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Kevin Bakhurst speaking to the media after his meeting with Catherine Martin on Monday. Sasko Lazarov
the exit files

Bakhurst: Disclosing exit package info would be unlawful, but execs can 'waive confidentiality'

None of the RTÉ execs asked to waive right to privacy over exit packages have replied to broadcaster yet.

LAST UPDATE | 22 Feb

RTÉ’S DIRECTOR GENERAL Kevin Bakhurst has asked former executives to waive their right to confidentiality amid ongoing controversy into exit payments.

In an email sent to staff today, Bakhurst said he is requesting this from former RTÉ executive members who have departed since 2016.

Speaking on the News at One today, Bakhurst said that he would be “deliberately breaking the law” if he was to publish further information about exit packages at this time without the consent of the individuals concerned. 

The broadcaster has come under political pressure to disclose the details of exit packages given to some executives, following the revelation that former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe received a voluntary redundancy package worth €450,000.

Bakhurst had sought updated advice on “how far we can push transparency” on exit packages, given obligations regarding GDPR, Irish employment law and the individual rights RTE employees.

RTÉ today released the legal advice it received in relation to the departures of executive-level senior management.

The advice from legal firm Arthur Cox states that both employees and former employees have a legal right that their personal data relating to their employment is not made publicly available.

Bakhurst has also released “independent assurance” that he says “confirms that RTÉ achieved the best commercial outcome with regard to severance/termination payments”.

In his email to staff, Bakhurst added that “RTÉ has been assured by its independent legal advisors that exit agreements fell within parameters of similar arrangements seen in both the private and semi-state sectors”.

However, Bakhurst said that in “accordance with best practice”, RTÉ is “taking external advice with regard to future caps on severance pay and termination agreements, as well as options regarding confidentiality”.

On national radio today, Bakhurst said that the legal advice he received on the possibility of  publishing the details of exit packages was the “most robust and clearest legal advice” he had received in his career. 

He said that for him to release further information about individuals’ exit payments would be paramount to “deliberately breaking the law”. 

Bakhurst said that protection of the right to confidentiality and dignity after it has been agreed is something he would want to extend to every employee in RTÉ, from the highest paid to the lowest. 

The Director General said that one way for increased transparency on this matter to come about would be for the senior individuals wrapped up in this controversy to waive their right to confidentiality. 

However, he acknowledged that there is now some pressure on these ex-senior figures to agree to this, as a number of politicians, ministers, and Government committees are now “clamouring” for the information. 

Bakhurst also acknowledged that he “perhaps misspoke” when he said that Rory Coveney did not receive a special exit payment going out the door of RTÉ. 

The Director General said that when he said Coveney received a payment in line with statutory allowances, he was thinking of the statutory guidelines in the UK rather than those in Ireland.

Bakhurst said that the request for former RTÉ executives to waive their right to confidentiality was made via letters yesterday, and that no reply has been received at this time. 

A letter sent yesterday to Kevin Bakhurst from legal firm Arthur Cox, who advised RTÉ on settlement arrangements with former executives, said “the terms ultimately agreed represented a better commercial outcome for RTÉ than the alternative options available”.

In a separate letter sent yesterday by Arthur Cox and today published by RTÉ, the legal firm advised that “employees and former employees have a legal entitlement that their personal data arising from their employment is not made publicly available”.

“If such information is published, we remain of the view that this would contravene employees’ contractual and statutory rights thereby exposing RTÉ to avoidable legal challenge,” added the letter.

Artur Cox also noted that “any employee who departed RTÉ on foot of a directly negotiated settlement did so on the basis that the terms of such agreement would remain confidential as between the parties”.

While the legal firm said it “fully appreciates the request for transparency” it advised that Bakhurst “exercise extreme caution” and has regard for the “civil and criminal consequences attaching to such disclosure”.

RTÉ has also published legal advice it received in October in relation to the voluntary disclosure of personnel data.

The October letter from Arthur Cox said that “the public disclosure of employee sensitive personal data would serve to undermine the trust and confidence” with employees.

It added that RTÉ should consider the potential impact of media coverage on any disclosures.

“If any individual’s personal data was disclosed and subsequently picked up by a media outlet, this is likely to amplify the potential negative ramifications for the individual employee”, states the legal firm’s letter.

It added: “In the event that media coverage in any way resembled the intense scrutiny of the summer months, individual employees may allege that they have suffered a psychiatric injury as a result of such disclosure.”

The letter further warned that RTÉ could be found liable in relation to personal injury litigation that could arise as a result of this.

This October letter concluded that the “voluntary disclosure of detailed, individualised, personnel data to the PAC and/or the JOC is unlikely to be compliant with RTÉ’s obligations”.

Arthur Cox advised that “RTÉ should continue to consider alternative ways of cooperating, such as by the provision of aggregated or anonymised data”.