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Ryan Tubridy (L) and RTÉ's former Chief Financial Officer Breda O'Keeffe (R) RollingNews.ie
Explainer

How did RTÉ pay Ryan Tubridy €120,000 more than it publicly stated from 2017 to 2019?

The €120k figure is one of the ongoing mysteries over the whole controversy.

WHY WAS RYAN Tubridy paid more than what RTÉ said he was paid from 2017 to 2019 in public declarations by the national broadcaster?

This is a central question in the payments scandal, but despite weeks of committee hearings and statements, has still not been answered.

The saga arose after it emerged that RTÉ publicly understated Tubridy’s earnings since 2017 by €345,000 – the headline figure in the whole controversy.

We know that €225,000 of this relates to Tubridy’s commercial deal with Renault dating to 2020.

Of that, €75,000 was paid by Renault in 2020, and a further €150,000 was paid by RTÉ (which guaranteed the payment) in 2021 and 2022 after the car manufacturer pulled out of the deal.

But the remaining €120,000 paid to Tubridy from 2017 to 2019 has not been accounted for and remains something of a mystery.

Questions have been asked about how this discrepancy arose and auditors Grant Thornton have been asked to look into what happened between 2017 and 2019 regarding Tubridy’s pay.

Tubridy and his agent Noel Kelly gave their explanation for their side of what happened at the Oireachtas committee this morning.

The pair have claimed that RTÉ actually understated some of his earnings from the national broadcaster those years – despite being asked by them to not do so.

They claim that the €120,000 was always part of Tubridy’s annual salary across the three-year period.

Ahead of his appearance alongside Tubridy before the Public Accounts Committee this morning, Kelly provided a paper trail which he claims sets the record straight about this.

What we learned is exactly how RTÉ came up with the €120,000 figure it paid to Tubridy in addition to his published salary – though we still don’t know why they didn’t properly account for it.

The crux of the problem dates back to 2021, when RTÉ published Tubridy’s earnings from 2017 to 2019.

For context, RTÉ publishes the annual salaries of its top earners every year, though only discloses earnings from two years previously – for example, the most recent earnings published in March of this year cover 2021.

When the scandal first broke in late June, it emerged that RTÉ had released incorrect figures in 2021 on Tubridy’s salary from 2017 to 2019.

The broadcaster said that the total value of these undisclosed payments was €120,000.

Up until now it’s been a mystery how this happened, but in their statements to PAC this morning, Tubridy and Kelly both laid the blame squarely at the feet of RTÉ.

Kelly in particular told committee members how the payments to Tubridy were set out in black and white in published accounts for the presenter’s production company, Tuttle Productions, in each of those years.

These annual accounts, which were provided to the committee, state that Tubridy earned:

  • €511,667 from RTÉ in 2017 (compared to his RTÉ-stated salary of €491,667)
  • €545,000 from RTÉ in 2018 (compared to his RTÉ-stated salary of €495,000)
  • €545,000 from RTÉ in 2019 (compared to his RTÉ-stated salary of €495,000).

In other words, Tubridy earned €20,000 more in 2017 and €50,000 more in 2018 and 2019 than RTÉ officially reported at the time - or €120,000 more in total than was initially publicly stated.

Curiously, Kelly further claimed that RTÉ knew precisely how much Tubridy was paid in each of those years, despite going on to publish different salary figures for the presenter in 2021.

A letter to Kelly’s company NK Management from RTÉ’s then-Chief Financial Officer Breda O’Keeffe in December 2019, showed the figures Tubridy was actually paid from 2017 to 2019 (under the terms of his contract):

BOK

But the paper trail shows that the national broadcaster subsequently sought to alter the record of the amounts paid in what Tubridy and Kelly said was accountancy treatments.

On 19 February 2020, a letter from O’Keeffe to Kelly headed ‘Contract Discussions 2020′ stated that the presenter would waive a bonus of €120,000 that Tubridy was due to receive at the end of his 2015 to 2020 contract.

In their opening statements to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, Kelly and Tubridy both said that Tubridy agreed to waive this payment.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Media Committee this afternoon, the presenter explained that the payment was intended as remuneration for work Tubridy may have done in addition to his presenting duties – but that he waived it because that work was not done.

“In reality, this was a fee to be paid at the end of the contract, where I would make myself available at any stage during the contract to do additional optional work for RTÉ,” he said.

“As it turned out, in 2020 when that contract concluded, I was not called upon to deliver any of these additional pieces of work.

“So although I was entitled to payment for making myself available, I waived this entitlement. I didn’t issue any invoice on the basis that I didn’t want to be paid for work that I did not do.”

However, O’Keeffe’s letter stated that from an accounting point-of-view, the €120,000 exit fee would be “written off and offset against 2017, 2018 and 2018 fees” as outlined in an “attached side letter”.

A letter of agreement outlined exactly how RTÉ proposed to do this: by offsetting €20,000 against Tubridy’s payments for 2017 (‘Year 3′), and €50,000 against his payments for both 2018 (‘Year 4′) and 2019 (‘Year 5′):

Screenshot 2023-07-11 115852

No explanation has been given as to why RTÉ wanted to do this.

Yet the figures each align with the discrepancies between RTÉ’s stated pay for Tubridy and his actual pay for each of those years – in other words, it is where we find the missing €120,000.

For his part, Kelly has also outlined how he disagreed with RTÉ’s proposal to do this.  

An email from Kelly to O’Keeffe, sent a month after O’Keeffe’s initial letter, contains an edited version of the letter of agreement, in which the part of the agreement referring to the accounting proposal is redacted in red:

Screenshot 2023-07-11 120155

Kelly claims that the redactions are evidence that he and Tubridy argued against RTÉ’s proposed accounting, and that RTÉ accepted their point (though RTÉ itself has yet to indicate whether it did so one way or the other).

The documents also contain one final version of this letter of agreement, signed in July 2020 by both RTÉ and Noel Kelly on behalf of Ryan Tubridy.

However, while the first two bullet points (about the early termination of Tubridy’s 2015 to 2020 contract) remain, there is no longer a reference to RTÉ’s proposal to offset the €120,000 waived payment against Tubridy’s earnings from 2017 to 2019:

Screenshot 2023-07-11 120830

Kelly offered no explanation for this, implying that the need to do so lies with RTÉ.

“For some reason, it looks like their confused thinking returned and they published the wrong figures in January 2021 effectively causing huge reputational damage to Ryan in the process,” he said.

Tubridy likewise said that he believed RTÉ, O’Keeffe and external auditors had “accountancy reasons” for doing this – re-iterating that his company accounts fully reflected his earnings at the time.

“The narrative of the last three weeks has been that not only did I take this payment but that I somehow contrived to hide it,” he said in his opening statement.

“I reiterate: I actually waived my entitlement to this payment, and I didn’t receive one cent of it. I hid nothing. I had nothing to hide.”

The presenter added later in the committee: “We made it clear the €120,000 should not be taken off or deduced for prior year earnings.”

At the time of writing, RTÉ has yet to offer an explanation for why it accounted for the payment this way – though the broadcaster issued a statement this morning disputing Kelly and Tubridy’s version of events.

The statement primarily addressed the €225,000 payments related to the Renault deal – which are separate to the €120,000 and will by analyised by The Journal in separate coverage today. 

In response to a query about the €120,000 payment from The Journal, a spokesperson said the broadcaster would not be commenting.

“That is part of the review currently being carried out by Grant Thornton. RTÉ is not in a position to comment while this process is ongoing,” a statement read.

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