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'There was no secret': Tubridy's agent claims former RTÉ CFO was involved in underwriting deal

Kelly said he never questioned why RTÉ instructed him to invoice the fee for the underwritten deal to a company he knew nothing about in years two and three of Tubridy’s contract.

RYAN TUBRIDY’S AGENT Noel Kelly has claimed that Breda O’ Keeffe, the former Chief Financial Officer of RTÉ, was involved in the deal between Renault and Tubridy being underwritten by the broadcaster. 

In a series of emails exchanged between Kelly and O’Keeffe in February 2020 during contract talks – which were given to the Public Accounts Committee this morning – O’Keeffe told Kelly: 

“We can meet you halfway and increase the fee offer to €435,000 per contract year… €75,000 from a commercial relationship. We have progressed discussions with a 3rd party and look forward to discussing this with you in more detail next Tuesday”. 

In reply, Kelly said: “We will also need a side letter agreement from RTÉ to guarantee and underwrite this fee for the duration of this contract and beyond into the next contract.” 

O’Keeffe then came back and said: “We made good progress on what the commercial agreement would be and we agree to one in Dublin and two outside Dublin, which are RTÉ-led LLS events, and we can provide you with a side letter to underwrite this fee for the duration of the contact.” 

Appearing in front of PAC today, Kelly claimed these emails show that RTÉ’s former Chief Financial Officer was involved in the Renault deal and the decision of RTÉ to underwrite it. 

RTÉ has roundly rejected this claim. 

Kelly said that RTÉ executive members who have appeared before Oireachtas committees have sought to “distance” themselves from the deal, and to make it seem as though the agreement was made on a Zoom call with former Director-General Dee Forbes.

Kelly further claimed that RTÉ sought to portray to committees and the public that there was “pushback” against the idea of an underwritten deal amongst the executive. 

“This is incorrect,” he said. 

Referencing O’Keeffe’s emails, he said: “There was no secret, there is no secret”. 

“To our surprise, Ms O’Keeffe told the committee last week when she left RTÉ in March that there was no support to provide that type of guarantee,” he contiuned.

“No one [who was there] from RTÉ challenged her when she said that,” Kelly added. 

Appearing before PAC last week, O’Keeffe said: 

“My recollection is that Mr Tubridy’s agent requested that the commercial agreement be underwritten by RTÉ and this was refused. This continued to be my position and, as far as I am aware, that of the director general, head of content and the RTÉ solicitor, up to the date of my departure from RTÉ in March 2020.

“I was not aware that any guarantee had issued until I heard about it last week in media reports,” she added. 

RTÉ issued a statement today rejecting the claim that “an incorrect version of events was presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee and/or to the Dáil Committee of Public Accounts” regarding RTÉ’s agreement to underwrite the payments to Tubridy. 

RTÉ said it does not accept the characterisation of O’Keeffe’s email as a “contractual commitment” to underwrite the payments. 

“RTÉ’s position is that the email of 20 February 2020 formed part of the discussions and engagement between it and NK Management in relation to the proposed new TV and radio contract with Mr Tubridy/Tuttle Productions and did not comprise a binding legal or contractual commitment on its part,” a spokesperson said. 

RTÉ added that it maintains that the contractual agreement to underwrite the payments was not given until Dee Forbes said so during a Zoom call on 7 May 2020. 

Kelly said that his company NK Management was directed by RTÉ to invoice Renault for the yearly €75,000 fee. 

In the first set of invoice instructions – which were provided to PAC by Kelly – the agent was instructed to invoice Renault for the fee. 

In the instructions for the second and third invoices, Which were contained in an email sent by an RTÉ employee which was forwarded to Kelly by the recently retired Commercial Director Geraldine O’Leary, Kelly was told to instead invoice a company called ‘ASTUS’ for the fee, and to not “put any persons name on the invoice”. 

When questioned by TD Imelda Munster on why he didn’t question these instructions, or the involvement of ASTUS, Kelly said that he trusted RTÉ and its oversight, as it is not some “startup”. 

“On invoices 2 and 3  you knew it was underwritten, you were told not to put names on the invoices, and you went along with it,” Munster said.

Kelly said that he pushed for RTÉ to underwrite the deal in case there was a change of sponsor, and that RTÉ was “never” meant to pay the €75,000 fee. 

Tubridy was questioned on whether this fee ultimately being paid through public funds was at odds with his social values when people were struggling at the time. 

He said it was his understanding that the fee would be paid by Renault. 

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