Tánaiste tells Dáil of concern over governance issues at RTÉ

Micheál Martin speaks of his ‘dismay’ at the unfolding events within the national broadcaster

The situation in RTÉ is “concerning” with an absence of “proper governance” on a whole range of issues, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin spoke of his “dismay” at the unfolding events within the national broadcaster and added the Government shared the public’s annoyance and anger.

However, the Fianna Fáil leader said full Exchequer funding for public service broadcasting meant that any Government in the future would have a level of control over Irish media that “would not be a healthy one”.

Mr Martin said the public should pay the TV licence and that replacing it with Exchequer funding could potentially have a negative impact on media in Ireland “into the future and on its independence and on its freedom”.


Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said he was satisfied that the Revenue Commissioners would apply the law to RTÉ “without fear or favour” regarding tax arrangements of exit payments.

“I do not direct them on operational matters but they have all of the powers they need and they will fully discharge their responsibilities,” Mr McGrath said.

“They will engage directly with RTÉ and any other relevant parties to ensure all taxation obligations have been fully met in this regard.”

An independent report on exit packages paid to RTÉ staff under a voluntary redundancy scheme has said the Revenue Commissioners may wish to investigate whether tax was paid correctly in several cases.

The report, carried out by legal firm McCann Fitzgerald, found a significant exit package paid to RTÉ's former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe had not been approved correctly. Instead of being signed off by RTÉ's senior management team, known as the executive board, as required, the exit package was approved by then-director general Dee Forbes.

It follows a separate report from Grant Thornton, published last week, which said Toy Show the Musical, which made a loss of €2.2 million, had not been signed off by the RTÉ board, or its audit committee, and there had been a lack of interrogation of the figures underpinning the project.

Sinn Féin deputy leader and finance spokesman Pearse Doherty described the recent report’s findings as “damning” and said the public were “absolutely sick to the teeth of all of this”.

“It’s little wonder that payments of the TV licence have fallen off a cliff ... People are sick of the squandering of public money, sick of the lack of accountability with no one held to account,” he said.

“It seems the only people who are being held to account are the 60 people that are being brought before the courts every day for non-payment of the TV licence and what a contrast, one rule for RTÉ executives and another rule for the taxpayers.”

Mr Doherty said the current situation was “untenable” and the Government needed to “stop dithering” and act. The Donegal TD said his party would abolish the TV licence and instead fund RTÉ and other public service media through Exchequer funding, in line with the Future of Media Commission’s recommendations.

He also said TG4 was not funded by a licence fee but instead received Exchequer finances and questioned the Tánaiste as to whether there was interference with the editorial control at the station.

Mr Martin also said Sinn Féin’s instincts in terms of the media had been well demonstrated by their “serial suing of media in this country”.

He said from Sinn Féin’s “party leader down” it had been “systemic in your legal actions against the media, which is having a chilling effect”.

The Tánaiste said this needed to be put on the record when the party was advocating for a system of full Exchequer funding.

Mr Doherty pointed to a number of former members of Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party who had sued Irish media outlets and added “don’t start this nonsense”.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times