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Members of the PAC at the report publication today Sasko Lazarov/
rte payment scandal

Powerful Oireachtas committee says RTÉ should be brought under the remit of the State's auditor

Following nine months of crisis around RTÉ, the powerful Dáil committee is urging that it be brought under the remit of the State’s auditor.


ONE OF THE most powerful Oireachtas committees has published a report into RTÉ, recommending that the national broadcaster should be brought back under the statutory remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG). 

The move would allow for more scrutiny and oversight of RTÉ by the Public Accounts Committee, which released the report this morning. 

The PAC report also recommends that RTÉ should report the exact amounts of money paid out to any former members of staff who receive more than €150,000 as an exit package. 

It says that exit agreements should be forbidden from containing any confidentiality clause or NDA so that former employees are able to answer questions about them if needed at a later date. 

PAC chair Brian Stanley was strongly critical of RTE’s governance, saying that it showed “a lack of rigorous financial controls, poor communication, little transparency and amount to a failure of governance which combined have damaged public trust in an organisation for which trust should be paramount.”

Stanley said there were “common threads” of poor governance and a “general lack of transparency and accountability” to the board and minister.

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Among its 21 recommendations, the report also suggests that RTÉ puts a ban on side deals for employees or contractors, and brings in a register of gifts given to staff. 

Stanley said the RTÉ board should have been more “vigilant, assertive and inquiring”.

The committee also recommended that all invoices issued by RTÉ be “clearly and accurately labelled”.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said: “It should be bog standard that when you write an invoice, that it’s for the purpose that it’s intended.”

Green Party TD Marc O Cathasaigh added: “Some of the recommendations here are corporate governance 101.

“It shouldn’t be necessary to say invoices should clearly state what they’re actually for. It shouldn’t be necessary to say the audit and risk committee need to be properly resourced.”

Fianna Fail TD Paul McAuliffe said: “At the very heart of this is a failure of governance and financial controls across a series of projects.”

He said the committee had concluded that RTÉ had attempted to circumvent normal regulations and procedures and to conceal the purported underwriting of the contract and payments to Tubridy.

McAuliffe also said the committee felt that RTE had used its barter account as a slush fund, defined as a reserve of money held secretly by a company that has no accountability for its use.

He also said that the committee felt it had been misled by the broadcaster in relation to correspondence about Toy Show The Musical.

RTÉ has been mired in rolling controversies since last summer around issues with finance, governance and culture at the organisation.

The report follows the broadcaster becoming the subject of yet another scandal over exit payments over recent weeks.

State auditor

The move to bring RTÉ under the remit of the C&AG will rest with the Government, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday telling reporters that he thinks there are benefits in such a measure.

While noting that the Government hasn’t “made a policy decision” on the State auditor’s involvement, he said: “I think it’d be a good idea to have that additional level of scrutiny.”

However, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe cautioned last month that such a move would have “big consequences” for the national broadcaster.

Donohoe said that it would not be a simple decision because the C&AG doesn’t usually oversee commercial entities.

As RTÉ is dual funded, it receives revenue from both licence fees and advertising.

Speaking to reporters today at Government Buildings, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that the report and its recommendations would be considered, but stopped short of stating that the government would green light the move to the state’s financial watchdog getting oversight of the state broadcaster and its finances. 

But PAC member Verona Murphy Murphy told The Journal the recommendation is crucial to future oversight of RTÉ’s governance.

The Wexford TD said that by bringing it under the C&AG’s remit, it will ensure “annual” scrutiny and statutory oversight by elected Oireachtas members.

“It will require legislation so if the Government are sincere, they will treat it as an emergency,” Murphy said.

Trade unions

In a statement this afternoon, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) welcomed the publication of PAC’s report. 

Along with sister unions and the RTÉ trade union group, the NUJ said it will consider the extensive recommendations of the committee. 

Giving an initial reaction to the report, NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley supported the inclusion of bringing RTÉ under the remit of the C&AG.

Dooley also called for the publication of the two expert reports on governance and workplace culture “as soon as possible”. 

“The NUJ has long advocated greater transparency and accountability in relation to all aspects of RTÉ, including executive renumeration. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s office could exercise an important role in building trust,” Dooley said. 

He noted that the PAC report is, however, “just one part of the jigsaw” and said should be considered alongside the two expert reports.

“At a practical level, I do not believe the reports need to be published simultaneously and if either is available in a timely fashion it should be considered by the Minister and put into the public domain,” Dooley said. 

“While all of this work is valuable, RTÉ staff need to see progress on reform, alongside certainty regarding funding,” he said. 

“Delays in the publication of other reports, such as the Future of Media Commission report, the epic delay in publishing the statutory review of defamation law and the long-awaited review of the Freedom of Information Act are worrying precedents and it is vital that recommendations are co-ordinated and considered,” Dooley added. 

“Trade unions will consider the practical and contractual implications of the PAC report and looks forward to publication of the Expert Report.”

Separate to the PAC report, Terence O’Rourke is set to be appointed as the new chair of RTÉ today, along with two new board members.

Minister for Media Catherine Martin will seek Cabinet approval for the appointments later today.

Additional reporting by Christina Finn, Jane Matthews, Christine Bohan and Hayley Halpin