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Home / News / Committee given letter from Minister to former RTÉ chair

Committee given letter from Minister to former RTÉ chair

Minister for Media Catherine Martin told the former chair of the RTÉ Board Siún Ní Raghallaigh she was “deeply disappointed” that she had not received “correct information” about the approval of Richard Collins’ severance payment.

The letter, which Minister Martin sent to Ms Ní Raghallaigh on 22 February last, has been handed over to the Oireachtas Media Committee this afternoon.

In somewhat clipped correspondence Minister Martin wrote: “You advised me that the Board had no role. You have today clarified that this was an error and that the Remuneration Committee approved the severance package in relation to Mr Collins on 10 October 2023.”

Minister Martin concluded the short letter requesting a meeting with the then RTÉ Chair at 10am the following morning “to discuss these matters further”.

However, Ms Ní Raghallaigh resigned from her role some nine hours before this scheduled meeting.

Notes of apparently tense conversations between the RTÉ Chair and the Department of Media in the hours leading up to her resignation have also been released.

They show that Ms Ní Raghallaigh spoke to the Department’s Assistant Secretary, Tríona Quill at 10am on Thursday 22 February.

The note reads as follows: “The Chair of RTÉ rang the Assistant Secretary at approx 10am to clarify that she had inadvertently given the Minister incorrect information this week in relation to the termination of Mr Richard Collins, former CFO of RTÉ.

“Ms Ní Raghallaigh said in advising the Minister at their meetings this week that the Board had no role in approving the termination payment, she had not recalled that the Remuneration Committee of the Board, which she chairs, had approved Mr Collins’ severance agreement in October. The Assistant Secretary thanked Ms Ní Raghallaigh for the clarification and confirmed she would tell the Minister.”

Then at 2pm there is a further call with the Assistant Secretary. The note says: “The Assistant Secretary advised the Chair that the Minister was concerned as she had given incorrect information publicly this week on the basis of the incorrect information provided.

“The Minister was considering writing to the Chair to express her disappointment. Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she regretted the error but she had phoned the former Secretary General last October to say that a deal had been done with Mr Collins’ legal team and he would be leaving the organisation. She said she imagined that she would have also referred to the role of the Remuneration Committee in that conversation.”

Thirty minutes later there is a further call, this time with, Feargal Ó Coigligh, the Secretary General of the Department of Media.

The Department summed up the call like this: “Following the call with Assistant Secretary, the Secretary General received a call from the Chair around 2:30. She expressed her unhappiness at the prospect of receiving a letter from the Minister which would reflect the Minister’s disappointment at having been given incorrect information earlier in the week.

“She considered that the receipt of such a letter would demonstrate a lack of confidence in her as Chair and that she felt she would be unable to remain on in the position. The Secretary General conveyed this information to the Minister and rang the Chair to confirm that he had done so.”

Later in the afternoon the Department’s Secretary General spoke to his predecessor in the role, Katherine Licken, and “she recalled being told by the Chair that a settlement had been reached with Mr Collins through independent mediation and that he would be leaving. The former Secretary General had no recollection of being told that it was approved by the Remuneration Committee of the Board.”

At 6:45pm the Secretary General, Feargal Ó Coigligh called Ms Ní Raghallaigh again “to say that the Minister had decided to issue the letter and to seek a formal meeting the following morning. He informed
the Chair that the Minister had a pre-arranged interview with Prime Time and she was strongly of the view that, if asked, could not conceal that she had given wrong information to the media earlier in the week in relation to the role of the board.

“The Chair stated she was unhappy at being called to another meeting that week. She would resign should she receive a letter calling her to such meeting. She said she would be happy to speak to the Minister on the phone. This information was conveyed to the Minister via the Assistant Secretary.”

Then at 7:10pm the Secretary General rang the Chair to state that the Minister considered that it was important that the issue was discussed formally by way of a meeting (on-line or in person) with officials present. The note of this conversation says “the Chair re-iterated her position in relation to resigning should she receive such a letter”.

The final call from the Department to Ms Ní Raghallaigh took place at 7:30pm when Assistant Secretary, Tríona Quill, phoned to say that the Minister had decided to issue the letter inviting her to a meeting the following morning.

After 9:30pm the Minister Martin appeared on Prime Time and refused to express confidence in Ms Ní Raghallaigh.

The Chair of the Board of RTÉ resigned before 1am on Friday 23 February.

Minister Martin has also released details of her meetings with Ms Ní Raghallaigh.

Ms Martin said she had 15 meetings with the former Chair “over the 15 months of her tenure”.

Future funding

Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan has said the Government will make a decision on the future of funding for RTÉ “as soon as we can” and said “it does have to be done before the summer recess”.

Speaking at the launch of the Dublin City Climate Action Plan at the Mansion House he said: “We have made that decision to provide additional support to RTÉ, that’s important. It’s a hugely important organisation to our democracy, to our State.”

Mr Ryan defended his party colleague Catherine Martin’s handling of events at the public service broadcaster saying: “She went into the Oireachtas Committee for three-and-a-half hours and set out in detail what happened, what her position is…My understanding of the letter that Siún wrote was the main criticism was there hadn’t been regular meetings.

“I see details such as that in the last eight months, the Minister would have met the RTÉ chair something like a dozen times. That’s very significant engagement.”

He also rejected suggestions that Minister Martin had not done enough to protect RTÉ’s licence fee revenue as it fell in recent years.

“I think if you ask any of my cabinet colleagues, what’s Catherine Martin like when it comes to defending the revenue for areas in her department, be that Arts, Media, Sports, Gaeltacht or Cultural organisations, she is dogged and determined when it comes to raising revenue or protecting revenue for the creative and media industries in this country.”

Additional reporting Colman O’Sullivan

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