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The RTÉ logo at its complex in Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo
State auditor

Donohoe: Govt must consider bringing RTÉ under remit of C&AG but 'it's not simple'

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has said it will not table a motion of no confidence in Catherine Martin.

MINISTER FOR PUBLIC expenditure Paschal Donohoe has said the Government has to consider bringing the financial control of RTÉ under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the state’s auditor. 

Donohoe said that such a move would have “big consequences” for the national broadcaster, which has been the subject of yet another scandal over exit payments over recent weeks. 

Donohoe said that it would not be a simple decision because the Comptroller and Auditor General doesn’t usually oversee commercial entities. RTÉ is dual funded, receiving revenue from license fees and advertising. 

A draft Oireachtas committee report on the financial and governance crisis at RTÉ is expected to call for the broadcaster’s accounts to be brought back under the remit of the state’s auditor. Public Accounts Committee chairman Brian Stanley has previously said a “central recommendation” would be for RTÉ to come under the scope of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Stanley said RTÉ’s accounts used to be scrutinised by the C&AG until legislation was changed in the mid-1990s.

The said reverting to the original approach would give the PAC better access to the accounts.

“It’s a matter we’re going to have to give consideration to, but it’s not simple. And it does have big consequences for RTÉ,” Donohoe told reporters while attending a citizenship ceremony at the National Concert Hall in Dublin today.  

“RTE also has a commercial mandate and it is important that as we look at how they are audited, and the way in which we reach confidence in their financial statements, I’d certainly want to make sure we’re not doing that in such a way that could put them at a disadvantage in the commercial sector, and further undermine our efforts to reach a firm commercial footing in the time ahead.”

A Sinn Féin Bill to give the Comptroller and Auditor General oversight of RTÉ’s accounts will be introduced at first stage in the Dáil tomorrow.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who drafted the Bill last July, said he did so “to place RTÉ under proper oversight once and for all”. 

“Last week’s decision to allow my Bill to proceed to the Dáil is a timely one, and will give both the Taoiseach and Media Minister an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and finally do what should have been done months ago in response to this fiasco.”

Siún Ní Raghallaigh

The chair of the public broadcaster Siún Ní Raghallaigh stepped down last week, and Minister Martin is facing tough questions about the level of knowledge within her Department about the most recent exit packages from the national broadcaster.

Ní Raghallaigh’s resignation came after Martin was interviewed on RTÉ Prime Time and said she was repeatedly “misinformed” by the RTÉ chair on whether the board signed off on the exit packages for two former executives.

Minister Donohoe said today that Government party leaders were not aware of what was going to be said in that interview, but that the leaders were “aware of this as an important issue”.

“I don’t expect they were aware of the detail of the interview,” Donohoe said. “I don’t think it’s possible that our party leaders can be aware of the detail of any potential questions.”

Donohoe noted that in the aftermath of the interview the party leaders expressed their confidence in Martin. 

He also defended Martin’s handling of the situation last week, saying she “responded to a series of questions put to her and she honestly answered them.”  

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has said it will not table a motion of no confidence in Catherine Martin amid the ongoing crisis.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Labour media spokesperson Marie Sherlock said the party isn’t going to be “wasting any more time talking about RTÉ or creating any more drama about RTÉ”.

“We have made very clear that I don’t believe that the minister is currently up to the task of overseeing reforms that are needed in RTÉ,” she said, adding that there are “so many other important issues” that need the attention of politicians now.

Minister Donohoe today expressed his and the Government’s full confidence in Martin as Media Minister, describing her as a champion for RTÉ “and for public service broadcasting”. 

Timing ‘deeply unfortunate’

On the appointment of a new chair for the broadcaster’s board, Sherlock said she needs to hear from Minister Martin about what steps have been taken to fill the position.

“The timing of this is deeply unfortunate, and ultimately we need government to ensure that there is a plan in place,” she said.

The Labour Party said last week that Martin’s position is untenable.

At the press conference outside Government Buildings on Friday Martin said she is doing her best to manage “a very difficult situation”.

Labour’s Sherlock described it as “an attempt to justify” failing to express confidence in Ní Raghallaigh on Prime Time on Thursday night, hours before the chair’s resignation.

During the interview, Martin said she was “misinformed” twice by Ní Raghallaigh about the RTÉ Board having no role in the sign-off of former chief financial officer Richard Collins’ exit package.

Ní Raghallaigh said that in meetings on Monday and Wednesday she failed to recollect this information, but that Martin’s team were informed of it in October of last year.

The RTÉ Board has said Ní Raghallaigh told the (now former) Secretary General of the Department of Media Katherine Licken in October that RTÉ’s remuneration committee had approved the exit package for Collins in a phone call on 10 October. Ní Raghallaigh sat on the remuneration committee.

However, Martin disputes this version of events and said on Friday evening that she was told this week by the former Secretary General that she was merely informed in the phonecall that the exit process for Collins was complete – not that the package was approved. 

When asked if the Department has a record of this key phonecall, the Minister said no note on it exists

This is because “it wasn’t of significance” at the time, the Minister said. 

Minister Martin is due to speak at the Oireachtas Media Committee tomorrow evening at 7pm. She is also expected to take questions in the Dáil on the matter.

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David Mac Redmond and Mairead Maguire
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