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Director General of RTE Kevin Bakhurst and RTE Board chair Siun Ni Raghallaigh on their way into their meeting with the Minister for Media and Arts Catherine Martin.
exit payments

RTÉ to seek legal advice in coming days as Minister says broadcaster is at 'critical juncture'

The meeting was called by the Minister after Bakhurst released information on four executive departures from the public broadcaster since he took over last year.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 19th 2024, 5:57 PM

RTÉ’S DIRECTOR-GENERAL says that the organisation will have updated advice from external lawyers “within the next couple of days” about “how far we can push transparency” following uproar about confidentiality clauses in the exit packages of senior staff.

Over the weekend, Kevin Bakhurst released information on four executive departures, including Rory Coveney, former director of strategy at RTÉ, who left his role after he and Bakhurst agreed “it was best that he stand down”. 

Bakhurst said today that RTÉ “couldn’t fire him”. 

Media Minister Catherine Martin called a meeting with Bakhurst following the latest revelations. 

Speaking after the meeting with the Minister today, Bakhurst said he stands by his actions, adding that he was trying to “make payments which are in the best interest and the best value for RTÉ”.

“We’ll be seeing how far we can push transparency about some of the questions that have been raised, mindful [that] we have to respect the law as an organisation, and also mindful of all employees’ rights at RTÉ,” he said.

Bakhurst insisted that the exit packages “weren’t secret”.

He described the meeting with the Minister today as long and constructive.

“We reassured her about our commitment to maximum transparency,” he said.

When asked, he said he wouldn’t resign over the latest controversy.

In a statement following the meeting with Bakhurst, Minister Martin said she “expressed concern and frustration” at how the ongoing controversy in relation to the exit packages is “undermining” the work of Bakhurst and chair of the RTÉ Board Siún Ní Raghallaigh. 

She said that while she is conscious of the “need to respect” legal advice, along with employment and privacy rights, she reminded Bakhurst “of the important public interest at play” which she said must be a factor in considering this matter.

“I also asked that he consider all possible options to bring further clarity and transparency to these matters,” Martin said. 

“The DG advised me that he expects updated legal advice in the coming days, and that he has committed to making as much information as possible publicly available at the earliest opportunity,” the Minister said. 

Martin said she told Bakhurst and Ní Raghallaigh that confidentiality arrangements “should be avoided if at all possible” in the context of any possible future severance arrangements. 

Martin said Bakhurst “committed to fully examine these proposals”.

Martin added:

“This is a critical juncture for RTÉ, and developing a new culture of openness and fairness is essential if trust in the national broadcaster is to be restored.”

Martin told reporters this afternoon that today was the first time she was briefed on the matter. 

She said that she believes Bakhurst is the “right person for the job”, but added that it is “inevitable some missteps will be made along the way”. 

‘Full transparency’

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said yesterday that there should be “full transparency of salaries and packages” within RTÉ.

Meanwhile, Chair of the Oireachtas Media Committee Niamh Smyth has called for Bakhurst and Ní Raghallaigh to “come clean”.

She told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland earlier that she wants honesty and transparency to come from today’s meeting.

The confidentiality clause particularly is a barrier to this, she said.

“That doesn’t help RTÉ in trying to get out of this mess and move on to the next phase, which is what they really want to be talking about: future funding.”

According to Smyth, revealing the full details of all exit packages in RTÉ is an “obvious requirement”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, the Tánaiste said that politicians “need to respect the editorial independence of RTÉ” but warned that the broadcaster needs to “build up trust with people in respect of its governance and administration”.

When asked if there should be a cap on exit payments in the future, Martin said the payments “should correspond with norms”.

On Saturday, RTÉ’s director-general commented on the exit arrangements for four former executives – director of commercial Geraldine O’Leary, director of legal affairs Paula Mullooly, director of strategy Rory Coveney and chief financial officer Richard Collins.

Saying he was restricted following legal advice, Bakhurst said O’Leary retired from RTÉ and did not receive an exit payment, while Mullooly left to pursue another opportunity and did not receive an exit payment.

Bakhurst said Coveney agreed that he should stand down, his role became redundant, and an exit payment was offered by RTÉ and accepted.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime today, Bakhurst said he believes the manner in which Coveney stepped down “was the fair way for him to exit”. 

“We couldn’t fire him. He’s a young man with a career still ahead of him, and I thought in recognition of his time here that it was fair that RTÉ made a fair settlement for him to leave, as it would for any employee who leaves RTÉ,” he said. 

Regarding Richard Collins, Bakhurst confirmed that he was “paid to leave”. 

While he declined to comment on how much Collins was paid to leave, Bakhurst said: “There was a process with Richard, he and I had a discussion. I think I was of the view that I needed to refresh my leadership team, Richard was of the view that he wanted to stay here. 

“But in the end, we both agreed that it’d be best to go through a mediated legal process so that we could find a way that was agreed through a formal process that Richard would leave the organisation and that I could bring in a new CFO to refresh the leadership team.” 

Bakhurst said it is “standard in mediation processes” to put in a confidentiality clause into exit packages. 

With reporting by Hayley Halpin and Eimer McAuley

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