RTÉ pay crisis: Bakhurst to seek fresh legal advice on disclosure of exit packages

‘Moral obligation’ on RTÉ's former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe to repay exit package, Martin says

RTÉ boss Kevin Bakhurst has given an undertaking to the Government that he will seek fresh legal advice on the disclosure of the details of individual exit packages at the broadcaster.

It comes amid political pressure for details of an exit package paid to former RTÉ director of strategy Rory Coveney to be revealed. Mr Coveney stepped down from his role last year after coming under pressure over his role in the ill-fated musical during Oireachtas committee hearings into the wider financial and governance controversy that engulfed RTÉ.

A Grant Thornton report on the musical found that the board of RTÉ was not formally told about the production until after a contract had already been signed with the Convention Centre Dublin, at significant cost.

It said a commitment by senior RTÉ executives to bring the proposed project to the board’s audit committee never happened, while required approval by the wider board was never sought.


Minister for Media Catherine Martin said severance agreements “would typically be confidential and there are legal constraints there” when asked on RTÉ radio if she had been given details of Mr Coveney’s exit package.

However, she said: “Whilst I respect the confidential clauses around this I would encourage the need for full transparency in relation to all these matters, and I’m hoping that a way can be found to ensure that further light is brought in relation to this.”

A spokeswoman for Ms Martin confirmed had spoken to Mr Bakhurst by phone on Thursday and that he “committed to seeking updated legal advice in relation to the disclosure of details of individual exit packages.”

Speaking earlier on Thursday, Ms Martin said there is a “moral obligation” on RTÉ's former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe to repay an exit package of €450,000, while Tánaiste Micheál Martin has called on RTÉ to “reassess” the package.

Ms Martin told the Dáil on Thursday that “other key players” need to come before the Public Accounts Committee and Oireachtas Media Committee to answer questions.

Speaking separately after a press conference with UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini in Dublin, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said “the absence of transparency” over the exit packages was “quite shocking”.

“In my view any redundancy package should be within the framework of existing schemes in RTÉ and procedures that organisation administers. I find it difficult to comprehend how packages were agreed without the approval of the board or the executive at the time,” he said.

“I believe the particular package should be reassessed in the context of agreed procedures. In other words, if the payment was far too high in respect of agreed procedures, then the proper package should then be identified.”

RTÉ's director general Kevin Bakhurst confirmed the amount at the media committee on Wednesday while defended the State broadcaster’s director of human resources Eimear Cusack, who did not flag the exit package with other management figures.

Ms Martin said the appointment of staff to the leadership team in RTÉ was a matter for Mr Bakhurst and she would not “second guess his judgment on this matter”.

He later told the Dáil that there should be “no secrecy” in respect of any package RTÉ executives received. Mr Martin said there should be full accountability before the Oireachtas committees and that he would like to see “everybody involved” come before them.

He said other mechanisms should be looked at by the committees in respect of those who have not come forward in order to give their accounts of what happened.

The minister was responding to Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster, who asked whether she believed the former chief financial officer should pay back the “whopper” exit package.

In response, Ms Martin said: “What I would say in relation to the exit package that was revealed yesterday, there may not be a legal obligation on the former CFO, but I would concur there is a moral obligation.”

She said those who had yet to come before the Oireachtas committees should do so when they are available or in a better state of health and “accountability” from those people was needed.

Legal firm McCann FitzGerald was commissioned to review voluntary exit schemes at RTÉ.

Its report found that Ms O’Keeffe’s exit package – which was signed off on by Dee Forbes, RTÉ's then director general – was not brought to the executive board before it was approved.

The review concluded that as a result the terms of the exit scheme “were not complied with” in Ms O’Keeffe’s case, however it said this was the fault of RTÉ and Ms Forbes, rather than the former chief financial officer.

The report said Ms O’Keeffe put forward a business case for how RTÉ could save €200,000 under her departure, based on a “named individual” succeeding her.

By the time it was “known with certainty” that such savings would not materialise, Ms O’Keeffe had accepted her exit package, the report said.

Separately, Ms Martin said she wanted a decision from the Government on reforming the TV licence “no later than the summer”.

The Green Party TD said she was “certainly not fearful” on making that decision in advance of the Local and European elections in June.

Ms Martin said while there were different views among Government, this was to be expected with the various issues being teased out.

She said the potential risk of political interference through a direct Exchequer funded model to finance public service media existed in all models.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times