RTÉ crisis: Pressure on Catherine Martin to respond to ex-chair’s ‘hands-off’ comment

No Dáil questions scheduled before St Patrick’s Day recess, and it is ‘not decided’ if Minister will face media

There is pressure on Minister for Media Catherine Martin to publicly respond to former RTÉ chairwoman Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s accusation that she had a “hands-off” approach in relation to the national broadcaster.

Opposition politicians have demanded that Ms Martin answer questions on RTÉ in the Dáil in advance of the St Patrick’s Day recess, but this has not been added to the Dáil schedule. It could be weeks before she will appear again at the Oireachtas Committee on Media.

Ms Martin’s spokesman on Tuesday night said it was “not decided” when asked if she would make herself available to the media prior to her departure for the US on ministerial duties on Friday.

A series of controversies have hit RTÉ since it emerged last June that undisclosed payments had been made to former Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy. Ms Ní Raghallaigh resigned as RTÉ chairwoman after Ms Martin failed to express confidence in her during an interview on Prime Time last month.


In a statement on Monday Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she only had “a handful” of meetings with Ms Martin during her 15 months as chair, and suggested Ms Martin had “a hands-off approach”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended Ms Martin’s level of engagement with RTÉ highlighting 11 meetings she had with Ms Ní Raghallaigh since last summer. He said the Minister was willing appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Media but would “like that to be in the context of the final [Government-commissioned] reports being published”. These reports are not expected to be delivered for a number of weeks.

It is understood that Ms Martin wrote to the Oireachtas Committee on Media on Tuesday night detailing her meetings with Ms Ní Raghallaigh, as well as providing it with documents including some related to the former chairwoman’s departure.

It is understood that Ms Martin’s letter will outline 15 meetings that took place during Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s tenure as RTÉ chairwoman, 12 of which took place since the crisis at the broadcaster started in June.

The Cabinet signed off on the appointment of former KPMG managing partner Terence O’Rourke as the RTÉ board’s new chairman. Human resources professional Terri Moloney and Dr Neasa Hardiman, an award-winning executive producer, director and writer, have also been appointed as members of the board.

Mr Varadkar told a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting that he and Ms Martin would meet the new chairman soon.

Separately, the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published its report on the RTÉ saga. The report concludes that a note taken of a meeting which approved undisclosed payments to Mr Tubridy “suggests an attempt to circumvent normal regulations and procedures on the part of RTÉ”.

It concludes that a summary of the note supplied to the committee suggests an attempt to “conceal the purported underwriting of the contract and payments to Mr Tubridy, and appears to refer to a commitment by then director general Dee Forbes to guarantee certain payments to Mr Tubridy”.

Among the main findings of the PAC report was that RTÉ may have “deliberately misrepresented” the list of earnings of its 10 most highly paid presenters. It says the under-reporting of Mr Tubridy’s earnings by €120,000 between 2017 and 2019 “seriously undermined public trust”.

The report’s main recommendation is that the Government should bring RTÉ back under the statutory remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Government is to examine the report but neither Micheál Martin nor Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe on Tuesday offered any commitment that this recommendation will be implemented.

The PAC report also recommends that RTÉ ensures that the terms of any future severance agreements with staff do not contain any confidentiality clauses.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times