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RTE logo at the station in Donnybrook, Dublin 4. Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
payments scandal

Crucial 48 hours in RTÉ payments saga as senior figures set to face two Oireachtas panels

RTÉ released a 9-page statement yesterday outlining its understanding of how Ryan Tubridy received the payments.

IT WILL BE an important 48 hours for RTÉ as it is set to appear before two Oireachtas committees to answer questions about the ongoing controversy surrounding undisclosed payments made to Ryan Tubridy. 

The controversy arose after it was revealed last Thursday that Tubridy, RTÉ’s highest paid star, earned €345,000 more over the course of over six years than RTÉ had previously disclosed.

Tubridy received two payments of €75,000 each in 2022, totalling €150,000 (one being a payment for 2021, the other a payment for 2022). It was these payments that prompted the review by Grant Thornton in late March of this year. 

Additionally, Tubridy’s earnings for the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 were understated, in total, by €120,000. 

From 2017 to 2022, RTÉ had published Tubridy’s earnings to be over €2.8 million when the correct figure was over €3 million. 

The issue was partly the result of a deal which saw Tubridy receive additional income from commercial partner Renault, with that income guaranteed and underwritten by RTÉ.

RTÉ released a 9-page statement yesterday evening in which it outlined its understanding of how Tubridy received the undisclosed payments. 

It excused Tubridy of any wrongdoing and said, based on the Grant Thornton findings, “there was no illegality and payments were made pursuant to an agreed contract”.

The review also found that part of the issue related to payments to the RTÉ Barter Account, which deals with payments through an intermediary company.

Only Forbes and RTÉ’s commercial director knew of the two €75,000 invoices in 2022, the payment of those invoices through the barter account and the circumstances surrounding those invoices, the statement laid out. 

However, the commercial director has said that “her knowledge of those matters was limited to the instructions received by her from the DG in connection with the payments in question”.

The two €75,000 invoices were raised with the barter company as ‘Consultancy Fees’, a description the review by Grant Thornton partner Paul Jacobs went on to say “did not reflect the substance of the transactions”.

“The substance of the transaction was that the invoice was being issued due to the underwriting and guarantee contained in the Five Year Contract,” Jacobs said.

“The Talent Agent did not provide consultancy and the Talent did not provide consultancy.”

The evidence is “inconclusive” as to who came up with the phrase ‘Consultancy Fees’, the review found. 

Jacobs, a forensic accountant, also added another detail: “The two invoices issued by the Talent’s Agent did not mention the Talent’s name.”

Tubridy himself apologised last Friday for ‘not questioning’ the published figures relating to his salary. 

Since the news emerged, an independent external review of RTÉ’s culture and governance has been announced, with Arts Minister Catherine Martin briefing Cabinet colleagues on the matter yesterday.

TDs, unions and RTÉ employees have also called for answers from the broadcaster regarding who initiated the arrangement between Tubridy and Renault, who signed off on the payments, and why they were never disclosed to the public.

The Journal outlined what some of these questions might be earlier this week. A few more were added to that list following the publication of yesterday’s statement and report.

A new detail emerged that RTÉ – as well as giving Renault a discount on its show sponsorship as a result of what is now known as the Tri-partite Agreement between it, NK Management, and the public broadcaster – also covered the cost of the special events featuring Tubridy. 

The three occasions cost over €30,000 but these were accounted for in the Barter Account with a value of about €47,000. The existence of these further costs related to the agreement will likely come up at committee today or tomorrow. 

Another fresh piece of evidence pertaining to Tubridy’s pre-2020 contract will also provide more fodder for politicians’ questions.

Jacobs said that in the course of his examination, Forbes told him that the task of negotiating a new contract with Tubridy’s agent, Noel Kelly, was “made all the more complex with the terms of the Talent’s existing contract as an end of contract payment was due at the end of the contract i.e. 2020″.

“This contract was negotiated and in place prior to the Director General’s arrival. RTÉ was keen to make a cost saving in respect of this ‘end of contract payment’.”

Forbes herself said something similar in her own statement this week: “We were keen to make a cost saving for RTÉ in respect of a contractual payment which was due to be paid.”

The monetary value of the ‘end of contract’ payment is not known. The Journal has asked RTÉ for further details and also if any other current presenters currently have ‘end of contract’ clauses in their terms and conditions. 

The bewildered questioning from RTÉ presenter Sarah McInerney on Prime Time last night would suggest they are not commonplace. 

“What is an exit fee? Have you heard of this?” she asked Peter Feeney, former Press Ombudsman and former head of broadcasting compliance at RTÉ, with a perplexed look. 

“I have to admit, I was entirely unaware of any exit fees in RTÉ. I certainly didn’t hear of them when I worked here,” he replied, equally perplexed. 

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Brian Stanley confirmed there would be questions about said exit fee at committee this week. 

Social Democrats TD and vice chair of the Public Accounts Committee Catherine Murphy has also told The Journal that the committee “really want to get to the bottom of who made the decisions”.

“When RTÉ last met the Public Accounts Committee, were the people that met that committee aware of the fact that they were giving misleading or wrong information to the Public Accounts Committee and by extension, the public?”

In a section of his statement yesterday entitled ‘Responsibility’, interim deputy director general Adrian Lynch said that “no member of the RTÉ Executive Board, other than the Director General, had all the necessary information in order to understand that the publicly declared figures for Ryan Tubridy could have been wrong”. 

However, the statement did outline at least another five individuals who were involved in the deal to some extent.  

Committees

Senior figures from RTÉ are expected to appear before the Oireachtas Arts and Media Committee today at 1.30pm

RTÉ will then appear before the Public Accounts Committee at 9.30am tomorrow morning. 

The Public Accounts Committee met on Monday afternoon and agreed to invite a number of people from the broadcaster’s board and managmenent.

This includes Siún Ní Raghallaigh, the chair of the RTÉ board, Richard Collins, RTÉ’s chief financial officer, Geraldine O’Leary, head of commercial, and Paula Mullooly, head of legal.

Former director general Noel Curran and the acting director general Adrian Lynch have also been invited to attend, along with the incoming director general Kevin Bakhurst, who is due to take up the position next month. 

The Media Committee has not invited Bakhurst or Curran to appear before its committee, but have invited other management figures. It’s understood Ní Raghallaigh and Lynch will be among the attendees. 

Both committees had agreed to invite Dee Forbes, who resigned from RTÉ with immediate effect early on Monday, but a spokesperson for Forbes yesterday confirmed that she would not be attending for health reasons. 

The news came after both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin called on Forbes to attend both committees, with Martin calling for a “full presentation” of events.

Speaking to reporters at Dublin Castle in the wake of Forbes’ resignation on Monday morning, Varadkar said: “I think people would like to hear her side of the story and her version of events. It is still open to her to attend the committee hearings and I think she should.”

The Oireachtas Media Committee will be available to view on Oireachtas TV this afternoon.

Author
Jane Moore & Mairead Maguire
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