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Catherine Martin Leah Farrell

There was no note made of phonecall now at centre of row between Dept and RTÉ, Martin says

The issue is at the centre of a row which resulted in Siún Ní Raghallaigh resigning as chair of the RTÉ board overnight.

NO RECORD EXISTS of what is now a key phonecall in the latest debacle between RTÉ and the Department of Media, Catherine Martin has said. 

The disagreement over who knew what and when led to the resignation of RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh overnight after Minister for Media Catherine Martin appeared on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme.

During the interview last night 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 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 phonecall on 10 October.

It has also been revealed that Ní Raghallaigh sat on the remuneration committee.

However, Martin disputes this version of events and said this 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. 

Martin said the former Secretary General had no recollection of being told that the package was approved by the board’s remuneration committee.

“I do believe had she been told that it would have been something that would have been relayed to me because it was such significance, because never before had a board had a role in approving termination packages,” she said.

The phonecall is now central to the row between the Department and the public broadcaster, with Martin and RTÉ’s version of the events that led to Ní Raghallaigh’s resignation differing.

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

In a statement issued this evening the RTÉ board said it has requested a meeting with Minister Martin “at the earliest opportunity”.

In the statement the board expressed “great disappointment and regret” over the resignation of its chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh, saying she was put in a position where she had “no other option”. 

Earlier, the RTÉ board this afternoon released the minutes of a meeting held by its remuneration committee to discuss Collins’ exit package on 9 October 2023.

The statement notes that Ní Raghallaigh and Director General Kevin Bakhurst were both at the remuneration committee meeting on 9 October.

Collins’ exit package was approved and the board said the next day, 10 October, Ní Raghallaigh contacted the Secretary General of the Department “directly by telephone and updated her about the meeting of the Remuneration Committee, and its outcome – i.e., that it approved an agreement with Richard Collins”.

When asked today if she was disappointed that Bakhurst did not inform her of the approval of the exit package, Martin said it was not his responsibility. 

“My relationship as Minister for Media is with the chair of the board. And I never go into operational matters with the DG. And at these meetings I specifically addressed this to Siún,” she said.

“My direct line in order to establish facts is with the chair of the board and I got inaccurate information,” she added.

Full board approval not required

Today’s statement from RTÉ also notes that approval of the package by the full RTÉ board was not required, adding that the wider board was informed about the approval at its next meeting on 26 October.

The board’s statement notes that new terms of reference were introduced for the remuneration committee in September 2023.

Since then, all changes to executive pay and terms must be approved by the committee.

“This was introduced as part of a wide range of measures to strengthen controls and fully restore public trust in corporate governance at RTÉ. The Department was informed about these new terms of reference when they were introduced,” the board noted.

Aside from Ní Raghallaigh, the other members of the remuneration committee in 2023 were Anne O’Leary and Connor Murphy. Following Connor Murphy’s resignation, Aideen Howard became a member.

The minutes from 9 October state that Paula Mullooly, RTÉ Group Secretary; Eimear Cusack, Director of Human Resources; and two representatives from Arthur Cox, the firm giving legal advice to RTÉ, were also present at the meeting.

With reporting from Órla Ryan.

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