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RTÉ

Chair of Media Committee says questions still remain over departure of former RTÉ editor

Niamh Smyth told The Journal that it is “really problematic” that RTÉ would not give Catherine Martin details on the matter due to legal reasons.

THE CHAIR OF the Oireachtas Media Committee has said that questions still remain surrounding the departure of a former current affairs editor at RTÉ.

Niamh Smyth questioned Media Minister Catherine Martin on the departure of David Nally during her three-hour question-and-answer session at the Oireachtas Media Committee on Tuesday evening. 

The Minister told the committee that she had asked the Director General Kevin Bakhurst and the now former-chair of the RTÉ board Siún Ní Raghallaigh about the case of David Nally at a meeting last week. 

“I did ask last week about it and I was told that for legal reasons, I couldn’t get details on it,” Martin said when responding to questions from Smyth.

Speaking to The Journal, Niamh Smyth said it is “really problematic” for an organisation that is “on a pathway” about transparency and accountability, “that the Minister was told that she can’t be given the details or given an insight into what happened there”.

“It’s for the Minister to decide, but I just think it’s very unhelpful for her in the position she’s in trying to manage that and manage an organisation through a crisis.”

David Nally was the managing editor of current affairs at RTÉ for ten years.

Last weekend, the Irish Mail on Sunday reported that Nally was appointed to the role of Editorial Advisor on RTÉ Content, a role which had not existed previously. Former director general Dee Forbes confirmed his appointment in April 2022.

The role paid a salary of €150,000, the paper reported. Nally left the organisation 18 months later.

It was reported that he received an exit package, and during the committee, Smyth questioned the Minister on whether she had any details about this. 

Martin told the committee that the Department of Media was “not notified” about any such information. 

Investigation

During the Media Committee on Tuesday evening, Smyth told the Minister that a complaint had been made against Nally and had been upheld during his tenure at RTÉ. 

She asked Martin if she was aware if there was a cost to RTÉ in relation to the investigation into the complaints made against Nally.

“That investigation would have been before the current DG was in place but it would be a matter for the former DG,” Martin responded, referring to Dee Forbes. 

Smyth told the committee it is her understanding that the cost of the investigation amounted to a six-figure sum. 

“Would you be shocked if I told you there was a cost to RTÉ and that figure would be a six-figure sum?”

Martin responded: “It’s not something that I can ask because, as I’ve said, as with every other exit package, it’s a matter for the DG.”

When Smyth clarified that she was asking about the cost of the investigation and asked if that information had been brought to her, Martin said: “That information hasn’t been brought to me.”

Last July, Nally wrote a letter to the Irish Times defending his time at RTÉ, saying that in his 15 years in the job, he had only attracted one complaint from a staff member.

“I sought to make sure that staff were always treated fairly and with understanding, and that the licence payer got a good deal as well,” he wrote. 

“That’s not always an easy balance to achieve. I wasn’t a perfect boss but I stand over my record in people management as well as in journalism and TV production.”

Smyth asked Martin what she “would expect to happen to a high-ranking official in RTÉ” who had had a complaint upheld against them. “Would you expect disciplinary action? A P45? What would you expect?”

Martin said she would expect “all legal processes and due process to happen in those cases.”

Martin also said the information surrounding the cost of the investigation hadn’t been brought to her, but later clarified that she did ask about the case last week and was told that she could not be given any details due to legal reasons. 

“Unfortunately, the legal advice is clear and I’m bound by that just as much as you are.” 

Smyth asked: “Am I right in saying that that package and that agreement was agreed to during the reign of our new DG and the former chair of the board?”

“I believe so, yes,” Martin responded. 

More questions

When asked what questions remain surrounding Nally’s departure, Smyth told The Journal: “I think it would be helpful that we would know the details of it.”

Martin also told the committee hearing that the matter was “another reason” why former Director General Dee Forbes should come before the Media Committee to “shed light on what exactly happened there”. 

Smyth agreed with the Minister on this. 

“I have no doubt whether we engage with Dee Forbes in the future via written submission, or if she is in a position to make herself available, that certainly would be something I would like to be asking her,” she said.

She also said that she hopes to raise the matter with Kevin Bakhurst, but is unsure when that opportunity will arise as the next committee hearing will not focus on RTÉ. 

“It may be something that the committee might decide to put in correspondence to the DG, but to be absolutely clear, we haven’t done that as yet.”

The Mail on Sunday reported that when asked to confirm if he received an exit payment, Nally replied: “No.”

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