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RTÉ scandal

Bakhurst seeks legal advice on revealing other RTÉ exit package payouts, assures minister O'Keeffe's €450K is correct amount

The Dáil heard accusations of other ‘golden handshakes’ at RTÉ this afternoon.


RTÉ DIRECTOR GENERAL Kevin Bakhurst has committed to seeking updated legal advice in relation to disclosing the details of exit packages of other executives at the national broadcaster. 

Media Minister Catherine Martin spoke to Bakhurst this afternoon by phone.

A statement from her spokesperson said the minister “emphasised the need for maximum transparency, particularly in respect of exit packages”.

“As this concerns public funding, and transparency is in the public interest, she believes this is of paramount importance as we seek to rebuild trust in the national broadcaster and ultimately in public service media,” said the spokesperson. 

Yesterday, it was revealed by RTÉ boss Kevin Bakhurst that RTÉ’s former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe received €450,000 as an exit fee after she left her position, voluntarily, as the financial controller of RTÉ in 2020. 

Earlier this morning, Micheál Martin said he believes Breda O’Keefe’s redundancy package should be “reassessed” to identify if the correct amount was issued to the ex-CFO of RTÉ.

It is understood that Bakhurst today assured the minister that the severance package paid to O’Keeffe does not need to be reassessed as he is confident that it is the correct amount.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty raised concerns with the Tánaiste today in the Dáil about what other “golden handshakes” had been given to exiting executives, highlighting that it has yet to be revealed as to what payment former Director of Strategy Rory Coveney received upon his resignation last year. 

The Tánaiste responded by stating that government does not know the amount that Coveney has been paid, but told the Dáil that there should be full transparency surrounding any exit payments paid out to executives.

Bakhurst refused to reveal the exit package details for Coveney under questioning yesterday.

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Doherty told the Dáil today that O’Keeffe’s exist package was “cooked up behind closed doors with no sign-off, no tax paid and no disclosure until yesterday – you couldn’t make it up”, 

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Doherty said the “culture of entitlement” in RTÉ was revealed during yesterday’s committee hearing. 

He told the Tánaiste that O’Keeffe, the former chief financial officer at the national broadcaster, “walked away from her job” with a €450,000 “golden handshake” to the value of ten times the average salary in this state.

Doherty claimed in the Dáil that it could not be considered a redundancy package as her job was not eliminated.

‘Handed back’ 

Today, the Tánaiste said if it a reassessment finds the incorrect amount was issued to O’Keeffe, the remainder should be “handed back”.

He said it was taxpayers’ money and payout amounts should be revealed.  

Martin went on to state that those who have not appeared before an Oireachtas committee should do so.

Former Director General Dee Forbes has yet to appear before any committee hearing relating to the RTÉ controversy.

Chair of the Oireachtas Media Committee Niamh Smyth said yesterday that though Forbes has been invited to appear, the committee has received sick notes as to the explanation as to why she will not appear at the public hearings. 

Martin said that while he accepts the premise of illness being given as a reason, the committee members need to look at “other mechanisms” that would allow people “give their account as to what happened”.

‘Golden handshakes’ 

A previous report on “golden handshakes” at the broadcaster found the correct governance procedures were not followed in respect to O’Keeffe’s redundancy package.

It also found that under the exit package scheme, set up by RTÉ in 2017, typically was given when role were made redundant or suppressed, suggesting O’Keeffe would not have been able to qualify for a fee in the first place, as she left her position voluntarily. 

Earlier in the Dáil, media minister Catherine Martin said that two independent reviews into culture and governance at RTÉ are “nearing conclusion”, as union reps from inside the station said morale among staff is “on the floor”.

A difficult eight months for RTÉ workers over the rolling controversies at the broadcaster has flared again in the wake of the report that revealed that RTÉ did not comply with the rules of voluntary exit packages in the case of its former CFO.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin told reporters today: “I think the the absence of transparency on this is quite shocking. In my view, any [redundancy] package should be within the framework of the existing schemes in RTÉ and within the procedures of the organisation.”

The Golden Handshakes report found that the ex-CFO’s application was not sent to the RTÉ executive board for approval and she was the only person whose application was not considered by the group.

Last summer, O’Keeffe told the Public Accounts Committee that she had availed of the scheme when she had left in 2020. O’Keeffe said she had left the role voluntarily.

The Golden Handshakes report reviewed 10 other exit payments and that totalled €223,010. O’Keeffe was paid over two times more the total of all ten other cases.

Martin added that he finds it “difficult to comprehend” how the package was agreed without the approval of the Board of RTÉ management or the correct procedures.

He suggested that the exit fee should be reassessed and any amount above what should have been provided “handed back”.

‘We need to uncover the detail of what has happened’

Speaking in the Dáil this morning, Minister Martin said that she has met with Bakhurst and he “assured” her that control and oversight reforms introduced in recent months would ensure a similar situation would not happen again.

“We need to uncover the detail of what has happened in the past to ensure it will not recur. Our imperative now must be to look to the future,” the minister said.

“Key to this will be the recommendations of the two independent expert advisory committees which were commissioned by Government to carry out reviews of governance, culture and HR matters at RTÉ,” she said, adding that their work is “nearing conclusion”.

Catherine Martin Minister Catherine Martin taking questions in the Dáil this morning

Minister Martin said this morning that the report “shows the proper approval procedures were agreed and were applied in most cases but there was one exception to this”.

“That exception was the agreement that was reached with the former chief financial officer. This severance package was not approved by the former executive board as was required.”

Morale in RTÉ is ‘miserable’

Speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime, RTÉ’s National Union of Journalists representative Emma O’Kelly said there was “absolute shock” at the news of O’Keefe’s payout. 

“There is a massive trust issue now [at RTÉ],” O’Kelly said. 

She said people are “far from convinced that the kind of shenanigans that we’ve heard about are absolutely in the past”, adding that “trust is very damaged”. 

The head of the National Union of Journalists’ branch at RTÉ, Trevor Keegan, said this morning that morale among staff at RTÉ is low following the revelations about the exit package.

“I think morale is miserable around here and it was even more so yesterday when we all heard that amount,” he said.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Keegan said that it is “an amount that we know she [Breda O'Keeffe] had no wrongdoing in and she was exonerated by the report“.

“It’s still shocking to staff who are currently working in shoddy conditions in many of the elements of this building,” he said.

“The newsroom has had a rodent infestation. We’ve had roof bits falling on staff.

“Two of the politicians, Brendan Griffin and Niamh Smyth, alluded yesterday to the ‘bogus self-employed’ people. I am one of those bogus self-employed. I was on contracts for nine years. We’ve missed out on pensions, we’ve missed out on holiday entitlements,” Keegan outlined.

Keegan said that the €450,000 “could have gone some way towards alleviating the stress and strains of the colleagues that I’ve been representing”.

Includes reporting by Muiris O’Cearbhaill and Christina Finn 

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