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The Tubridy pay scandal explained: What it's all about and what might happen next

The controversy has posed major questions for RTÉ and the presenter himself.

RTÉ HAS FACED a gruelling 24 hours in the spotlight after revelations emerged on Thursday that it has under-reported exactly how much it has paid Ryan Tubridy over the past number of years.

Details of additional payments to Tubridy first emerged yesterday, and have prompted a deluge of statements from the broadcaster, the presenter himself and Government and opposition politicians – as well as anger from the public and RTÉ staff.

It has posed major questions for the future funding of the broadcaster as well as Tubridy himself. Here’s what we know so far – and what exactly those questions are.

What happened with Ryan Tubridy’s pay?

Secret payments totalling €345,000 to Ryan Tubridy between 2017 and March of this year have gone unreported by RTÉ.

The broadcaster publishes the annual salaries of its top earners every year (though RTÉ only discloses earnings from two years previously – for example, the most recent release of figures in March of this year related to salaries from 2021).

Those figures consistently show that Tubridy is RTÉ’s top earner. According to the latest release in March, the former Late Late host was officially paid €440,000 in 2021.

But now it’s emerged that this isn’t the full story.

A statement released by RTÉ yesterday revealed that in 2020 and 2021, Tubridy was paid an additional income of €75,000 per year.

This was originally intended to come from a commercial partner – understood to be Renault – in exchange for a number of personal appearances.

RTÉ issued a credit note to Renault, which reduced the cost of a sponsorship arrangement it already had with the broadcaster.

The additional payment was guaranteed and underwritten by RTÉ. When Renault decided not to renew the agreement after 2020, RTÉ made payments to Tubridy’s agent, on the broadcaster’s behalf.

So as well as the payment from Renault in 2020, Tubridy also received €150,000 from RTÉ in the form of two payments of €75,000 each for 2021 and 2022.

These payments were made via what’s known as a barter account, which are used by companies to exchange goods or services for other goods or services (for example, a company selling mineral water might supply water to a show in exchange for free advertising during an ad break).

The use of barter accounts is an industry standard but is done through an intermediary, so doesn’t come for free – in this case, RTÉ spent an additional €80,000 in fees to the intermediary, on top of the €150,000 that was paid to Tubridy.

On top of that, RTÉ said that it had also understated Tubridy’s actual earnings from 2017 to 2019 and for the first three months of 2023, to the tune of almost €140,000.

Tubridy’s annual earnings published by RTÉ between the years 2017 and 2022 ranged from €440,000 to €491,667, but actually ranged from €511,667 to €545,000.

So while the broadcaster initially claimed in its public releases before yesterday that Tubridy earned around €2.8 million between 2017 and 2022, the correct figure was north of €3 million.

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How did the issue come to light?

In late March (shortly after Tubridy announced he was stepping down as host of the Late Late Show), internal auditors examining RTÉ’s accounts for 2022 discovered an issue around what the broadcaster has described as “transparency of certain payments”.

The RTÉ Board was informed and its Audit and Risk Committee then commissioned external auditors Grant Thornton to carry out an independent review.

Grant Thornton’s findings were presented back to the committee last Friday before a wider board meeting was held on Monday to discuss the matter.

Yesterday, there were media reports about a potential issue relating to payments at RTÉ, but it was unclear specifically what the problem was.

The Journal and other outlets had contacted the broadcaster asking about the matter earlier in the week, but received no response.

Media Minister Catherine Martin, whose brief deals with RTÉ, was also asked by reporters yesterday whether she was aware of an issue. She said that she was aware of the issue but didn’t specify what it was either.

It has been reported that some RTÉ staff were given full details about the matter at 2.30pm on Thursday afternoon, just half an hour before the broadcaster issued a lengthy statement which confirmed details about the payments to Tubridy.

What have RTÉ and Tubridy said about it all?

Chair of the RTÉ Board Siún Ní Raghallaigh, who was quoted in that RTÉ statement, apologised and expressed “profound regret” about the controversy on behalf of the board.

“We are well aware that this is a serious breach of trust with the public. On behalf of the Board, I wish to apologise for what has occurred. It is clear that RTÉ has fallen short of the high standards that it sets for itself and are expected of it,” her statement said.

She also said that the board “acted expeditiously to establish the facts” once the issue came to light, and expressed confidence that safeguards had been put in place to ensure a similar issue would never happen again.

Shortly afterwards, Tubridy issued a statement of his own suggesting he was unaware of the revelations. Unapologetic, he sought to distance himself from the controversy and to lay blame on RTÉ instead.

“Like many people, I’m surprised by the announcements made in RTÉ’s statement today regarding the errors in the reporting of its accounts,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that these errors are in relation to how RTÉ have reported payments made to me but I just want to be clear: this is a matter for RTÉ and I have no involvement in RTÉ’s internal accounting treatment or RTÉ’s public declarations in connection with such payments.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed to be at the centre of this story but unfortunately, I can’t shed any light on why RTÉ treated these payments in the way that they did nor can I answer for their mistakes in this regard.”

In a second statement this afternoon, Tubridy did apologise and said he should have asked questions about his arrangements, though he still sought to blame RTÉ.

“While I have no responsibility for the corporate governance in RTE or how or what they publish in their accounts, when my earnings were published I should have asked questions at the time and sought answers as to the circumstances which resulted in incorrect figures being published,” he said.

“I didn’t and bear responsibility for my failure to do so. For this, I apologise unreservedly.”

He also addressed speculation that his announcement on 16 March that he was stepping down from the Late Late Show coincided that internal RTÉ auditors unearthed the discrepancy in the broadcaster’s accounts, saying the two are unrelated.

Tubriday’s agent NK Management – which represents a number of other top RTÉ stars – took the same tack in a statement of its own.

“These are matters for which RTÉ has sole responsibility and accountability,” the company said.

“There is no issue whatsoever in relation to the payments being properly and lawfully due and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Ryan Tubridy or NK Management.”

Nevertheless, Tubridy was pulled from his 9am show on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning and replaced by Oliver Callan. He will remain off the airwaves next week.

Who else is involved?

Figures in RTÉ would have signed off on the arrangement and made a decision to underwrite the €75,000 fee, and people are demanding answers from the top of the organisation.

In a significant development today, the broadcaster confirmed that its Director General Dee Forbes was suspended from her employment on Wednesday, a day before the controversy broke.

Forbes was due to step down from her position on 10 July to be replaced by new Director General Kevin Bakhurst, but in a statement on Friday morning the RTÉ board confirmed she had been suspended.

The reasons for her suspension were not disclosed by RTÉ, which also didn’t say how long her suspension will last. There is currently no indication that Forbes knew about or was responsible for the payments to Tubridy.

In a statement this evening, she said she had been “fully engaged with the board since the matter arose” and during the audit of accounts.

“Yesterday was an extremely difficult day for all of us who care so deeply about the organisation and the impact of these issues is a matter of profound regret,” she said.

rte-director-general-dee-forbes-following-the-funeral-of-journalist-and-broadcaster-keelin-shanley-at-st-pauls-church-glenageary-co-dublin Alamy Stock Photo Dee Forbes Alamy Stock Photo

In addition, the broadcaster has been proactive in attempting to find out if other presenters have similar arrangements in place.

It has carried out an internal review into the pay of other top 10 earners at the station, which RTÉ says has shown that “all remuneration figures” were correctly accounted for.

However, it has commissioned Grant Thornton to carry out an external audit of payments to those other top 10 earners as well so that the results of its own internal audit can be independently verified.

How have politicians reacted?

In the day since the story broke, there have been various Government statements and comments about the controversy.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said today that the revelations represented a breach of trust, and he criticised the public broadcaster.

“There’s huge shock and surprise in terms of the manner of this. I think we need more clarification,” he said.

Minister for Arts and Media Catherine Martin has also been in touch with senior RTÉ officials, and is set to meet them in her Department tomorrow.

Catherine Martin said in a statement last night that she was “extremely concerned” at the details which had emerged. She confirmed that she had spoken to RTÉ board chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh about the matter.

“The public rightly expect much higher standards of transparency and accountability from Ireland’s public service broadcaster,” she said.

“It will be equally important for the board to demonstrate that it is putting in place appropriate structures and processes to prevent a recurrence of a matter of this nature.”

green-party-minister-catherine-martin-arrives-at-dublin-castle-for-a-cabinet-meeting Alamy Stock Photo Arts and Media Minister Catherine Martin Alamy Stock Photo

In contrast to Martin’s formal statement, other politicians were more gung ho in taking aim at RTÉ and demanding accountability.

“Today’s bombshell revelations involve a breach of trust from an organisation that has repeatedly put on the poor mouth about its dire financial situation when seeking an increase in the television licence fee,” Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said.

Fianna Fáil Senator and member of the Oireachtas Media Committee, Malcolm Byrne, also raised the issue of RTÉ’s requests for funding.

“This will not help RTÉ’s case for additional public funding. It does represent a test for the new Chair and Chief Executive of RTÉ to set out their values and vision in response to this scandal,” he said.

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, who chairs the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, told The Journal that he has written to his fellow committee members saying he was requesting an immediate explanation from RTÉ.

He said RTÉ needs to explain “why this happened, who is responsible and explain what is being done to ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again”.

It’s expected that representatives of the broadcaster will appear before the Public Accounts Committee next week to answer questions about the issue.

But politicians aren’t the only ones asking questions.

Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Seamus Dooley, said there were questions around who signed off on the payments to Tubridy and whether the executive board had any role in doing so.

“I have never heard of a barter account, but I don’t like the smell of it,” he said.

Chair of the RTÉ Trade Union Group, Stuart Masterson, likewise described the controversy as “a significant breach of trust”.

“RTÉ have done immense damage to the relationship with staff,” he said. “This happened at a time when staff were engaged in cost-cutting negotiations with management.”

What does the scandal mean for RTÉ and Tubridy?

Although RTÉ’s initial statement was wide-ranging in its disclosures about the additional payments to Tubridy and the actions that have been taken since, this is only the start of the controversy.

The revelations and Tubridy’s subsequent attempts to lay the blame at the foot of his employer have created a slew of questions that fall into three broad categories: what Tubridy knew; how RTÉ explains itself; and the relationship between RTÉ and its staff.

Tubridy has painted himself into a corner with his statements and previous claims he’s made about his income.

He said in August 2020 that his salary had been reduced – a month after he received the first €75,000 payment under the arrangement. Why did he claim this when that evidently wasn’t the case?

He said today that “it is simply not true” that he didn’t take a pay cut and that his pay has been cut by 40% between 2012 and today. But does this include commercial arrangements like the one underwritten by RTÉ? 

More broadly, did Tubridy know that the figures RTÉ published each year from 2017 to 2022 weren’t accurate? And if he did, why did he allow them to remain that way?

He said in his second statement that he “should have asked questions” at the time, but not addressed why he didn’t do so. 

Is it credible that he wasn’t aware of the commercial arrangement until yesterday – especially if it involved ‘personal appearances’ by him? Did he not notice additional income in his bank account?

His second statement today confirmed that he was aware of the arrangement. So why did he claim to be “surprised” by RTÉ’s announcement after the story broke?

People will also be wondering whether Tubridy can survive the controversy and when he will return to the airwaves – he has confirmed that he will continue to be absent from his 9am radio show next week, having stepped back from his duties this morning.

The biggest questions, however, will be asked of RTÉ, particularly around who knew what and when.

Answers will likely come in the coming days and weeks, particularly if the Public Accounts Committee hauls RTÉ representatives before politicians next week.

But some of the broadcaster’s attempts to be transparent have already fallen short and begged further questions.

RTÉ has not yet said how or why Tubridy’s salary was under-reported from 2017 to 2019 and for the first three months of this year. Nor is it clear why it opted to guarantee the €75,000 payments from Renault, or why this arrangement was set up in the first place.

Meanwhile, there are issues around the barter account which was used to pay Tubridy under that commercial arrangement.

RTÉ’s former commercial director Willie O’Reilly, who is familiar with the use of barter accounts, told the broadcaster’s News at One programme that he “nearly fell over” when he learned about how the barter accounts had been used in this instance.

“When I saw the statement from RTÉ, it said that at some stage that there was very loose controls, and that now they had been brought in house,” he said.

This begs more questions: Why were they not overseen more rigidly until now, and are there any other issues with these accounts?

For the broadcaster, the additional payments to Tubridy came at a time when RTÉ committed to reducing the fees it would pay to its top presenters.

Another immediate question is whether any other presenters had their salaries understated or had deals in place that were similar to Tubridy’s.

If RTÉ’s internal audit is to be believed, then some of its other ‘top 10′ earners are not affected – but how many of its high earners have actually been audited?

The ‘top 10′ list changes year to year, and there are plenty of high earners in the company outside the 10 highest-paid presenters.

Most crucially, there are big existential questions for the broadcaster.

The episode has created a trust issue for RTÉ, both from the public and among its staff, who are said to be furious at the revelations.

It will be incredibly difficult to justify calls for additional funding, whether from central Government or through an increase in the licence fee, without provoking even more anger from the public.

Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley said the revelation of the secret payments meant any increase in the licence fee would be “off the radar” – and it would be hard to find a political figure who disagrees with him.

But RTÉ has been crying out for more funding for years, telling politicians in 2021 that it faced an “existential” financial crisis, which has come in part due to a fall in advertising revenues and households moving away from TV consumption.

Now the broadcaster is enveloped in an entirely different crisis, this time of its own making. There is a long road ahead, and many questions to answer, before it can navigate its way out of these latest problems.

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