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Home / News / RTÉ debacle rolls on as relationship breakdown revealed

RTÉ debacle rolls on as relationship breakdown revealed

The breakdown of the relationship between Minister for Media Catherine Martin and the former chair of the RTÉ Board Siún Ní Raghallaigh was revealed, in some detail, in Oireachtas Committee Room 2.

It was Fianna Fáil deputy Christopher O’Sullivan who winkled out the first bit of information with his distinctive soft west Cork brogue.

The minister informed him that, last Thursday, her officials told her Ms Ní Raghallaigh “wasn’t willing” to accept a letter.

This was “2ish” in the afternoon.

The minister was prompted to write a letter due to her disappointment at Ms Ní Raghallaigh giving inaccurate information about exit payments at RTE – on two seperate occasions that week.

What came later that day was more of a shock.

The minister was “flabbergasted” at around 2:30pm by a “threat” from Ms Ní Raghallaigh, conveyed through the department’s secretary general, that she would resign as chair if the minister sent any letter or email to her.

Siún Ní Raghallaigh resigned as RTÉ chair last week (file photo)

Sinn Féin’s Ruairi Ó Murchú walked the minister through the timeline.

Ms Martin said her secretary general informed her that Ms Ní Raghallaigh stated a letter would indicate a lack of confidence in her position as chair and, therefore, she would have to consider her position.

By 7.30pm the battle lines were drawn – the secretary general rang Ms Ní Raghallaigh and informed her that a letter was coming which would outline the minister’s disappointment regarding inaccurate information, and invite her to a meeting in the department the following morning.

Both sides had prior information of the minister’s planned attendance on Prime Time.

Ms Martin said her appearance on the programme was a bid by her to be “as open and as transparent as possible”.

As we know – the minister’s refusal to state her confidence in the former chair led Ms Ní Rathallaigh to stand down within three hours.

It has to be stated, this was solely Ms Martin’s version of events, but Ms Ní Rathallaigh will be invited tomorrow to attend the committee.

If that was exposing what went wrong in the past, there were also a few straws in the wind about trouble in the future.

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The first three politicians who spoke at the media Committee meeting – Shane Cassells, Michael Carrigy and Mattie McGrath – all said they did not have confidence in the RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst.

This was because Mr Bakhurst had attended the two meetings last week at which inaccurate information about exit packages had been given by Ms Ní Raghallaigh.

Replying to Fianna Fáil Senator Cassels, the minister said: “Yes I do have confidence in the DG. I have stated that before.”

The senator asked sarcastically if Mr Bakhurst was there to make the tea at the meeting, because he had information but did not say anything to correct the error.

The senator added the minister’s position was completely inconsistent – either both Mr Bakhurst and Ms Ní Raghallaigh should be gone or both should be in their jobs.

There was one crumb of comfort for the embattled DG in that two senators – Malcolm Byrne and Timmy Dooley – backed him.

RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst was the subject of some of the committee’s questions

Another thing to watch out for was the line of questioning taken by the Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin who was interested in “a large tranche of documents” sent by RTÉ to the Department of Media “in late November”.

Some of them relate to the RTÉ Board’s changing role when it came to exit payments.

“Why did it take you ’til last week to ask those questions?” the deputy asked.

“Our understanding was that, when the deal with [former RTÉ chief financial officer Richard] Collins was done in early October, that the old terms of references applied and the board had no approval.”

The minister said that she would give the documents which RTÉ had sent to her to the committee.

More documents on their way from RTÉ to the Oireachtas?

More requests for witnesses to attend the Oireachtas?

Publication of two Government-commissioned reports into RTÉ delayed until March?

This grim debacle rolls on.

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