Catherine Martin sticks to her guns over collapse in trust of RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh

Appearing before Oireachtas media committee, the Minister threw further doubt on Ní Raghallaigh and RTÉ's claim the board’s role in an exit package had been communicated to department

At the heart of Catherine Martin’s Tuesday night appearance at the Oireachtas media committee was the total collapse of her relationship with, and trust in, the former chairwoman of RTÉ last week.

Time and again, Martin emphasised that her faith in Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s capacity to provide her with accurate information had been totally depleted – first by events that took place months ago, when she apologised for not passing on that former Director General Dee Forbes had been asked to resign.

And then, in the course of the last week when Ní Raghallaigh again had to apologise for not passing on that former director of strategy Rory Coveney had been given an exit package (“I should have told you, and I’m sorry,” Martin recounted the RTÉ chair as saying), after which she provided inaccurate information over whether the board had signed off on an exit for former chief financial officer Richard Collins.

This culminated in an extraordinary exchange last Thursday, laid out by Martin at the committee. After she expressed her shock and disappointment, through officials, the message came back to the minister that the RTÉ chair felt there was no need for a meeting to discuss the matter, that she did not want to receive a letter about it, and indeed, in effect threatened to resign if such a letter materialised. It amounts to an extraordinary exchange. “Astounding,” in Martin’s words.


It was followed with a Prime Time interview that triggered the resignation. Martin came under sustained pressure from her fellow politicians on the committee over exactly what happened. As she arrived in RTÉ, she said media queries made clear that it was about to break that she had been given incorrect information by the chair.

Her advisers flagged the issue to Prime Time, whose presenter Miriam O’Callaghan predictably probed it on air. Martin, it seems, was not expecting to be asked whether she lost confidence – and in her own telling to the committee, was trying to figure out ways to avoid saying she had lost confidence. But the political reality is that once you don’t express full confidence, the horse has bolted. That a Cabinet minister would be unaware of this appeared to stretch the credulity of the committee members.

By the time she sat down in front of the Oireachtas media committee on Tuesday evening, the Minister for Media had been in the spotlight for four full days.

Beforehand, the hope was that the under-siege minister could shift the spotlight off her, her actions and her department – and back to RTÉ, emphasising her own plan of action and in so doing laying down a gauntlet to Montrose. Martin was composed and stuck to her plan – an hour in, there was little in the way of commentary on what exactly the department knew about Collins’s exit package, one of the key points of vulnerability for the minister going in, who had faced accusations that she had in effect engineered the departure of the chair based on withholding of information which already resided in the department.

Indeed, Martin threw further doubt on Ní Raghallaigh and RTÉ's claim that the board’s role had been communicated to the department, saying the former chair told officials last week she “imagined” she would have mentioned it. It is worth noting that two Senators directly targeted Kevin Bakhurst, the current Director General – the political consensus underpinning his stewardship of the broadcaster is now beginning to show cracks.

Martin’s strategy – of putting such focus on Ní Raghallaigh and giving such a detailed account of the breakdown last week – is not without risk. Questions will remain over her decision-making on Thursday, and perhaps most importantly, Ní Raghallaigh will seemingly get her chance to put her version on the record with the committee after it agreed to invite her and Katherine Licken, the former secretary general in Martin’s department.

If that happens, for the umpteenth time, all eyes will be on the committee rooms.

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