Catherine Martin explains why she went through the RTÉ chair for a short cut

Who hasn’t taken a wild figary and sacked somebody live on air when they hadn’t the vaguest notion of doing any such thing before entering the studio?

“You’ve crashed the car here and not only that, you’ve driven it as fast as possible into the wall,” said Fintan Warfield.

Hang on a minute. What happened to the bus?

Has Catherine sacked the bus too?

Did she do it after she threw Siún Ní Raghallaigh under the wheels?


Shane Cassells knew why she did it.

“Is it a case that your blood was up . . . and you were going to show her who was the boss and that’s why you ended up throwing her under the bus?”

Highly charged language as the Minister for Media faced a mildly hostile jury of her peers, and several senators too. It was like the denouement of a whodunnit in Committee Room 2. If she expected those inquisitors from Government parties – her Cabinet colleagues are resoundingly backing her – to go easy on her, she was wrong.

Who are they loyal to? Themselves and the Committee.

Early in the hearing, it became clear that the politicians are neither impressed by Catherine Martin’s jaw-dropping Prime Time interview last week nor convinced by her excuses for saying what she said during it.

Lookit, we’ve all been there.

You know: taken a wild figary and sacked somebody live on air when we hadn’t the vaguest notion of doing any such thing before entering the studio.

Even so, the Minister for Media must have surprised herself when she did just that to the Chair of RTÉ last Thursday night. But she won’t have been half as surprised as Siún Ní Raghallaigh, who was minding her own business at home in Galway when Catherine Martin gave her the heave-ho.

The Minister knows exactly why she did this and has been trying to explain ever since.

Since the RTÉ crisis detonated last summer, Catherine has been handling the unfolding fiasco with a sure-footed authority which inspires public confidence and she is unanimous with herself in this.

But Thursday’s performance on Prime Time saw the minister, who had successfully kept the RTÉ saga at a safe distance for months, up in front of the Oireachtas Media Committee on Tuesday evening.

She was happy to communicate the miscommunications and misunderstandings which led her to fire the chairwoman, because she has always only communicated through the chair and this is why she has been so misunderstood, or something like that.

There was no mention of future learnings.

The meeting was being televised live too, but at least the members could take comfort in the fact that their star witness did not have the power to sack any of them on the spot if a difficult question unsettled her train of thought.

In Leinster House time, this was a Late Late Show. The 7pm start and three-hour running time proving particularly awkward for media outlets wrestling with deadlines.

It was the talk of the Green Room (the Dáil bar).

The Minister read a five-minute opening statement.

“Maximum transparency and openness” was the order of the evening. As for the chairwoman she so clinically cancelled on Thursday night (gone by the early hours of Friday morning), she murmured: “I do regret that she chose to resign.”

It was difficult to hear her through the sound of so many politicians champing at the bit.

There was one strong line to which the Green Party TD repeatedly relied upon – “the chair could not give me accurate information on numerous occasions”. She returned to this damning assessment of the chair of the RTÉ Board time and again, but in doing so she also directed committee members to the continuing presence of the Director General of RTÉ in his exalted position.

As a number of them noted, he was by Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s side at the meetings where the minister felt she had been misinformed. He knew the same facts as the former chair, but he didn’t move to correct the mistakes.

Why didn’t he get the push? “Was he there to make the tea?” asked Senator Shane Cassells, wondering how she could maintain confidence in the DG when he sat there and said nothing.

“I don’t have confidence in Kevin Bakhurst after hearing this,” declared Senator Micheál Carrigy. Mattie McGrath pulled a phrase from political history when he pointed out that the DG “stood idly by”.

But back to that Prime Time interview when the minister decided to take a very literal interpretation of her working relationship with the RTÉ board when she very definitely “went through the chair”. But in the course of that broadcast she took it that bit further and went though the chair for a short cut.

And no, she insisted, she did not go into the studio intent on expressing no confidence in her. But then Miriam O’Callaghan asked the hard question “and I hadn’t really been expecting a no confidence question” and even though she really didn’t want to do it, she couldn’t bring herself to express confidence.

And it seems she couldn’t talk herself out of this bind, which is what politicians do.

But was Catherine really ambushed? Was she there to speak solely on “the future funding model and the legal advice” as arranged or did the minister have something big up her sleeve?

Like a bus?

There was certainly something afoot before she arrived in RTÉ. “An issue had emerged and I was willing to speak on it,” she said. “Something was about to break . . . somehow people had found out that I had been misinformed during the week,” she said.

Heaven knows how these leaks get out.

So she would “speak to it”. But she had no intention of reversing the bus over Ní Raghallaigh on Thursday night, even if she unintentionally flattened her on live TV.

If not, did she plan to seek her resignation on Friday morning, when they were due to meet?

“Absolutely not.”

Nonetheless, the minister, who proved fairly unflappable on Tuesday and marshalled her thoughts well under sustained pressure, had lost faith in Ní Raghallaigh and that was that.

But if Catherine Martin held up well in the cauldron of the committee chamber it seems a brief encounter with smiling Miriam O’Callaghan under the glare of studio lights was enough to throw her (and the chair’s boardroom career).

Fine Gael’s Peter Fitzpatrick, one of the standout entertainers of the opening session, was firmly on the side of the former chair and felt that Kevin Bakhurst, the full-time executive who runs the show in Montrose on a very handsome salary, should have been the one in the firing line.

It’s bad form to sack the “part-time worker” who is paid €31,000 and leave the boss on the big bucks in his job.

“She was the scapegoat,” he declared.

The other big issue (the one which forced the miscommunications last week between the two women) of the exits was explored too. But The Collins Uncoupling and The Rory Furore didn’t get half as much attention as that Prime Time episode.

The committee members found it hard to look beyond it.

Catherine Martin is before the Dáil on Wednesday to explain all again.

The Opposition is demanding the right to question her. But openness and transparency has its limits.

Siún Ní Raghallaigh is also expected to tell the Committee her side of the story.

She will have been thrilled with this exchange about her between the Minister and Senator Cassells: “Did she lie to you this week?”

“I do not believe it was intentional.”

This saga has a way to go yet.