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Full RTE board to be invited before media committee next month

The media committee is set to invite RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst and the rest of the RTE board to appear before it next month.

It is also to ask that RTE submit any outstanding documentation requested in July to it by Friday September 8.

Media minister Catherine Martin will also be asked to appear before the committee at the first possible date she is available, most likely in October.

Members of the Oireachtas Media Committee met on Tuesday in a private session to discuss the second Grant Thornton report into how RTE declared Ryan Tubridy’s pay from 2017-2019.

The report, which was published last week, said it was “very plausible” that fees paid by RTE to its star presenter Tubridy were underdeclared by 120,000 euro from 2017-2019 to keep the payments under the 500,000 euro mark.

The chairwoman of the broadcaster’s board, Siun Ni Raghallaigh, said the report showed there was a “siloed management culture”, “poor internal communication and weak processes” in place at the broadcaster.

Despite the report concluding that Tubridy had “no involvement” in how his fees were declared by the broadcaster during these years, Mr Bakhurst concluded talks with Tubridy on the conditions for his return to the airwaves.

RTE pay revelations
Department of Culture and Media Minister Catherine Martin speaking at the Smock Alley Theatre in Temple Bar, Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Bakhurst said he did not believe Tubridy had “owned his mistakes” in relation to the controversies at RTE.

Financial matters at RTE are expected to dominate the political agenda as the Irish parliament returns on September 20.

Questions around governance, and financial and accounting practices at Ireland’s public service broadcaster were the subject of Dail and committee debates at the end of the last term.

It emerged during several committee debates that RTE had spent 4,956 euro on 200 pairs of flip flops, and that an RTE staff member had secured a car on loan for five years, later revealed to be sports personality Marty Morrissey.

It also grilled Tubridy himself, alongside his agent Noel Kelly, in two back-to-back committee appearances that were shown on televisions in some Dublin pubs.

The crisis at RTE has led to a significant drop-off in people paying for TV licences over the summer, money which goes towards funding operations at the broadcaster.

Discussions are due to take place on how much interim funding to allocate to RTE as part of Budget 2024 until a new funding model for the organisation is decided upon.

RTE pay revelations

Mr Bakhurst and Ms Ni Raghallaigh, along with the other 10 members of the RTE board, are to be asked to appear before the committee in September to answer questions on governance.

The head of HR at the broadcaster, Eimear Cusack, is also to be invited.

Chairwoman of the media committee Niamh Smyth said she was “keen” to hear from the deputy chairman of the board Ian Kehoe, and said there were “strong calls” from committee members on Tuesday to hear from the minister Catherine Martin about the fall in TV licence revenues.

Ms Smyth also said it was a “golden opportunity for the board, who the public might not be familiar with, to argue that RTE is still worth investing in and buying their TV licence for”.

“I advise them to use it wisely,” she said.

Senator Shane Cassells said an engagement with Ms Martin is to be sought over the dramatic drop in TV licence fee funding and the looming decision on a new funding model.

He said there was an “immediate threat” to the future funding of RTE as 100,000 euro a day is being lost in TV licence fees not being renewed.

“It’s not good enough to be plugging a hole in terms of asking for funding in the budget – we’ve had long enough to deal with this,” he said.

RTE said in a statement to PA that it is reviewing the invitation received this afternoon from the committee “to attend a meeting on Thursday 14th September and to provide a range of documents and information for this meeting by Friday 8th September”.

“RTE will respond to the committee in the coming days.

“In the meantime, RTE continues to process the large volume of documentation requested and the breadth of the information sought by both the Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, in advance of RTE’s meeting with the committee in October.

“As stated by Kevin Bakhurst last week, we remain focused on delivering a range of important changes to the operation and culture of this organisation as part of the essential work to restore trust in RTE.”