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Former RTE chair sought phone call with minister hours before Prime Time appearance

No phone call took place with the minister instead sending a letter voicing her disappointment in the chairperson.

FORMER RTÉ CHAIR Siún Ní Raghallaigh sought a phone call with Media Minister Catherine Martin prior to the minister’s television appearance on Prime Time, it has been revealed. 

Ní Raghallaigh resigned as RTÉ chair hours after Martin refused to express confidence in her during an appearance on the programme last month.

In a letter after her resignation, the chair said on the day of Martin’s Prime Time interview, she and Martin had “relayed messages” between Department officials.

The former RTÉ chair had previously said that it “was not an unusual way for the minister to communicate with me”.

In a tranche of documents sent to the Oireachtas Media Committee, the timeline of those communications between the former chair and the minister’s officials that day is laid out. 

Timeline of communication

It outlines that on the morning of 22 February, Ní Raghallaigh called the Assistant Secretary at the department to clarify that she had inadvertently given the minister incorrect information that week in relation to the termination of Richard Collins, former CFO of RTÉ.

At 2pm, the Assistant Secretary advised Ní Raghallaigh that the minister was concerned as she had given incorrect information publicly on the basis of the incorrect information provided to her.

It was conveyed to the former chair that the minister was considering writing to the Ní Raghallaigh to express her disappointment.

Ní Raghallaigh said she regretted the error but she had phoned the former Secretary General last October to say that a deal had been done with Collins’ legal team and he would be leaving the organisation.

Thirty minutes later Ní Raghallaigh called the Secretary General of the department to express her unhappiness with the prospect of a letter being sent to her stating that she would consider that as a demonstration of a lack of confidence in her by the minister and  she felt she would be unable to stay in her role. 

This message was passed on to the minister.  

At around 6.45pm, the Secretary General again rang the former chair to say that the minister had decided to issue the letter and to seek a formal meeting the following morning.

He informed Ní Raghallaigh that the minister had a pre-arranged interview with Prime Time and she was strongly of the view that, if asked, could not conceal that she had given wrong information to the media earlier in the week in relation to the role of the board.

The correspondence outlines that the former chair stated she was unhappy at being called to another meeting that week and states the former chair said he would resign should she receive a letter calling her to such meeting.

However, the former chair said she would be happy to speak to the minister on the phone.

This information was conveyed to the minister through her Assistant Secretary. 

Ní Raghallaigh was told that the minister wanted to discuss the matter in a “formal way” either online or in-person, with officials present. But the former chair reiterated her position in relation to resigning should she receive a letter from the minister. 

Ultimately no phone call took place, and the former chair later resigned.

Instead, in the letter sent by the minister that day, the minister said:

I am deeply disappointed that I did not receive the correct information on this important matter. I would like to meet you tomorrow at 10am to discuss these matters further.

Line of communication 

Martin told an Oireachtas Media Committee last week that the chair is the “direct line of communication between a minister for media and RTÉ”, however, Ní Raghallaigh claimed that “on the whole” this relaying of messages “took the form of communications with her Department officials”. 

Pressure has been mounting on the minister this week to answer questions in the Dáil, prior to the Leinster House recess, about the discrepancies between the minister and the former chair’s account of events. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed to reporters in Bucharest today that the minister will not answer questions in the Dáil this week.

By the end of the month, two more independent reports into RTÉ will be published, with the Taoiseach stating that the minister is “happy to answer questions” before the Oireachtas Media Committee at that point. 

Following the publication of the reports, he said that would be an “appropriate moment” to go into the media committee and answer any remaining questions.

“With those reports published, we can chart a way forward for RTÉ because RTÉ is an important organisation in our society. We’re a small country, only 5 million people. If we’re not producing our own news, current affairs, media entertainment content, we can very easily be sucked into the market of other countries and I don’t think that would be good for us,” he added.

In contrast, Transport Minister and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has suggested that Martin does not need to wait for an Oireachtas committee appearance to answer further questions on the dispute.

“I think Catherine’s position is absolutely clear and correct and she will of course answer further questions in due course.”

However, he added: “She doesn’t need to go back, in my mind, into an Oireachtas committee to do that.”

Ryan also said Martin is “dogged and determined” about raising and protecting revenue for the Irish media industry.

15 meetings with the former chair 

In the correspondence sent to committee members today, the minister confirmed that she had met with the former chairperson of RTÉ in July, August, September, October and twice in November last year. 

The minister said she met with Ní Raghallaigh twice in January and three times in February, which included two meetings on 21 February, the day before the former chair resigned. 

The minister said she also met with Ní Raghallaigh in December 2022 shortly after her appointment and also on 13 February 2023 when she visited RTÉ.

She clarified she also met the former chair and the incoming Director General in May 2023, stating that this brings the number of meetings to 15. 

Varadkar said today he said it would appear they met frequently, stating that the minister was “very hands on”, in his view.

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