Dáil committee calls for Comptroller & Auditor General to oversee RTÉ

Controversy over large exit payments for departing executives to take the political centre stage again this week as Minister to appear before committee and Dáil

RTÉ should in future be subjected to new financial controls as well as greater oversight around contracts and big exit packages, a new report from the Dáil’s most powerful committee is set to recommend.

Members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are due to meet on Tuesday to finalise a 70-page report into recent revelations around events in RTÉ, with the report set to call for the State broadcaster to come under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG).

Three sources familiar with the contents of the document said it will recommend tighter financial controls within the station, greater transparency around exit packages, and fresh oversight of contracts.

The committee is set to recommend that the broadcaster should: implement a new written policy on negotiations with agents with all discussions minuted and documented; provide an annual statement about activity in the barter account; and reveal the exact amounts paid out in exit payments every year. New financial controls should also be put in place for big projects.


The report is being closely guarded and has yet to be circulated, with PAC members invited to view only the draft recommendations in person last week. Any move to bring RTÉ under the remit of the C&AG would mean RTÉ's accounts would be inspected and audited every year, and that any issues would be flagged with the PAC and wider political system. Such a move is now being seriously considered within the Government, a senior source said, adding that fresh legislation would likely be needed.

It comes as the controversy over large exit payments for departing executives looks set to take the political centre stage again this week.

Minister for Media Catherine Martin is due to appear before the Oireachtas media committee on Tuesday to answer questions on what is being viewed politically as the forced resignation of RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh.

Ms Martin last week accused Ms Ní Raghallaigh of providing misleading information about a confidential severance payment to former chief financial officer Richard Collins. Ms Martin said that on two occasions last week she had received assurances that the board had had no role in the approval of the exit package. Despite the assurances, the Minister said it had emerged that the remuneration committee of the board, which was chaired by Ms Ní Raghallaigh, had approved the package.

In an interview on RTÉ's Prime Time programme, Ms Martin twice refused to offer confidence in the chair, precipitating her resignation later that night.

A key consideration this week will be a claim made by Ms Ní Raghallaigh upon her departure that on October 10th last year she rang the former secretary general of the Department of Media Katherine Licken and told her the remuneration committee had approved an agreement with Mr Collins. Ms Licken is understood to be “emphatic”, sources say, that she was not told about the board approving the package.

The Minister has been told by the Oireachtas Committee on Media that Ms Licken may attend Tuesday’s meeting if she so wishes, with committee members keen to hear from her in person.

Sinn Féin has also called for Ms Martin to answer questions on the controversy in the Dáil this week. While the Minister has so far committed only to making statements in the Dáil, increasing pressure – including the looming threat of a possible no-confidence motion from the Labour Party – may change this.

Members of the Oireachtas media committee also confirmed on Sunday that they may now also seek to reinvite Ms Ní Raghallaigh and RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst before the committee to answer detailed questions about all exit or severance packages that have been approved in recent years. Such a meeting could happen in March, drawing the controversy out into the spring.

The Minister’s spokesman sought on Sunday to downplay a report in the Business Post that officials from the Department of Media were told last October that the remuneration committee was approving exit payments. At a sitting of the PAC in October, an RTÉ executive said the remuneration committee was now covering exit packages.

A spokesman said it was a “passing reference” which would not have made it obvious that the remuneration committee had new powers. The spokesman said that, on the contrary, the former chair told the Minister that this new responsibility would come into effect in the future.

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Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times