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The story of €450k: What we know about Breda O'Keeffe's RTÉ exit package

Could the exit payment to RTÉ’s former CFO be paid back?

526File Photo RTE_90684860

RTÉ DIRECTOR GENERAL Kevin Bakhurst revealed to an Oireachtas committee yesterday that former Chief Financial Officer Breda O’Keeffe received an exit package worth €450,000 when she left the broadcaster.

The revelation has drawn backlash from politicians against RTÉ governance in the wake of the months-long rolling controversies at the broadcaster.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said he believes the exit payment needs to be assessed and a consideration made on whether too much was paid out, suggesting that, if so, some of the money should be repaid.

O’Keeffe was the chief financial officer at RTÉ from 2012 to 2020. She left her role at the end of March 2020 and was replaced by Richard Collins.

Here’s what we know about the report that first identified the circumstances around the payment, the declaration of its value to the Oireachtas committee yesterday, and what politicians have said about whether it should be repaid.

The report 

An external review by McCann Fitzgerald LLP into RTÉ’s voluntary exit schemes identified that more than 250 applications were made under a 2017 scheme, of which 176 were successful.

The report found that O’Keeffe’s application was the “only one” that was not considered and approved by the RTÉ executive board, in keeping with the rules of the scheme.

Additionally, the report found that the “responsibility” for this did not lie with the ex-CFO (O’Keeffe) but with RTÉ “and the former Director General” (Dee Forbes).


According to the report, discussions began about the former CFO’s departure in 2017 but it was postponed on a number of occasions at RTÉ’s request. In May 2019, a legally binding letter was issued to O’Keeffe, which she accepted. It was followed by a second offer letter in September 2019 that extended her termination date at RTÉ’s request.

The “business case” for her departure was based on a named individual being appointed as her successor and RTÉ saving €200,000 per year as a result.

However, “it was clear from no later than July 2019 that the CFO role would be filled using an externally advertised recruitment process open to external applicants and that there was at least a high risk that the business case underlying the former Chief Financial Officer 2012-2020’s departure would not materialise”. 

The outcome of the process was known by November 2019 and it was “clear that the cost savings” initially envisaged by the business case would not be made, the report says.

“We acknowledge that by the time it was known with certainty that the cost savings associated with the former Chief Financial Officer 2012-2020’s departure would not materialise, the former Chief Financial Officer 2012-2020 had already accepted her formal VEP offer, which was a legally binding contract between her and RTÉ, and that neither the offer letter nor the 2017 VEP rules expressly provided for a withdrawal of a formal VEP offer once one was made,” the report notes.

The report “accepts” that individual applicants were not responsible for bringing their own applications to the Board for approval and that it would not have been appropriate for O’Keeffe to have been involved in meetings where her application was discussed. 

The Media Committee

Bakhurst and a number of other RTÉ representatives attended a session of the Oireachtas Committee on Media yesterday, where Bakhurst was questioned about the value of the exit package.

He initially refused: “I can’t say that. That’s confidential and I can’t say it.”

Fine Gael TD Alan Dillon pushed him on the matter, saying: “I think it’s really important to put that into the public. You’re building a new RTÉ — it needs to be transparent and trustworthy.

“You’re under privilege here and it’s in the public interest here that you provide that information to the committee,” Dillon said.

In response, Bakhurst said: “We have had significant legal pressure over months to get this report out and to deal with this issue. There is a legal threat over this. I agree with you that transparency is important. It’s important in this case. Breda O’Keeffe was paid €450,000 to leave.”  

The question of repayment

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said he thinks the absence of transparency on the matter is “quite shocking” and outlined his view that exit packages should be within the framework of an organisation’s existing schemes and procedures.

He said it was difficult to “comprehend how packages were agreed without the approval of the Board at the time and not in alignment with what would have been the procedures”.

“What I believe should happen is that the particular package should be reassessed in the context of the procedures.

If the amount is far too high, in respect of the procedures, then the proper package should then be identified and the remainder handed back.”

Several politicians have indicated they do not believe there is a legal obligation for a sum of money to be returned but have called nonetheless for there to be a repayment.

Minister for Media Catherine Martin said in the Dáil this morning that “there may not be a legal obligation” but should would “concur that there is a moral obligation”. 

Public Accounts Committee chair Brian Stanley and Fine Gael TD Alan Dillon have expressed similar sentiments, calling for the money to be returned.

Previous committee sessions

PastedImage-1394 O'Keeffe during the committee hearing in July 2023.

Breda O’Keeffe attended the Oireachtas Media Committee on 5 July 2023.

During the appearance, O’Keeffe was quizzed by committee members on Ryan Tubridy’s Renault deal and the barter account that RTÉ had.

She said “RTÉ was challenged with a very broken funding model, so we had constant challenges at reducing costs over the years”.

O’Keeffe added that she was “still proud” of RTÉ and when asked why she left, she remarked: “I was in the organisation for 18 years. At the time I felt had not planned to spend that long in RTÉ and I decided it was time to go.”

However, she later asked if she could return to the question of why she had left RTÉ.

“I also left under a voluntary restructuring programme at the time,” said O’Keeffe.

“I just wanted to make that clear. At the time, there was an offer in place, a restructuring programme, with terms and conditions for staff. I applied under that scheme.”

O’Keeffe was also invited to a Public Accounts Committee on 13 July. However, she turned down an invitation to attend.

During that PAC hearing, RTÉ’s deputy director-general Adrian Lynch was asked to “clarify” issues surrounding O’Keeffe’s redundancy package.

He said the first time he became aware that “O’Keeffe had exited as part of a voluntary exit package was when she made the statement last week”.

Richard Collins, who took over from O’Keeffe as CFO, said of this exit package: “I knew nothing about that package. Breda O’Keeffe never explained anything about it.”

TD Alan Kelly noted that “all members of the executive team have to sign off on” a voluntary exit package.

However, Lynch said it “never came to us for sign-off” and later said he would not “comment on the individual elements of Breda O’Keeffe’s package”.

Kelly responded that this was something RTÉ director-general Kevin Bakhurst needed to investigate.

Bakhurst said he had “seen some emails on this” and that the package “was agreed between (former director-general) Dee Forbes and Breda O’Keeffe”.

Bakhurst added that he would be “having a wider look at exit packages” as a result.

Later in this hearing, Lynch informed the committee that he had “received a text from the former CFO (O’Keeffe) to say she would dispute the idea that nobody on the executive board knew…”

The chair of the committee said that it “cannot receive second-hand evidence”.

After the committee, RTÉ announced that it was commissioning a probe into the voluntary exit scheme.

Lauren Boland and Diarmuid Pepper