RTÉ crisis: Public trust needs to be restored before new funding model is considered, Martin tells Dáil

Instead of steadying the ship, Minister ‘threw a grenade in’, Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster says

Public trust in RTÉ needs to be restored before a new funding model for public service broadcasting can be considered by the Government, the Minister for Media Catherine Martin has said.

The Minister told the Dáil on Wednesday the Government was committed to reforming the current funding system during its term in office and she was “more determined than ever to see this happen”.

Ms Martin also said she is meeting the RTÉ board this week and would move to appoint a new chair of it “at the earliest possible time”.

She said she does see the merit of returning RTÉ to the authority of the Comptroller and Auditor General but awaits recommendations of two expert advisory committees in relation to this.


Ms Martin said while RTÉ had already commenced work on reforms and published its strategic vision for the period of 2024 to 2028, “further reform and transformation” would be required.

The Minister was addressing the chamber this afternoon, where statements were heard on recent developments at RTÉ.

Ms Martin accused the chairwoman of RTÉ's board Siún Ní Raghallaigh of providing misleading information about a confidential severance payment to former chief financial officer Richard Collins last week.

Ms Martin’s intervention on RTÉ's Prime Time programme last Thursday night led Ms Ní Raghallaigh to resign within three hours, saying in a statement shortly before 1am on Friday that her position was not tenable.

Ms Martin said at no point was it clear to her or her officials that the board, through Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s role on the remuneration committee, had a role in approving Mr Collins’ package.

“The receipt of incomplete documentation in very early September, passing comments in an Oireachtas committee on October 12th, after a three month process comes to an end, or the receipt of a further 19 corporate documents in December does not change that fundamental point,” she said.

“At no point did RTÉ make any attempt to bring to my attention in the appropriate formal channel that the new system [that severance packages required board sign-off] had applied to Richard Collins.

“So while there may be differing recollections, as to what might have been said in a telephone conversation, what might have been imagined to have been said, it is clear that RTÉ did not at any point, put on the record that the remuneration board had signed off on the exit package.”

Ms Martin said she was “deeply appreciative” of the dedication to public service shown by Ms Ní Raghallaigh as chair of the board, and in particular the work she had done to address the crisis in RTÉ over the past eight months.

The Green Party TD also said she wanted to emphasise the importance of a Minister maintaining “complete confidence in the chair of a State body”.

“This confidence was eroded,” she said. “But I believed that a meeting [last Friday] would help to restore it and this was my only motivation in seeking to fully address the events of last week.”

Two expert advisory committees are currently undertaking reviews of governance, culture, contractor fees, HR and other matters at RTÉ with the Minister expecting to receive their final reports in March.

“Following the publication of the reports of the expert advisory committees and an associated commitment to implementation of the recommendations by RTÉ, the Government will move to consider the funding model that best provides certainty, stability and sustainability, not only to RTÉ, but to all those in the media sector who provide public service content to the public,” Ms Martin added.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on media, Imelda Munster, described the Minister’s decision to appear on Prime Time as “bizarre”. Ms Munster said “instead of steadying the ship” at RTÉ, Ms Martin had “threw a grenade in”.

Her party colleague, Pearse Doherty, said Ms Martin’s comments on Prime Time were “tantamount to a public humiliation of a public servant who has served this State for many years”.

“What you did in effect was ensure that she was pushed over the cliff,” he said.

Labour TD Alan Kelly accused Ms Martin of being a “hands-off Minister” in relation to the RTÉ crisis.

“You’ve basically poured petrol on the fire to a degree we haven’t seen since the Ryan Tubridy appearances in committees,” he said. “This is now really, really unprecedented, but it’s of your own making.”

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times