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Media Minister Catherine Martin speaks during a press conference last month Alamy Stock Photo

Calls for Catherine Martin to answer Dáil questions as critics says minister's account is 'full of holes'

Former RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh has denied Catherine Martin’s claims that they held monthly meetings.


MEDIA MINISTER CATHERINE Martin is coming under increased pressure from opposition TDs to answer questions in the Dáil this week about discrepancies between her account and that of former RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh. 

Ní Raghallaigh released a statement yesterday evening saying her resignation last month was an “enforced dismissal” by Martin which was seemingly designed to “traduce” her reputation.

Ní Raghallaigh also criticised Martin for “actively taking a hands-off approach” to the widening scandal at RTE and accused her of not assisting with falling TV licence revenues.

Since the statement was issued, opposition TDs have called on the minister to take questions in the Dáil.

However responding after Leaders’ Questions today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the minister would instead be willing to engage with an Oireachtas committee following the publication of the Government’s independent expert reports into RTÉ later this month.

He said: “That can be done in a matter of the next few weeks and I hope that we can move on from this.”

However, TDs from Labour, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit said the minister should appear before the Dáil before the Leinster House recess next week. 

Particular focus has been placed on what the former chair described as the “hands off” approach from the minister throughout the RTÉ controversies, with questions being asked about how many times the minister actually met with the former chair.

In her statement yesterday afternoon, Ní Raghallaigh disputed that there were scheduled or formal monthly meetings between her and the minister. “In my 15 months as Chair, I only had a handful of meetings directly with the Minister,” she said.

Ní Raghallaigh has said that it was “not unusual” for the minister to communicate with her via department officials, who would relay messages from the minister to Ní Raghallaigh and vice versa.

“The rule book on good governance may prescribe regular contact between Minister and Chair as the norm but, from day one, I had no choice but to accept the practice of regular contact between Chair and Secretary General,” she said, adding that the “practice worked well but it is not typical”. 

Martin said last week that she had monthly meetings with Ní Raghallaigh.

11 meetings in nine months, says Taoiseach

Speaking in the Dáil today, Varadkar said the minister has clarified that she met with the former chair 11 times over the last nine months. 

In a parliamentary question response to Kerry TD Brendan Griffin in December, the media minister said in total, she met with the former chair on eight occasions in 2023. 

However, the minister’s diary entries state she held three one-to-one chats with Ní Raghallaigh in the space of almost a year, two of which took place over the phone.

Ní Raghallaigh became RTÉ chair in November 2022 and had her first one-to-one meeting with Martin the following June.

This first meeting was two days after the eruption of the pay scandal involving former Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy and seven months after she had taken up the role.

That’s according to Martin’s ministerial diaries, which are available up to September 2023.

Labour’s Alan Kelly told The Journal that the minister must provide answers to a number of questions. 

Speaking at the launch of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into the RTÉ controversies over the last number of months, he said there are “serious question marks” now hanging over the account which the minister gave to an Oireachtas committee and the Dáil last week. 

“There is a huge credibility issue here for minister,” he said, stating that there are direct contradictions between the accounts given by the minister and the former chair.

Kelly said that in his view, the minister’s account is “full of holes”. 

As a former minister himself, Kelly said a minister would deal with the chair and also the Secretary General of her department. 

When a minister is dealing with the Secretary General “it is a given” that the information is passed up through the chain of command. 

If the former chair said she informed a department official of the sign off on exit packages, “in my eyes that means the minister knows”, he said. 

He added that it would be the case that the department also knows, as does political advisers and also the assistant secretary general of the department.

“For me, there is a credibility issue here saying you were not aware because the chair didn’t tell you directly, that is nonsense, you can’t run department like that,” he added. 

Kelly added that it cannot always be the case that the minister would always have face-to-face meetings with the minister, but added that he is concerned that there were only a handful. 

river (24) File image of former RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

Ní Raghallaigh resigned as RTÉ chair hours after Martin refused to express confidence in her during an appearance on Prime Time last month.

She also outlined in her letter that on the day of Martin’s Prime Time interview, she and Martin had “relayed messages” between Department officials.

The former RTÉ chair said this “was not an unusual way for the Minister to communicate with me”.

While Martin told an Oireachtas Media Committee that the chair is the “direct line of communication between a Minister for media and RTÉ”, Ní Raghallaigh claimed that “on the whole” this relaying of messages “took the form of communications with her Department officials”.

In her lengthy letter, Ní Raghallaigh said some “matters require clarification” and added that she “cannot remain silent about the manner of my enforced dismissal which seemed designed to traduce my reputation”.

‘Very open’

Tanaiste Micheál Martin rejected accusations that the media minister has been a “hands-off” minister in her handling of the RTÉ crisis.

“I think the minister answered questions very comprehensively last week in the Oireachtas for three and a half hours,” Martin added.

He said the minister was “very open and transparent in terms of the fact that the relationship broke down in the context of the minister not having confidence in responses she got to questions that she put very specifically and very deliberately to the chair at the time”.

“I think it’s overall we all regret what has happened. I don’t think anyone doubts the bona fides of Siun Ni Raghallaigh in her role as chairperson of RTÉ and her commitment to public service.

“Likewise, the minister has said this and the minister has thanked Siun Ní Raghallaigh for her contribution and commitment,” said the Tánaiste.

“But the minister was adamant in her discussions generally with us that she believes that when she asked questions, she is entitled to get answers to those and to be informed fully when significant decisions are taken and as to who is responsible for the taking of those decisions,” he added. 

“Clearly there was a breakdown in that confidence and in that relationship,” he said.

Speaking at the launch of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee report into the RTÉ controversies, Green Party TD Marc O Cathasaigh, said there had been a “breakdown in communication” between Ni Raghallaigh and the minister.

He said the minister had been given “incorrect information” by the former chairwoman: “That’s where this crisis sprung from.”

He described the three-and-a-half hour questioning of the minister at the media committee last week as a “circus”, but added that the minister was trying to decide the best venue in which to “seek to clarify” the matter again. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Siún Ní Raghallaigh has admitted she gave the wrong information to the minister, who “lost trust in what she was hearing”.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, he said: “I think they’re both women in good standing, in my view. What happened, essentially, between them is the relationship broke down, trust broke down.”

However, he added: “I don’t believe that Siun Ní Raghallaigh’s reputation should be tarnished by all of this. Sometimes these happen – misunderstandings, relationships break down. It does not necessarily mean that anyone did anything wrong or lacked competence, in my view.”

Asked if Minister Martin should answer questions on the matter before Oireachtas committees, he told Morning Ireland he is “absolutely sure” that she “will be happy to respond to what the former RTÉ chair, Siun Ní Raghallaigh, has said”.

With reporting by Christina Finn


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