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Catherine Martin’s media committee appearance shows confidence in RTÉ chair was lost before Prime Time interview

Martin’s net point was that the accumulation of incorrect information from the former chairwoman shook her confidence

Almost one week after Catherine Martin’s fateful Prime Time interview prompted Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s abrupt exit from RTÉ, the Minister for Media is not changing her tune.

At the Oireachtas Media Committee last night Martin reiterated how she came to have “considerable cause for concern” because of the lack of “accurate and timely information” from RTÉ's chairwoman about the role of the board remuneration committee in the October exit payment for former chief financial officer Richard Collins. “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 said.

That was a reference to Ní Raghallaigh’s failure to tell Martin she sought the resignation of former RTÉ director general Dee Forbes in June at the very outset of scandal. But the Minister told the committee how Ní Raghallaigh also failed to say the July departure of former director of strategy Rory Coveney was something other than the straightforward resignation that RTÉ described at the time. That was all too salient because Coveney received a reported €200,000 payout despite his prime role in the Toy Show, the Musical debacle.

Martin’s net point was that the accumulation of incorrect information from the former chairwoman shook her confidence. The decisive moment was reached last Thursday when Ní Raghallaigh made contact with the Minister’s department to say she inadvertently failed to say at meetings on Monday and Wednesday that the Collins deal did indeed go through the RTÉ board via the board remuneration committee.


That was the catalyst for Martin’s Prime Time intervention. The Minister said she didn’t expect to be asked whether she had confidence in Ní Raghallaigh, but it still seemed an obvious question in the circumstances. She insisted she was determined not to say she had no confidence but that was academic. The chairwoman had no choice once the Minister declined to say she had confidence.

New information emerged about the sequence of events leading up to the TV interview. The Minister said she told Ní Raghallaigh on Thursday that she was minded to write a formal letter setting out her concerns. The chairwoman’s response was to argue against that course, arguing she was not willing to receive such a letter and might resign if the Minister sent it. It follows that Martin must have known the chairwoman was on the precipice when she went on live television.

All of that suggests the point of no return had already been reached in terms of the Minister’s confidence in the RTÉ chairwoman.

True enough, Ní Raghallaigh’s tenure is now in the rear view mirror with all the other “former” RTÉ figures of the debacle: Forbes, Collins, Coveney, Ryan Tubridy, the previous chairwoman Moya Doherty and assorted others who have featured in the saga.

But the extent to which Martin made so much of the breakdown of trust with Ní Raghallaigh now raises questions for her engagements with the remaining independent members of the RTÉ board and director general Kevin Bakhurst.

Recall that the RTÉ board and Bakhurt’s management team have backed Ní Raghallaigh to the hilt. In two separate statements on Friday the independent directors and remuneration committee endorsed the former chairwoman’s account that she told Martin’s department in October of the committee’s involvement in the Collins deal. In an earlier Friday statement RTÉ said the chairwoman had told the department and that the information was “taken as read” but “seems now that it shoudn’t have been”.

That is rejected on the Minister’s side. Martin told the committee that Ní Raghallaigh at one point last week said she “imagined” she would have disclosed the committee’s role in a phone call with the then department secretary general Katherine Licken, since retired and not at the committee last night because she is no longer in post and is now a private citizen.

The Minister meets the RTÉ board on Friday but the gulf between them seems only to widen.

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