RTÉ in a ‘straitjacket’ by agreeing to confidential exit payment clauses, says Minister for Finance

Michael McGrath said that Government demanded and expected transparency from RTÉ

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath has questioned why RTÉ put itself into a “straitjacket” by agreeing confidential exit payments with two senior executives who have left the broadcaster over the past year.

RTÉ said on Wednesday that it has received updated legal advice regarding the publication of details of exit packages. However, it is not yet ready to share the position outlined by the advice publicly.

A spokesman said this is now being considered by the broadcaster. He also said that the broadcaster was waiting to receive one more piece of legal advice.

But in the strongest criticism from a senior Government figure of the undisclosed payments to former head of strategy Rory Coveney, and to former director of finance Richard Collins – payments that not generally known to the public until recent days – Mr McGrath said that an organisation such as the RTÉ which was in the eye of a storm should realise it needed to be transparent.

READ MORE

“My own view is that confidentiality in the case of a public body that is partly dependent on taxpayer support should really be done only in exceptional circumstances,” he said.

“It certainly should not be the norm, particularly when an organisation is in a maelstrom and where there should be a recognition that transparency is demanded and expected by the Minister, by the Government and by Oireachtas committees as well.”

In recent days, RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst has argued that such confidential agreements are standard for senior executives departing organisations and that elected officials were essentially asking him to break the law by disclosing the value of the payments.

Mr Bakhurst sought legal advice in recent days to see how far he could to disclose information on the payments without breaching any law.

Mr McGrath said that nobody was asking anybody to break the law but added: “When you enter into such an agreement, you are putting yourself into a straitjacket in many respects.

“The Government values transparency and it is an essential part of the recovery of the reputation of RTÉ in my mind. So, one questions why the organisation put itself into that straitjacket in relation to some of the individual cases concerned?

“In general, for any body that is dependent in part on public funding, such grievances in life should be kept to an absolute minimum and only used in exceptional circumstances,” he said.

Mr McGrath was speaking at the Department of Finance during the launch of the annual report on public debt. Asked for his view if the Revenue Commissioners should have a role in collecting the charge for public service media in the future, Mr McGrath said the Revenue Commissioners were “policy takers” and would fulfil any obligations the Government imposed in relation to political decisions. He said the Government could engage with the Commissioners to understand its perspective on any decision.

“We are not at that point yet. We need to await a Government decision on the nature of the future funding of RTÉ.”

He said RTÉ's financial position had been stabilised by the injection of €60 million in funding in addition to a further €40 million. He also said that payment of the licence fee by householders had returned to normal levels. The number of households paying dipped after the controversy over secret payments to broadcaster Ryan Tubridy were first made public.

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times