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RTÉ executives shut exit package door after pantomime horse has bolted

Gasps at Oireachtas media committee hearing as figure of €450,000 for exit package for broadcaster’s former chief financial officer is revealed

This RTÉ potboiler is dragging on a bit now.

The latest Oireachtas media committee episode was all about shutting the exit package door after the pantomime horse has bolted. A very expensive production, by all accounts.

The horse cost more than €2 million and the door came in at €450,000, before tax. When the exit figure was divulged, a viewer in Committee Room 3 gasped.



Nonetheless it was the dramatic high point of an episode panned by the critics before it even aired because half the cast was missing and they were the most interesting characters.

It followed on from The One Where Sheriff Bakhurst Rides into Town (and vows to clean up the corporate Dodge known as RTÉ). As soon as he arrived, Kevin began shootin’ the place up, informing committee members on Wednesday: “I can’t go into the detail of it but a number of people have been exited from the organisation.”

Bumped off, no less. Most impressive.

However, as he continued his testimony, it emerged that the “exited” might also have been the “excited” given that they departed with loads of money to cushion their distress.

Take the case of Rory Coveney, the man behind RTÉ’s massive Christmas flop, Toy Show the Turkey. As controversy gathered pace about the €2.3 million theatrical lossmaker, Rory decided to do the honourable thing last summer and hand in his spurs.

In other words, he resigned.

But he also got an exit package.

Sinn Féin’s Thomas Gould was perplexed. “If a person resigns, they don’t get a package. I was in the private sector for 30 years before I came here: if you left, you left.”

But you see, Tommy, life is not the same for those with a key to the executive loo.

“Sometimes there’s an agreed resignation,” explained Sheriff Bakhurst. “If it’s finely balanced and it’s best for the organisation that that person leaves and they resign, then sometimes you have to find an agreement to do that and that’s the reality at senior level.”

They half resign.

“This has been a difficult and dispiriting time for RTÉ,” he declared, burnishing his tin star during an opening address. “But I know that a different and better organisation will emerge from the crisis.”

Fine Gael backbencher Alan Dillon put his queries politely and with a minimum of showboating. But he got results where other members, brusquely barking at witnesses while they were still trying to get the words out, failed

At the start of the meeting, committee chair Niamh Smyth thanked the 11 people who turned up before reading the Rollcall of Shame (as she certainly saw it), naming those RTÉ big wigs who decided not to attend for a variety of reasons.

They have one thing in common – they are all “former” directors, DG and chair, which might explain their absence.

Smyth was disgusted, particularly by no-shows Dee Forbes, Moya Doherty and Rory Coveney, who would have brought crucial, er, insights.

At the end of the four-hour hearing, Niamh issued a heartfelt plea, bless her optimism.

“I would appeal to Ms Forbes, if she is watching in, to please make herself available at some time. We do not want to go down the road of compelling, but we may have to.”

Aaah, go on.

Fine Gael backbencher Alan Dillon put his queries politely and with a minimum of showboating. But he got results where other members, brusquely barking at witnesses while they were still trying to get the words out, failed.

Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster, for example, the committee’s resident rottweiler, would be far better off allowing people time to answer and, maybe, talk themselves into trouble.

She gave HR director Eimear Cusack a torrid time for signing off on an exit package without checking because the director general Dee Forbes told her it was totally in order. She said she trusted the word of her boss at the time and didn’t question it, something she now regrets.

People in many organisations and companies don’t like to challenge their boss and leader. But Imelda is fortunate to be a member of Sinn Féin where this has never been an issue, right back to the days of Gerry Adams who was president for 34 years.

Anyway, Alan elicited a bombshell disclosure from Kevin Bakhurst about this voluntary exit package for departing chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe, which was not run through the normal process.

Deputy Dillon asked how much it was, reminding Sheriff Bakhurst he is “building a new RTÉ” and there is a need for transparency, accountability and integrity.

“Now, you are under privilege here” he said, helpfully, mindful of the new DG’s stated concerns about sharing certain details.

Bakhurst started talking about legal pressures and suchlike. It looked like he would stonewall.

“I agree with you transparency is important. I agree with you it’s important in this case...” he said slowly, leaning forward on the desk, arms tightly folded, looking straight at the Mayo TD.

We waited for the “but”.

Then, hardly skipping a beat and without altering his gaze, he said “Breda O’Keeffe was paid four-hundred and fifty thousand euros to leave.”

“Can you repeat that?”


“Jesus,” exhaled one of the politicians.

Eimear Cusack explained earlier about signing off on it on the DG’s say-so. Dee Forbes told her the outlay would be partly recouped through cost savings.

Then a new CFO was recruited. Richard Collins was brought in on a €200,000 salary, a figure he, memorably, couldn’t recall at one of the meetings last year.

He is now the among the ranks of the “formers” and another no-show.

On top of all this is the fiasco that was the theatrical turkey of Toy Show the Musical, a child of Forbes and Coveney championed by Riverdance co-creator and then RTÉ chairwoman Moya Doherty (also MIA).

Right up the time it flopped, Rory Coveney was telling RTÉ directors that all was well.

“What’s the story, Rory?” they would ask. And he would tell them the show was only flying.

The whole set-up at executive level was mad.

“I’d say the dysfunction at the top is now gone,” remarked Siún Ni Raghallaigh, the current chair.

“The institutional arrogance is gone,” said another board member, David Harvey.

“It wouldn’t happen now,” declared Sheriff Bakhurst.

And the committee members live in hope that the Missing Links will return to give evidence.

Don’t hold your breath.