RTÉ saga prompts turf war between Oireachtas committees

‘The idea witnesses would come in today before one committee and another tomorrow to answer the same questions is patently ridiculous’

media committee screen shots RTE

Gosh. We thought we had seen it all with the prolonged saga over payments in RTÉ. Now we have two Oireachtas Committee chairs challenging each other like the coaches in Ireland’s Fittest Family.

As Jack Horgan-Jones and Pat Leahy report a turf war has broken out between the two committees that have been examining the various crises that have affected the national broadcaster since last summer, when it emerged that its former star, Ryan Tubridy, had received secret payments.

Both the Media Committee chaired by Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth and the Public Accounts Committee chaired by Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley have been examining the circumstances around Tubridy’s pay deals, the Toy Show The Musical fiasco, and – in recent weeks – the generous exit packages paid to departing senior executives, most of which were accompanied by non-disclosure clauses.

On a number of occasions, a team from RTÉ's top management would come to Leinster House to attend a hearing of the PAC and then would then go across the corridor to attend a hearing of the Media Committee. On some occasions, both committees would go over the exact same ground. Some of the questioners would also be the same – a number of members of the PAC were also members of the Media Committee.


RTÉ does not normally fall within PAC’s remit and was given a special dispensation until Christmas to examine the broadcaster’s use of public finances. It has now sought a time extension.

But in a letter to the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight, which decides such issues, Ms Smyth wrote that there was considerable overlap between the work of both committees.

She said this had resulted in “duplication of witnesses attending, with the same witnesses being invited to attend at two separate committee hearings on the same topic, in some cases, on the same day”.

This she said had given rise to negative public commentary.

One source gives a great comment to my colleagues. “The idea witnesses would come in today before one committee and another tomorrow to answer the same questions is patently ridiculous ... The idea everyone goes running after the ambulance is not a good idea.”

Elsewhere, RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst has contacted Minister for Media Catherine Martin to share with her the legal advice he received about disclosing details of the payments made to departing RTÉ executives. However, none of that has yet been publicly disclosed.

In an implicit criticism of Mr Bakhurst, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said the payments meant RTÉ had put itself into a “straitjacket”.

X – where nothing is secret except its public accountability

Senior executives from the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, attended a meeting of the Oireachtas media committee yesterday to address concerns about moderation on its platform, which has included the refusal to take down content which most would consider extreme or hate speech, while blocking accounts or content from moderate or mainstream sources.

The unusual aspect of the encounter yesterday was that it took place behind closed doors. There was a precedent: Meta has already appeared in private before the Committee. It meant that the only account of the questioning was received second-hand from Committee members who spoke to the media afterwards.

As Pat Leahy reports, X has said it will abide by the proposed new hate speech Bill being brought forward by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. This, despite a promise by its owner Elon Musk to fund legal challenges to the legislation.

The most controversy around the role of X occurred on the night of the Dublin riots on November 23rd. In the Dáil, some days later, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee claimed that all social media companies except X had actively engaged with An Garda Síochána and had taken down provocative material relating to the riots.

She said at the time: “I think the company has a responsibility to be responsible, and where they did not take down content on Thursday it added to, and I think fuelled, some of what happened,” she said.

X took issue with this and said it took action on more than 1,230 pieces of content relating to the riots between November 24th to 28th.

However, those following the riots that night on the social media platform were able to access the continuing content of a number of the leading anti-immigrant figures who had put out “calls to action”.

Speaking to Pat, Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne said he was unimpressed with some aspects of the X presentations today.

“While the engagement was welcome, I am not convinced on foot of it that X is seriously committed to tackling disinformation nor some of the worst forms of hate speech on the site,” he said.

“I was alarmed when they confirmed to me that the number of human content moderators globally has dropped from 5,500 in November 2022 before the Musk takeover to 2,500 now.”

He also said the X algorithm was more driven by likes and shares than by relying on trusted news sources. That, he said, did not help to combat disinformation.

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Dáil Éireann

9.00am: Parliamentary Questions, Minister for Justice

10.30am: Parliamentary Questions, Minister for Agriculture

12pm: Leaders’ Questions

1.44pm: Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024 – Second stage (resumed)

4pm: Topical Issues

4.48pm: Private Members’ Bill: Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2023 – Second Stage

6.03pm: Dáil adjourns


9.30am: Commencement

10.30: Order of Business

11.45am: European Arrest Warrant (Amendment) Bill 2022 – Committee Stage

2.15pm: Statements to mark Second Anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine

3.45pm: Seanad Adjourns


9.30am: Agriculture.

Pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2024

9.30am: Committee on Public Accounts

The Committee is again examining spending and finances in sport and will be speaking to representatives of the FAI and Sport Ireland.

Specific Areas of Interest include matters related to the oversight and governance by Sport Ireland and the Department of Sport of funding to the FAI.

10.00am: Select Committee on Housing

Continuation of committee stage consideration of the mammoth Planning and Development Bill 2023 with Darragh O’Brien, Minister for Housing.

1.30pm: Committee on Environment

Review of the Climate Action Plan 2023 with Eamon Ryan, Minister for Environment.

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