RTÉ pay controversy: Bakhurst cites legal reason for withholding some documents from PAC

Documents detailing exit packages of Geraldine O’Leary and Breda O’Keefe not provided by RTÉ

RTÉ’s director general has said legal and contractual obligations are the only barriers to providing certain documents to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Kevin Bakhurst on Friday afternoon moved to quell concerns surrounding RTÉ‘s failure to provide documents detailing the financial packages of a number of its executives.

The PAC is seeking legal advice over the omission of certain documents, such as the voluntary exit packages of Geraldine O’Leary and Breda O’Keefe, and the contract for former director general Dee Forbes.

In a statement, Mr Bakhurst said the broadcaster has provided more than 160 requested documents, including one containing more than 500 emails relating to payments to Ryan Tubridy and a chronology of key events relating to his last contract.

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Where documents have not been furnished, legal and contractual obligations are the barrier, he said, adding: “We are not ‘refusing’ to provide them”.

“Every individual at every level in RTÉ has a legal right to confidentiality and sometimes that are other legal constraints relating to departures as I am sure the committee will recognise,” he added.

He reiterated that neither Dee Forbes nor Geraldine O’Leary have received exit payments.

The director general said he commissioned an independent review of the organisation’s voluntary exit package schemes after issues were raised about these to former RTÉ employees, including Breda O’Keeffe.

The review, being undertaken by McCann Fitzgerald Solicitor firm, will be completed in the coming weeks, he said.

Speaking in New York on Friday evening, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said RTÉ should provide information sought by the Public Accounts Committee “if it can”. However, he said he appreciated there may be legal reasons to prevent this happening.

The chair of the PAC, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, earlier said there were questions that needed to be answered by RTÉ in relation to exit packages.

“We didn’t get these and that’s very disappointing because they are three people who have been central to all of this,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Stanley said the details of the voluntary exit packages needed to be clarified. Questions remained about how they were agreed.

“We want to know, is there a framework there for senior executives around a voluntary exit when their terms are up, around when they reach pension age because there are different situations? And what is the situation regarding the new staff in RTÉ? Because I spoke to ordinary staff in RTÉ and some people that I would term maybe mid-level in RTÉ and no one seems to have these packages. So we’re interested to know what packages were available for senior executives.

“What is there to know for senior executives? We need to turn to the future. If it’s just a case that there was hefty voluntary exit packages that weren’t justified, has that come to an end? That’s what I want to know.

“I certainly wouldn’t be suggesting that we seek to compel these documents. We will be seeking our own legal advice on this. We’ve been taking legal advice throughout this process from the parliamentary legal advisers.”

There was “a very straight question” for RTÉ to answer, he said. What system was in place for senior executives who were exiting. What packages were there, were there any exceptions?

The public needed to know and the best way to do that was to put all the facts on the table and for the individuals involved to come before the PAC and spell out exactly what was going on. These matters needed to be cleared up to ensure the future of public service broadcasting, he said.

Asked about the issue on Friday morning, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said RTÉ’s co-operation with the committee is “critical”.

He noted the broadcaster has committed to doing all it can to assist the committee and to reveal important details that enable the committee to do its work.

This is all part of the process that will facilitate RTÉto begin to regain the trust of the Oireachtas.

For the upcoming budget, the Government will consider the various recommendations it has received from the Future of Media Commission.

After the budget, but by the end of the year, the Government will have looked at other RTÉ funding needs.

That will be done after RTÉ has submitted its views on a “reformed vision of what is an important organisation for our country”.

He said “all kinds of futures and all kinds of issues” will be considered in relation to the broadcaster’s position.

“We need to be careful in looking at what would be the long-term consequences of every choice that will be made,” he added.

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent