interview and, if asked, she could not conceal the fact of having received the wrong information.
  • Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she was not happy at the prospect of being called to another meeting that week.
  • At about 7.10pm the secretary general rang Ms Ní Raghallaigh and said a letter was important as well as a further meeting.
  • At 7.30 the letter was sent, two hours before the Prime Time interview.


The committee heard that less than three hours before last week’s Prime Time interview, Siún Ní Raghallaigh was told in a phone call that Ms Martin was going on Prime Time in a pre-arranged interview and if asked, she could not conceal the fact of having received incorrect information.


Labour’s Marie Sherlock asked the Minister if she had ever inquired about the exit package for former CFO Richard Collins? Ms Martin said she would have had if she knew the board had a role, but her understanding was that it was an operational matter for the director general.

Ms Sherlock said that, given the State bailout of RTÉ, it was “astounding” nobody in management asked for details of exit packages. Ms Martin said they could not cross a legal line.

“If you had 100,000 people working in RTÉ you cannot break the law,” she said, you cannot ask for something that cannot be given.


It is probably of little surprise to anyone but Ms Martin has said she has had no contact with Siún Ní Raghallaigh since last week’s events. Will you, asked Brendan Griffin TD? “I don’t imagine so, no.”


Ms Martin said she is hoping to appoint a full time replacement RTÉ chair and that in the meantime a rotating position would be initiated by the board. “I would like to move on that if I can within a week,” she said. “We are active on that in consultation with the senior members of Cabinet.”


“I was hoping that that was just a rash comment,” Ms Martin said of Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s suggestion she would resign if she received a letter from the Minister outlining her concerns.

Senator Malcolm Byrne said that if that was the case, what would be the point of a meeting the following day. Ms Martin said it was astounding, but had hoped she would meet her.

“I was remaining hopeful that was just something that was said in the heat of the moment,” Ms Martin said, adding that it was not typical behaviour.


They are half way through the session now and Ms Martin declined the opportunity for a break. That is a good sign she feels she is handling things. She has been challenged but has been well able for it.


Asked if she had not foreseen Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s resignation, Ms Martin said: “She was indicating she might resign if I sent a letter. But I was just hopeful that she’d reflect and think about having a meeting.”


Some interesting lines from the Minister regarding attempts to communicate with the former RTÉ chair last week.

On the issue of having been misinformed, Ms Martin told the committee that Siún Ní Raghallaigh had indicated she should not have a meeting her last week, nor should the Minister write a letter. “That sort of shook my confidence too,” Ms Martin said.

“It was indicated to the former chair that my most likely action would be that I would write a letter,” she said.

“The former chair was not willing to receive a letter,” she said, referencing a discussion with officials. “It’s quite problematic from a confidence point of view if the chair is not willing to receive a letter.

“Later on as phone calls progressed in the day I had it indicated to her that not only would I write a letter but I wanted to meet; she indicated she felt she would not come to a meeting.”


Snap analysis from Jack Horgan Jones:

Catherine Martin has now been in front of the committee for a little over an hour.

She has outlined the reasons for her effective loss in confidence in Siún Ní Raghallaigh several times – with a key revelation that the former chair was not willing to receive a letter last Thursday, after Martin raised concerns about being misinformed on the board’s role in signing off on Richard Collins’ exit package. She also told the committee that Ms Ní Raghallaigh did not want to meet the minister – and indeed could resign if a letter followed seeking a meeting and expressing disappointment. That will be a big talking point.

So far there has been a big emphasis on precisely how she ended up on Prime Time, with Martin under pressure to put to bed the perception that the situation could have been managed better than a bombshell interview, with several members driving at what happened in the run up to that interview, and whether it could have been cancelled or managed better. She agreed that the issue was broached with RTÉ before the interview, so it was clearly on the table that the interview was going to result in a big story emerging, but that she did not expect a question about a loss of confidence – something that has been much remarked upon during the week in the Leinster House bubble.

She has sketched out a picture of failing to get accurate or complete information from the RTÉ chair on several occasions, who, she said, twice had to apologise for not conveying full information about the departure of Rory Coveney and, months earlier, the push for Dee Forbes to resign.

So far, Martin has stuck to her main talking points and isn’t getting rattled – a moment of brief exasperation with Mattie McGrath aside. But a key part of this strategy is putting huge focus on Siún Ní Raghallaigh – who will, after an agreement by the committee, get her invite and her opportunity to tell her side of the story.


Ms Ní Raghallaigh had indicated she might resign if she had received a letter, Ms Martin said.


The Minister has told the committee that after last week’s gaps in information had emerged, the former chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh was not willing to receive a letter from her, via officials. “That’s quite problematic from a confidence point of view,” Ms Martin says. Nor had she agreed to a meeting.


The former secretary general Katherine Licken and former chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh are to be invited to appear before the committee.


Senator Carrigy asks if the Minister has confidence in her officials. Yes, of course she does. The “confidence” question is getting a good showing here tonight; it’s being flung at anything that moves. Possibly the committee is hoping the Minister might repeat the very Prime Time performance they’re lambasting her for.


Cassells points out that Kevin Bakhurst and Ní Raghallaigh were a team. “If you were misled by the chair you were misled by the director general and how can you tonight express confidence in him?” he wants to know. Ms Martin says because she had been given inaccurate information by the chair.

The DG’s role, she says, is very distinct and her “connection” is with the chair of the board. “Why bother summon him at all? Was he there to make the tea?” Cassells bellows, referring to their meetings. It is getting animated. “Either they should both be gone or they should both be in their jobs. Is this personal?” Cassells wants to know. Of course that is batted away, another dramatic committee question that will never land the kind of confirmatory answer it ostensibly seeks.

Senator Micheál Carrigy again puts it to the Minister that it was difficult to believe she had not expected the dreaded “do you have confidence” question on Prime Time. It is the question so baffling in the build up that she is bound to be asked it repeatedly. The Minister said she had tried to fudge, and to “keep the door open”.


Fianna Fáil Senator Shane Cassells asks the Minister if she felt had been lied to by Ms Ní Raghallaigh. In response she said she did not believe it was intentional. But this had happened before – the former chair had forgotten to tell her she had asked Dee Forbes for her resignation and then there were questions about other issues.

Was it that “your blood was up” going into Prime Time and you were going to show them “who was boss”? “Certainly not,” the Minister says, and anyone who knows her would know that. But you could have backed out of Prime Time, Cassells says, reiterating the line of Senator Warfield. Was there a need to go ahead with this? Did you intend to secure her resignation on the Friday? “You had reached the end of the road with your relationship,” Cassells says, but the Minister says he is putting words in her mouth.


“You’ve crashed the car here,” says Mr Warfield in closing, and you’ve driven it as fast as you can. Hmm, how many of these observations are going to be so carefully phrased, one might wonder.


Ms Martin said she could not predict what will happen in an interview. That is in relation to the most obvious opening question – did you not expect to be asked if you had confidence in Siún Ní Raghallaigh? “Certainly that is the question I would expect if I was the Minister,” said Mr Warfield, “I think that is slightly ridiculous.” Ms Martin must be thinking about what is yet to come if this is the opening gambit from a committee intent on getting some answers.

“I really wasn’t expecting any no confidence question because I was really hoping we could meet on Friday,” she said of her intended meeting Ms Ní Raghallaigh.

But was it a decision or a mistake to effectively let the chair go during her Prime Time interview? Ms Martin is already on the ropes here, but she is probably expecting it this time. “I had to be transparent on that programme,” she said. She wanted to avoid actually saying the words, I have no confidence.


Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield wants to know why she prioritised a media interview over a meeting the former chair. It is a robust opening, confrontational, a sign of things to come. “From one politician to another, media interviews are arranged all of the time,” he tells her in a softly spoke rebuke. Was the media interview more important, he asks? Ms Martin said it was too late on Thursday evening to pull out of the Prime Time interview and wanted to have a proper discussion with the chair on Friday.


Ms Martin is now into the reeds of recent events, and specifically the exit payments. She met the former chair, she said, and raised media reports on the possible role of board members in agreeing severance packages. “I had not received any formal correspondence relating to such an important matter,” she said.

Then came RTE’s letter on updated legal advice regarding the payments and a small note on board member involvement in agreeing them – but again, she said, she was assured there was no board approval. After that, she received a letter correcting that position and outlining the function of the remuneration committee.


The Minister is opening her remarks by addressing the reform of RTÉ. She is still awaiting reports on that subject, she has said, but they are expected in March. As to what is the best approach on the future of funding, no decisions can be made until the reviews are available.

She is committed to a reformed, transformed broadcaster, she said. “This is the core principle that underlines my work.”


The committee, chaired by Fianna Fáil’s Niamh Smyth, has now been opened to public session. Three potentially dramatic, or possibly disappointing, hours are now under way.


In the build up to tonight’s committee session, details of Minister Martin’s opening remarks – brought to us in advance by Jack Horgan-Jones – show she is preparing to stick resolutely to her guns.

It is a complex chain of events, forming just the latest part of a complicated saga. But in terms of what is ahead of us tonight, the key claims from Ms Martin’s opening statement include that:

– Inaccurate information given to her by Siún Ní Raghallaigh regarding the board’s involvement in approving an exit package for Richard Collins gave her “considerable cause for concern”. And it was not the first time.

– She did not receive “formal correspondence” regarding the remuneration committee’s role in signing off on the exit package.

The importance of tonight’s meeting is reflected in the fact that RTÉ news programmes throughout the day have advertised its live airing on its news channel.


“A grand trial over two women making a mistake” – Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty last night on whether it all amounts to a need for tonight’s hearing.


Remember, anybody who is interested in all this, but utterly or just slightly lost, Sorcha Pollak and Arthur Beesley give a very useful breakdown of it all in our latest In The News podcast. It is a tricky one to keep abreast of after all.


Pat Leahy

A spokesman for Catherine Martin has insisted she was not expecting a question about whether she had confidence in Siún Ní Raghallaigh when she appeared on Prime Time last week.

He said she had not decided in advance to express no confidence in Ms Ní Raghallaigh as she had not expected to be asked about it.

The spokesman declined to say who had helped prepare Ms Martin for the media appearance.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for the three Government parties agreed that the former secretary general Katherine Licken should appear before the Oireachtas Media Committee, once the committee has formally invited her.

Spokespeople for the Taoiseach and Tánaiste said that they trusted Ms Martin to make the correct judgments on issues related to RTÉ.


Our political correspondent Jack Horgan Jones has seen Martin’s opening statement to the committee:

Former RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh had previously failed to “give a clear account of her and the board’s role in RTÉ” to Minister for Communications Catherine Martin prior to events leading up to her resignation.

In an opening statement which will be delivered at a meeting of the Oireachtas media committee on Tuesday evening, Ms Martin will outline the events leading up to the chair’s resignation in the early hours of Friday morning.

She will say that inaccurate information given to her by the chair in the days beforehand regarding the board’s involvement in approving an exit package for former chief financial officer Richard Collins was a “failure to provide accurate and timely information” which “gave me considerable cause for concern”.

“Regrettably, this was not the first time that the then Chair had failed to give me a clear account of her and the Board’s work at RTÉ,” she will say.

The opening statement makes no reference to a call from Ms Ní Raghallaigh to the former top civil servant in Ms Martin’s department, which RTÉ says detailed the process and the board’s involvement in the exit package. Neither does it mention RTÉ guidelines on the role of the remuneration committee which were sent to the Department in September and referred to at a public meeting of the Public Accounts Committee in the days after Mr Collins’ exit was agreed.

“My relationship, as Media Minister, is through the Chair. This relationship is fundamental to the development of a positive and productive future for the organisation. And confidence in the reliability of communications between both is absolutely critical, particularly at such a sensitive time in the broadcaster’s history,” Ms Martin will say.

Ms Martin will tell the committee that she did not receive “formal correspondence” regarding the remuneration committee’s role in signing off on the exit package at the centre of the controversy.

Ms Martin will tell the committee that she will not be “deflected” from delivering reform in public service broadcasting saying it must be protected in an increasingly turbulent world.

She will also confirm delays to two external independent reviews of culture and governance at RTÉ saying that she had hoped to have them completed by the end of this month but they will now be delivered in March.

A new funding model will “safeguard a necessary pillar of our democracy,” she will tell the Committee, but she will say it cannot be decided on until the independent reports are submitted.


Minister for Media Catherine Martin is preparing to answer some tough questions tonight on the latest chapter in the RTÉ management controversy – namely the sudden resignation of former board chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh last week and the events that lead to it.

That late night development followed an apparent unwillingness by Ms Martin to express confidence in the chair, a reluctance that will form a central aspect of questioning at the Oireachtas Media Committee, sitting in a three hour session from 7pm.

Ms Martin, who has the support of Cabinet amid building political pressure, has said she was not given accurate information around whether the RTÉ board had approved large exit payments for senior RTÉ executives, the latest element of a months-long crisis engulfing the national broadcaster.

It has emerged that former chief financial officer Breda O’Keefe had received €450,000 and Rory Coveney, the former director of strategy, is reported to have received around €200,000. Details of any settlement applying to Richard Collins, also former CFO, have remained confidential due to legal advice.

This evening, the committee will attempt to get to the bottom of events that ultimately lead to the Prime Time interview and the resignation of Ms Ní Raghallaigh shortly afterwards.

That will include how much Ms Martin’s own department officials knew regarding the oversight of the broadcaster’s remuneration committee.

The former chair had said she had been in touch with the Department after the deal with Mr Collins was agreed, and so indirectly the Minister should have known. There is some dispute over this aspect, however, and much should be unpicked during tonight’s proceedings.

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