‘Drip feed’ of revelations from RTÉ is ‘seriously damaging’ broadcaster, Taoiseach says

Varadkar tells Dáil Minister for Media due to receive update from two expert committees examining culture and governance in RTÉ

The “drip feed” of revelations from RTÉ has been happening for “too long” and is “seriously damaging” the organisation, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He told the Dáil on Tuesday that “full information and clarity” was needed from the State broadcaster. The Fine Gael leader said the Minister for Media Catherine Martin is due to receive an update from two expert advisory committees, which are examining culture and governance in RTÉ, later this week on their progress and the status of reports.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Mr Varadkar said there needed to be “all transparency” in relation to the exit packages paid to senior executives to the “extent that is possible within the law”.

RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst has indicated there is little prospect of the details of such packages paid to senior executives who have left the broadcaster over the past two years being revealed.


It was reported over the weekend that the former director of strategy Rory Coveney, who oversaw the failed Toy Show the Musical project that lost €2.3 million, was paid about €200,000 when he left the station last year.

In a statement, RTÉ said that the former chief financial officer Richard Collins left the station last year after “independent mediation”. It said that the agreement included a “binding confidentiality clause that was agreed to by both sides and in the interest of fairness and respect cannot be breached”.

The Taoiseach was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said the scandal at RTÉ had gone on for months but that Mr Varadkar was talking about it as if he was “some detached, inconsequential observer”.

Ms McDonald said while the State broadcaster was guilty of drip feeding, Mr Varadkar was guilty of “gross indecision and slowness”.

The Dublin Central TD said there had been “a lot of bluster” from the Taoiseach and others in Government around accountability but so far there had been “none”.

“Instead of soundbites, what we need to hear from Government is what does accountability look like,” she said.

“When will there be consequences for those who have breached the public trust and those who have played fast and loose with taxpayers’ money.

“As long as this saga continues, people are voting with their feet and hundreds of thousands choose not to pay the TV licence.”

The Sinn Féin leader said every day the Government delayed making a decision on the future of the TV licence, thousands more would be dragged through the courts for failure to pay the fee.

Ms McDonald also called for all details of severance packages to be published and added that RTÉ should be brought back under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Mr Varadkar added that he was looking across the chamber at somebody who might be Taoiseach [Mary Lou McDonald], who was currently suing RTÉ and that if the TV licence was to be replaced by direct Exchequer funding, there would be a huge conflict of interest.

He said other TDs in Ms McDonald’s party had sued the broadcaster and had taken “a lot of money out of RTÉ, which was ultimately taxpayers’ money”.

“I think that’s a real concern,” he said. “We see all over the world, all over the western world, democracies being undermined by Governments that want to control the purse strings around the media and that’s a real concern I would have if we were to go down that route.”

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times