Harry McGee: What is happening in the Oireachtas this week in relation to RTÉ?

Ryan Tubridy and Noel Kelly will attend two Oireachtas Committees on Tuesday to set out their respective roles in secret payments controversy

The crisis engulfing RTÉ began last month with its admission of secret payments to its highest-paid broadcaster, Ryan Tubridy and looks set to dominate the political agenda in the Oireachtas for a third consecutive week.

While Kevin Bakhurst’s strongly-worded statement this morning will help lance the boil, a number of key committee meetings in Leinster House will determine if the controversy is finally coming to an end for RTÉ, or whether the organisation is still caught in a vortex.


Kevin Bakhurst’s statement to the staff at 7am sent a strong message that, on his first day in his role as director general, he means business. The strong expressions of disapproval of practice within the broadcaster – with references to appalling and shameful practices – all be received as helpful as were the radical changes announced, including a standing down of the executive board. His offer to have conversations and consult all staff in addition to his promise to establish a register of interest for highly-paid broadcasters (and executives) will also be seen as positive first moves. The key message was that there would be no more secretive stuff within the organisation.


Within an hour the Government had responded with a very strong message of approval. The senior minister with responsibility for RTÉ, Catherine Martin, issued a succinct but approving statement in which the key lines were:

“The commitment of the Director General to rigorous governance processes and an end to secret decision making is vitally important.

“These are the first steps towards helping restore public confidence in RTÉ.”

Bakhurst finished his statement with an Irish expression: “Ní neart go cur le chéile” (together we are stronger).

Another appropriate one might have been “Tús maith, leath na hoibre.” (A good start, half the work done).


Two weeks of repeated headlines on RTÉ has caused significant reputational damage for the organisations including disclosures of some spendthrift practices and the ill-fated Toy Show The Musical costing the organisation €2.2 million in losses.

Already, politically, there has been much discussion around the funding of RTÉ, its remit and the somewhat uneasy relationship between its public broadcasting obligations and its commercial operations.

While Bakhurst’s statement may calm the waters somewhat, Tuesday will be a critical day not only for RTÉ but for the future career of its biggest celebrity and highest-paid broadcaster Ryan Tubridy.

He will attend not one but two Oireachtas committees tomorrow. Alongside him will be his agent, Noel Kelly, largely unknown by the wider public only two weeks ago, but now a household name.

It’s a little strange that both will be appearing before two committees, as both committees will, essentially, be covering the same ground. Both will be asked about the secret arrangements that guaranteed Mr Tubridy additional income from RTÉ over and above that which was stated in its public statements. The side-deal (which it was) netted Mr Tubridy a total of €345,000 from 2017 onwards. Given the feeding frenzy nature of the past two weeks, it is likely that both committees will go back (perhaps to 2011 or 2012) to see if similar arrangements were in place back then. This was a time of substantial cutbacks in RTÉ.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is the Dáil committee which acts as a watchdog for public spending, will have first dibs. It is meeting at 10.30am but Mr Tubridy and Mr Kelly are expected to appear before it at 11am.

Its remit for Tuesday is to explore “commercial arrangements entered into by RTÉ and its presenters, including those underwritten by RTÉ, which have impacted on and relate to the expenditure of public money.”

There was no legal obligation on Mr Tubridy or Mr Kelly to appear and both have done so voluntarily. Normally, the only person obliged to appear before the PAC is the accounting officer (in other words the head) of a Government Department or a State-funded organisation that comes under its remit.

Both men will be accompanied by lawyers. Advisers to the committee will be hyper conscious of the fallout from previous PAC hearings. The Supreme Court found that the committee had acted “significantly outside its remit” when former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins appeared before it in 2014.

There was a sense that some of the questioning of RTÉ executives last week by PAC members might have sailed close to the wind in terms of those restrictions.

The key questions will focus on if Tubridy himself was aware of those secret deals. If he was, that would certainly place a strong question mark over his own immediate future with RTÉ. It will place him in a position that will require him to give a full and careful explanation as to why that was a matter for RTÉ and not for him. Similarly, the committee will be keen to understand the extent of the role of Mr Kelly in brokering the deal, and what he shared with his client during, and after, negotiations.

While the meeting of the Media Committee is not yet on the Oireachtas schedule, it is expected to meet in the afternoon. Having followed the proceedings in the PAC, the Committee will undoubtedly cover some of the same ground but might focus more on the culture within the organisations and the responsibilities of broadcasters.

Needless to say, the live proceedings of both committees will have audiences of Late Late Show dimensions.

The Dáil is unlikely to be a Tubridy-free zone. You can chalk it up that Leaders’ Questions will revolve around questions that have arisen from the PAC hearing in relation to governance and secrecy in Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ).


It never rains but it pours. The media committee will again discuss RTÉ on Wednesday but the timing of this particular discussion is coincidental. The committee is looking at the future of sports broadcasting in Ireland.

The impetus for it comes from a separate controversy touching on RTÉ and that is the use of the new online pay channel GAA Go, which has been used for some high profile games in this year’s football and hurling championships.

While unrelated to the Tubridy pay controversy, this will nevertheless add fuel to the fire.

The committee hearing is scheduled for the entirety of the afternoon with sports organisations appearing first and then broadcasters. The committee is looking at all sports (representatives of the GAA, FAI, and IRFU will appear) as well as all broadcasters.

There is an expectation among the public that everything that happens in GAA should be free to air, while the same sentiment does not apply to other sports, particularly (domestically) rugby. Some will argue that this approach is innately unfair to organisations like the GAA in terms of revenue-raising, while others see it as part of its (and RTE’s) obligations as national organisations. The counter argument is that sports like rugby and soccer get a free pass.

RTÉ is involved in GAA Go and is unlikely to escape criticisms from committee members for charging for some of the big games in the Munster hurling championship.


Kevin Bakhurst, on only his fourth day as director general, will appear before the PAC to discuss the manifold controversies affecting RTÉ and to explain how he intends to tackle them.

Some of those senior executives who have attended Leinster House in recent weeks will not appear this week, given Mr Bakhurst’s announcement of a radical shake-up within the organisation. He is expected to be accompanied, among others, by the chair of the board, Siún Ní Raghallaigh, and deputy director general, Adrian Lynch.

It is expected that the thrust of the meeting will be more forward looking with the committee seeking reassurances from Bakhurst that the issues that have emerged in public in recent weeks will be comprehensively addressed.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times