RTE has fallen far short of standards in payments scandal, board chair concedes

The Irish Parliament’s media committee is probing the misreporting of payments made to star presenter Ryan Tubridy.

David Young
Wednesday 28 June 2023 14:42 BST
RTE chair of the board Siun Ni Raghallaigh, centre, addressed the committee on Wednesday (Brian Lawless/PA)
RTE chair of the board Siun Ni Raghallaigh, centre, addressed the committee on Wednesday (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

RTE has fallen far short of standards expected of it, the chair of the broadcaster’s board conceded as she addressed Irish parliamentarians on the misreported payments scandal.

At the opening of a highly anticipated meeting of the media scrutiny committee in Dublin, Siun Ni Raghallaigh said: “I apologise for this egregious breach of trust with the public.

“I am also mindful that this committee, and others, were in the past presented with information that was simply untrue. That was a breach of trust with you, the elected members of the Oireachtas, for which we sincerely apologise.”

RTE executives and board members are appearing before the committee to face questions on the controversial 345,000 euro of undisclosed payments made to star presenter Ryan Tubridy between 2017 and 2022.

The under-reporting meant RTE furnished the Oireachtas parliament and the public with incorrect figures on Tubridy’s earnings over that period.

“The public, RTE staff, and public representatives are angry and hurt,” the board chair told the committee on Wednesday.

“We know that our bond of trust with the public is tarnished.

“We know that trust is precious, and that once lost, trust is difficult to regain.

“Step by step we will work to rebuild that trust.

“We will not flinch in this regard. We know that this will be challenging, but we are committed to doing so in order that confidence in Ireland’s national public service broadcaster can be restored.

“RTE is an organisation of more than 1,800 people. I apologise to each and every one of them for the distress they are experiencing as they deal with the shadow that has fallen over this organisation.

“I want to assure this committee and the public that the board is committed to ensuring that we get full clarity on this, that there is accountability for it, and that it never happens again.”

Earlier, Ireland’s premier said it was not credible that RTE’s former director-general was the only one who knew about the misreported payments scandal.

Leo Varadkar spoke a day after the broadcaster issued a statement saying Dee Forbes was the only executive who had all the information to know the organisation had published incorrect salary figures for Tubridy.

More questions will follow on Thursday when RTE representatives will appear before the Oireachtas parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

On Wednesday, RTE confirmed talks over a new contract for Tubridy – who stepped down as host of the flagship Late Late Show in May but continues to host a weekday radio show – have been paused pending the outcome of ongoing processes resulting from the payments disclosures last week.

Ms Forbes quit as director-general on Monday amid the spiralling crisis.

She is not appearing before the committees on Wednesday and Thursday, citing ill health for her absence.

She insisted she did not act contrary to any advice in the contractual dealings related to Tubridy.

Addressing the issue in the Dail parliament on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said: “While the RTE statement from yesterday shed some light on what has transpired, a lot of questions remain open, so we expect to see a full and open engagement at the Oireachtas committees today and tomorrow.

“And certainly we do not believe it is credible that the former DG Dee Forbes was the only person with knowledge of these events.

Government and the public expect nothing but full and open transparency from RTE executives and board members when they attend committees of these houses today and tomorrow.”

RTE staff staged protests around the country on Tuesday, demanding answers about the furore.

Tuesday’s statement from RTE covered 225,000 euro of fees paid to Tubridy between 2020-2022. It said a report by external auditors Grant Thornton found no illegality in the payments.

A further external review by Grant Thornton into payments of 120,000 euro between 2017 and 2019 is under way, with the findings due within four weeks.

Mr Varadkar said that timeframe is not “satisfactory” and the Government is pressing for the report to be made available sooner.

On Tuesday, RTE said Ms Forbes was not consulted in the drafting of its statement and she may dispute some elements of it.

The Grant Thornton report gave detail of a commercial arrangement involving RTE, Tubridy and a commercial partner that was entered into after Tubridy forewent an exit fee due to be paid at the end of his previous contract.

The statement from RTE explained the terms of this tripartite agreement between RTE, Tubridy and Renault.

This agreement was separate to Tubridy’s central contract with RTE and involved him making appearances at commercial events.

It said Tubridy was to be paid 75,000 euro annually under this tripartite commercial arrangement, with the payments underwritten by RTE.

The payment was made by the commercial partner in the first year. The same sum paid to Tubridy was then provided back to the commercial partner by RTE by way of a credit note on future spending with the broadcaster – meaning the deal was cost-neutral to Renault.

The RTE statement said Tubridy was unaware of the credit note provided by RTE to the commercial partner.

The tripartite arrangement ended during the Covid pandemic, leaving RTE liable for the next two years of payments.

RTE said Ms Forbes verbally agreed to the terms of the commercial arrangement in a video meeting.

The two payments from RTE were paid to Tubridy’s agent using a UK-based barter account.

A barter account is usually used to record the exchange or goods and services.

Due to how a barter account operates, a cash transaction is recorded at a higher gross value than the net sum of the money drawn down.

Grant Thornton said that, on the balance of probabilities, the barter account was used because there were available funds in it and it appeared there was no budget available for the 75,000 euro payments in year two or three of the agreement.

It also emerged on Tuesday that RTE used the barter account to pay for the costs of hosting events for the commercial sponsor in 2022.

These payments were recorded in the barter account at a value of 47,477 euro; the actual cost of these events was 30,586 euro.

The review said there was no wrongdoing by Tubridy or the commercial partner.

Amid the scandal, the Government has ordered an external review into governance and culture at the broadcaster.

Tubridy has been off air since the revelations emerged last Thursday, with a stand-in presenter hosting his weekday morning radio show.

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