Reforms at RTÉ to be sought by Government before agreeing financial supports

Amount needed by broadcaster likely to increase from €16m uplift planned by Catherine Martin

The Government is likely to seek reforms, including potential cost-cutting, at RTÉ before agreeing to any financial assistance for the station in the autumn, according to several senior Government sources.

RTÉ is seeking interim financial assistance from the Government in the budget ahead of a longer term reform of how the station is funded, likely next year when various inquiries into controversies are concluded.

Minister for Arts and Media Catherine Martin confirmed this week that she had sought an extra €16 million for RTÉ in the budget before the recent controversies. However, with news this week that there has been a sharp reduction in licence fee payments since the news of the payments scandal broke, that figure is expected to rise.

However, several senior figures in Government have told The Irish Times that RTÉ will need to show that is implementing reforms, including potential cost-cutting plans, before even this interim assistance is agreed.


Some Ministers are of the view that the Government cannot give money to the station, at a time when many spending requests will be refused during the budget process, without RTÉ demonstrating that it is willing to change, and to take some of the financial burden itself.

There are likely to be discussions between senior RTÉ executives and officials from the Department of Arts and Media in the coming weeks, before the estimates process – in which the Department of Public Expenditure agrees budgets with the various line departments – takes place in September.

Ms Martin confirmed earlier this week that licence fee income had declined by 31 per cent in the second week of July compared with last year. The first week of the month had seen a decline of 27 per cent over last year. If this trend continues, it will exacerbate the financial crunch that many people in Government anticipate for the national broadcaster in the autumn.

But the news did not soften the attitudes of people in Government who are taking a hard line on new funding for RTÉ, demanding changes at the broadcaster before any interim bailout or longer term new funding settlement is agreed.

Meanwhile, chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee Brian Stanley has said his committee is still waiting for a number of documents from RTÉ, requested after recent hearings.

They include the Grant Thornton report into the 2017-2019 payments to Ryan Tubridy; the “side letter between Noel Kelly and Dee Forbes from a Teams call on the 7th of May 2020 that allegedly agreed and underwrote the tripartite agreement”; “confirmation from RTÉ that it is satisfied that all tax liabilities have been covered off regarding the two €75,000 barter payments for services by Ryan Tubridy”; Breda O’Keeffe’s [the former chief financial officer] retirement package and the minutes from the executive board outlining who signed off on it; a copy of Dee Forbes’ contract; and a “full audit over the past five years of appearances by the top 20 stars in RTÉ on shows that they were not involved in”.

Mr Stanley said he wanted to have further hearings with RTÉ executives when these documents were received. He also reiterated the committee’s desire to have three crucial RTÉ witnesses, who have not yet appeared, come before it to answer questions.

“These are former director general Dee Forbes, former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe, former commercial director Geraldine O’Leary and former director of content Jim Jennings. Three of those individuals have not been before the PAC yet and I believe each of them have invaluable information to provide to the committee,” Mr Stanley said.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times