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‘She said-she said’: The conflicts between accounts of Catherine Martin and Siún Ní Raghallaigh

Newly released documents reveal further details on interactions between Minister for Media and former RTÉ chairwoman that led to the latter’s resignation last month

The latest documents relating to Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s resignation as RTÉ chair last month add further complexity to an already contested version of what transpired in the run up to her stepping down.

What do they reveal about the key events, and are we any closer to knowing exactly what happened and why? These records add to the “she said-she said” situation where gaps remain in the public’s knowledge of the high-profile falling out between a Government Minister and RTÉ's chairwoman.

Phone calls

It was already known that there was frantic communication throughout the day on February 22nd, culminating with Ní Raghallaigh’s resignation in the early hours of February 23rd.

Ní Raghallaigh had inaccurately told Minister for Media Catherine Martin that the board had no role in approving an exit package for former RTÉ chief financial officer Richard Collins – something she says was an oversight – and the Minister had gone out and repeated this to the media. The RTÉ chair rang Martin’s department on the morning of February 22nd to tell them of her error, prompting a flurry of phone calls across the day between Martin’s officials and Ní Raghallaigh.


The documents supplied to the Oireachtas media committee show that as events reached a climax, Ní Raghallaigh offered to speak to Martin on the phone. This precise detail was not publicly known, although Martin had made clear at the committee last week that she didn’t feel a phone call was appropriate, and wanted her officials to be party to any exchange, hence her preference for a meeting.

But Martin also knew, because by this stage Ní Raghallaigh had threatened to resign several times, that if Martin sent a letter communicating her disappointment, the RTÉ chair would resign.

It is difficult to know exactly what weight to put on this: one interpretation is that Martin spurned a phone call and a potential chance to de-escalate matters. Another is that a phone call would likely have been fruitless and led to all parties simply restating their positions. Martin’s preference for a discussion with officials is perhaps overly formal and procedural, but her trust in Ní Raghallaigh had been much depleted by that stage and it’s credible that she wanted to cover herself and avoid further ambiguities.


Key questions in the whole saga are, at what point did the department know of the board’s approval for Collins’s exit package, and what did they do with the information? On February 22nd, Ní Raghallaigh reminded them that she had communicated the board’s involvement in a phone call at the time the package was agreed last October – she has been absolutely firm on this point. But Martin – and the department – say she merely indicated that she “imagined” this is what she would have said.

Ní Raghallaigh has taken particular issue with this, saying her use of the word “imagined” was in reference to what the department’s then secretary general Katherine Licken told the Minister following this call, not what she recalled about her message to the department about the board’s involvement.

Her statement on Monday is clear on this: “I explained this when asked on Thursday, February 22nd and, when pressed, I conceded that I couldn’t possibly know if the detail of my conversation with the secretary general was passed on to the Minister, as I was not a party to that conversation, but that I would imagine that it had.

“A different construction is now being put on that, my use of the word ‘imagine’ is now being misrepresented.”

This matters, because it suggests the chair was effectively forced out for failing to remember correctly information that already resided within the department. But the note fails to shed any real new light on this. It merely restates what Martin told the committee: the department’s version, which is that Ní Raghallaigh “imagined that she would have also referred to the role of the remuneration committee in that conversation”.


One of the most damaging allegations laid at Martin’s door in her statement on Monday was that the Green Party deputy leader was a “hands-off” minister when it came to the RTÉ crisis. The main evidence for this was how frequently she met – or did not meet – with Ní Raghallaigh.

Martin had told the media committee that her main line of communication was through Ní Raghallaigh, and gave the impression of having a fair degree of contact. Not so, said the former RTÉ chair – it was “not true” to claim there were formal or scheduled meetings, and that there were “only a handful of meetings directly with the Minister”. Instead, she said, the main line of communication was with officials.

Martin’s letter to committee chair Niamh Smyth sketches out a total of 15 meetings. However, they do show two periods where meetings were infrequent – a seven-week stretch across July and August (when Martin has said she suffered a bereavement), and a second period between November 9th last and January 23rd.

On the face of it, this would seem to undermine Ní Raghallaigh’s contention – but Ní Raghallaigh is unlikely to be heard from again on the matter, including on what type of meetings they were and what stock she put in them, or what she meant by direct meetings. This is likely to remain a point of divergence.

What isn’t disclosed

The committee, somewhat surprisingly, did not seek documentation relating to a key period: October 9th and 10th. This is when Ní Raghallaigh says she fully briefed the department; the department says it did not receive vital details about board sign-off. Martin has previously said no note exists of the crucial phone call between her then secretary general and the RTÉ chair, but if more records exist around this time within the department, they may shed further light on this key issue.