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Sasko Lazarov

Surrealing in the Years The martyrdom of a humble Toy Man

Ryan Tubridy sees himself as a victim of recklessness with the public purse, rather than a longstanding beneficiary.

“YES, THE SALARY is enormous, I understand that, but that doesn’t affect my soul. It can’t.”

The flourish with which Ryan Tubridy delivered a final defence of his integrity, magnanimity and benevolence will echo through the ages. As poignant as the poetry of Walt Whitman, as eloquent as Marc Antony’s eulogy of Julius Caesar.

“This is not the Ryan Tubridy scandal,” said Tubridy’s agent Noel Kelly, in his own soliloquy. “This is the RTÉ scandal.” 

What will become clear as we examine this week’s news is that any mismanagement of the public purse is a scandal that belongs to us all, and goes well beyond whichever Oireachtas committee room the representatives (past and present) of RTÉ happen to be sitting in this week.

During Tuesday’s marathon Oireachtas session, Tubridy made accusations of a “humanity bypass”, suggesting that his ‘mauling’ has been the fault of his current (we think), possibly former, and also maybe future employer. 

Tubridy pointed to his work with St Vincent De Paul, efforts made on behalf of child literacy, and his relationship with the children of Ireland. He spoke of the creditable amounts of money donated by the public during the Late Late Toy Show as his “legacy”.

On being grilled about his finances and the fact that he has made somewhere in the region of €8 million in the last 10 years or so, he frequently explained that he – despite being an interviewer with decades of experience – had not the intelligence to comfortably discuss invoices, contracts and other matters.

Did you think he should have something to say about how his money was made simply because he has made so very much of it? He is but a humble Toy Man.

It was a performance befitting a man who seemingly cannot conceive that enormous sums of money could possibly affect either the purity of his intentions or his connection to ordinary reality, camels and eyes of needles be damned. 

It was a statement emblematic of the wider scandals at play – the more enormous the sums of money thrown around, the easier it is to be casual about them. 

The ghost of Toy Men past also haunted the headlines this week, with Tubridy’s Late Late predecessor Pat Kenny attempting to defend helpless badgers from the construction of a 104-bed nursing home that would border the lands of his family home.

“All we wanted the board and the Council to do was to follow the rules and those rules involve protecting the badger,” Kenny said. “This is the badgers’ Alamo – they have nowhere else to go.”

How have we come to be so blessed with these selfless fellows who want nothing more than a utopia where badgers play freely among the literate children, all in exchange for the modest remuneration of millions of euro?

But if we have learned anything this week, it is that top talent colossi are certainly fond of a grandiloquent appeal.

RTÉ radio DJ Dave Fanning, himself a client of Noel Kelly’s NK Management, took to Twitter to call the Oireachtas grilling of Tubridy a “nonsense Nuremberg trial”. It was a confused and confusing analogy, given that he was referring to the prosecution of Nazi leaders in the wake of World War II and the holocaust.

Mr Fanning went on to apologise, saying that his intention had not been to “trivialise” the Oireachtas committees, which was not really the problem. If anything, it was a trivialisation of the Nuremberg trials. Does Fanning know what the Nuremberg trials are? It’s a pertinent question, but let us not linger too long on it lest we martyr any more of RTÉ’s top talent.

Besides, there are other things to talk about.

As Tubridy took pains to remind the gathered TDs and Senators, there are important things going on outside of RTÉ’s ledgers. He didn’t namecheck the National Children’s Hospital, but he could have. 

A separate Oireachtas committee heard this week that just 27 of the planned 3,000 rooms in the hospital have been completed. The hospital is now €450 million over the budget approved in 2017, and Leo Varadkar has accepted the current budget of €1.433 billion “will not be adequate”. The overspend is already enough to finance Ryan Tubridy’s appearance at 6,000 Renault roadshows.

The public is rightly aggrieved at the lack of oversight regarding financial decisions which impact the public purse at RTÉ, but as a study published this week revealed, they are no less concerned about corruption at large. Two-thirds agree that favouritism and corruption hamper business competition here.

For all of Tubridy’s cringeworthy theatricality, we do know that he is not personally culpable for the overall crisis of corporate governance at RTÉ. He didn’t lose millions on a musical vanity project, or spend wild sums on flip-flops through a secretive accounting mechanism. He doesn’t underpay staff, sign-off on lush exit packages for directors, and the catastrophic overspend in other areas of Irish life has nothing to do with him at all. 

Tubridy openly regards himself as a victim of recklessness with the public purse, rather than a longstanding beneficiary. The rest of us may suffer that recklessness without the comfort of an agent who can unquestioningly raise an invoice with a mysterious British company we’ve never heard of. But what is he to do about that?

He is but a humble Toy Man. 

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