Subscriber OnlyOireachtas

Miriam Lord: Minister insists she was ‘trying to keep the door open’

Despite Catherine Martin’s valiant efforts, she managed to slam the door in Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s face

Grill them and they will come. Read out statements and they will find other things to do.

Had Catherine Martin’s ministerial career been in any danger on Wednesday afternoon – just a whiff of jeopardy is catnip to TDs – the Dáil chamber would have been more packed than an RTÉ matinee with a fully comped audience.

But the benches were bare.

Perhaps deputies went for a lie-down after two hours of Simon Harris taking Leaders’ Questions. If speed-talking were an Olympic sport, the Minister for Higher Education and Science would walk away with gold.


He was filling in for the Taoiseach who was in Cork attending the funeral of partner Matt’s beloved mother, Maeve Barrett, who died on Sunday.

After a lunch break to recover from smooth-talking Simon’s fluency onslaught, the Dáil reconvened to glean further understandings of the Minister for Media’s monumental media misadventure on live television last week.

This was a follow-up session to Catherine Martin’s 3½-hour stint before the Oireachtas Media Committee on Tuesday night when she shipped a lot of heavy criticism for her clinical ousting of the chairwoman of RTÉ during an interview on the station’s flagship current affairs programme.

Not that she ever intended doing this. It just happened.

She had been unhappy after two instances of inaccurate information from the chairwoman, who is supposed to be her eyes and ears in RTÉ. (And nobody else, apparently.)

On the morning of the infamous interview Catherine informed Siún Ní Raghallaigh that she was minded to write a formal letter outlining her misgivings.

Ní Raghallaigh indicated she didn’t want such a letter and she might resign upon receipt of it.

Much later in the day, the Minister set out for RTÉ and the letter was sent before the interview.

Purely in the interests of transparency, one of her advisers then tipped off Prime Time about her having a bit of ongoing bother with the chairwoman and journalists, somehow, got wind of this unhappy situation that very day and were asking questions.

As Catherine told the Dáil: “Maximum transparency, in my opinion, is key to reform.”

Obviously, Miriam O’Callaghan asked her if she had confidence in the chairwoman.

Who would have expected that? Not the Minister for Media. She wasn’t expecting it.

And having left it to someone else to lay the groundwork, she insisted on Wednesday: “I did everything in my power not to go there, not to say I had no confidence.”

A number of TDs wondered why she couldn’t telephone Ní Raghallaigh and talk to her before sending the letter and doing the interview – acts which could have only one outcome.

But a call wouldn’t do. The trust was gone. So no, it had to be a “face-to-face” meeting.

Without a hint of irony, she recalled the interview. “I was trying everything in my power to not say anything and keep that door open… I was trying to keep the door open.”

Yet despite her valiant efforts, she managed to slam it in Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s face. Very unfortunate.

The TDs weren’t buying it.

But, as on Tuesday night, the Minister for Media fought her corner and stuck to her story in the face of smiling incredulity from some of her inquisitors. Having survived the committee, facing a succession of statements from across the Dáil floor was easy.

Deputies were not permitted to directly question her.

Catherine Martin looked and sounded more confident and assured as the session went on.

Opposition speakers could fulminate at her all afternoon, but they were covering old ground while she knew she had the full backing of her Coalition colleagues.

Very few of them turned up to support her, though. In private, Government TDs are not impressed by the Prime Time episode.

There was a similarly sparse turnout from the other side of the House. Deputies knew nothing would turn on this session but at least reading statements gave some the opportunity to let off steam about the general state of affairs in RTÉ while expressing total bemusement at the Minister for Media’s professed state of knowledge of how the media works.

Some, like the Rural Independents, grabbed it with both hands.

Mattie McGrath donned his tinfoil hat and wittered about RTÉ becoming the Government’s mouthpiece during Covid while “the Cabal” at the top is a law onto itself, won’t listen to anyone and is expanding all the time.

The Healy-Raes took an unmerciful swipe at Joe Duffy in a fit of blatant score-settling. Joe had a major set-to with Michael on his programme in 2022 over the phrase “airy-fairies”.

Richard O’Donoghue and Carol Nolan complained about a lack of balance and one-sided reporting. “They are being directed by Government about what to say and when to say it,” said Richard, also griping about the station’s output. Even at Christmas “putting out stuff from 50 years ago”.

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett wondered if the Government wanted the RTÉ crisis to keep going because it draws attention away from its own shortcomings.

Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín called RTÉ’s continuing “omnishambles” a “depressing soap opera” and said things were going to get worse in the Montrose “fiasco factory” as a result of the Minister’s stewardship.

The events of recent weeks prove she is “a functionary” when the organisation badly needs “a fixer”.

Labour’s Alan Kelly conducted a compelling “forensic chronology” of events in the run-up to and including last Thursday’s carry-on. “I will call it Prime Time Day.”

By making a “disastrous decision” to do the live interview, Catherine Martin shot herself in the foot. “You were nearly out of the gap and you decided to put yourself into the middle of it.”

Now she has a crunch meeting lined up with the RTÉ board on Friday but after what she did to Ní Raghallaigh, “How in God’s name can they have confidence in you?”

But the Minister is looking forward to it. She told the Dáil the focus of the meeting was “moving on together”.

She is confident all will come good in the end.

“I think it’s important that we end on a positive note.”