RTÉ staff must make disclosures for register of interests or else face sanctions, Minister warns

Mazars report finds ‘alarming gaps’ in internal policies, procedures and controls at broadcaster

Minister for Media Catherine Martin: 'There will be sanctions there for anyone who has not signed up or doesn’t adhere or doesn’t get permission under the new rules.' Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

RTÉ staff who do not comply with disclosure obligations on the broadcaster’s new register of interests will face sanctions, Minister for Arts and Media Catherine Martin has said.

The new RTÉ director general, Kevin Bakhurst, intends to share plans for the register of interests with unions representing staff next Monday, Ms Martin said, and bring it forward roughly a fortnight later.

“There will be sanctions there,” she said, for “anyone who has not signed up or doesn’t adhere or doesn’t get permission under the new rules, and I think these are important changes.”

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The register of interests was conceived in the wake of a sprawling controversy at the national broadcaster which emerged after it disclosed star presenter Ryan Tubridy’s pay was significantly higher than had been indicated. That controversy has spread to encompass concerns about perks and oversight of rules and standards for RTÉ staff.

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Ms Martin was speaking after the publication of an interim report into the operation of controversial barter accounts which were used to funnel some €150,000 in payments to Tubridy under the guise of consultancy fees. The use of the accounts for corporate hospitality and staff entertainment came to light during Oireachtas committee hearings held last month.

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The Mazars report published on Friday found “alarming gaps” in internal policies, procedures and controls that existed in RTÉ, Ms Martin said. These included an apparent lack of signed contracts between RTÉ and agencies involved in the barter accounts, no properly documented policies, an absence of budgetary reporting, goods and services being acquired through the barter account outside standard processes, and no formal list of staff limiting who could make purchases through the account.

A finalised report is expected in the first week of October, she said.

On Friday, Ms Martin posed a series of questions about how the barter account may have been used.

“It definitely raises questions there as to was it being used to avoid proper oversight to hide certain purchases, that’s what we can see here.”

Accountancy firm Mazars told the Department of Arts, Culture and the Media that they had not identified any benefit to RTÉ by making barter accounts purchases. In light of this, Ms Martin said it points to “avoiding the proper controls and procedures in order to allow these purchases to happen without oversight”.

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Ms Martin was unable to say who may have benefited directly from any effort to hide transactions, saying there was not even a list of those who had authority to execute transactions on the account, and argued that she would wait for the final report. Asked if she believed RTÉ had fully disclosed all the transactions on the barter account to Oireachtas committees examining the matter, she again deferred to the publication of the final report. “We will find out in October,” she told reporters.

She indicated that talks on a bailout for the broadcaster would take place in the coming weeks, with the input of NewEra ahead of budget day decisions. However, a longer-term solution to RTÉ's financial woes and an overhaul of its funding model would not be decided on until early next year, she said.

Asked about potential cost-cutting measures at RTÉ, Ms Martin would not be drawn on specifics beyond pointing out that Mr Bakhurst has started talks with presenters and was liaising with staff.

Ms Martin’s low profile during a month when the crisis at the national broadcaster deepened was the subject of private criticism from some in government. Pushed on her absence from the airwaves in the last month, she said she had spent time with her family and that was important to her but had also suffered a bereavement. “I was with a personal family matter, and that very close family relative died earlier this week.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times