Ireland

Minister Catherine Martin’s position ‘now untenable’ after RTÉ board resignation – Labour

The Labour Party has accused the media minister of ‘summarily dismissing’ Siún Ní Raghallaigh as chair of the RTÉ board live on air.

Catherine Martin discussed the RTE situation in a TV interview
RTE multimillion euro losses Catherine Martin discussed the RTE situation in a TV interview (Brian Lawless/PA)

Catherine Martin’s position as Media Minister is “now untenable”, the Labour Party has said.

Politicians have been reacting to chairwoman of the RTÉ board Siún Ní Raghallaigh resigning overnight after Ms Martin failed to express confidence in her during a TV interview.



Ms Martin said she had been “misinformed” about the approval of an exit package for a former RTE executive and was “deeply disappointed” when asked to express confidence in Ms Ní Raghallaigh.

The Labour Party has accused the minister of “summarily dismissing” Ms Ní Raghallaigh live on air, while the chair of the Public Accounts committee accused Ms Martin of “jumping the gun a bit”.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that Ms Martin had not effectively dismissed the RTÉ chairwoman through her Prime Time interview.

She said that Ms Martin had “outlined the facts as they had transpired” and had “needed to and wanted to” speak to Ms Ní Raghallaigh on Friday.

“She did not dismiss her. In fact, she has stated very clearly the huge amount of work that Siun has done over the last number of months.”

RTÉ has come under heavy scrutiny to release details of exit packages for executives dating back to 2016.

On Thursday it published legal advice that said publicly releasing the details of former and current employee contracts would expose RTÉ “to avoidable legal challenge”.

Questions have been raised about the governance over exit packages after it was revealed that former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe was paid €450,000 which was not approved under the terms of a voluntary redundancy programme.

Appearing on Prime Time on Thursday night, Ms Martin said she had been given repeated assurances that the RTÉ board had no role in signing off on an exit package to former RTÉ chief financial officer Richard Collins.

However, it has since emerged that the remuneration committee of the board, of which Ms Ní Raghallaigh is a member, had approved of Mr Collins’ exit arrangements.

The minister had said she had sought an urgent meeting with Ms Ní Raghallaigh on Friday over the matter.

However, hours later, Ms Ní Raghallaigh said it was “abundantly clear” her position is no longer tenable as she had lost the confidence of Ms Martin.

In her statement, issued just before 1am on Friday, she said her misrepresentation of the process was not “intentional”.

Ms Ní Raghallaigh said that during a meeting with Ms Martin earlier in the week she had been asked if the board knew about the exit packages for former strategy director Rory Coveney and Mr Collins.

“I said that I was aware of them, but they had not come before the full board. However, I neglected to recollect that Richard Collins’ exit package did go before the renumeration committee.”

Ms Ní Raghallaigh said RTÉ director-general Kevin Bakhurst was also present in the two meetings with the minister and her officials this week, which lasted for more than three hours.

Labour’s Marie Sherlock has said Ms Martin’s TV interview amounted to “summarily dismissing” the chair of the RTÉ board live on air, and said Ms Martin’s position was “now untenable”.

She said that from the beginning of the crisis, Ms Martin “has been on the back foot” and “failed to ask the most basic questions”.

She said that from Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s resignation statement, there appeared to be details of exit packages from former RTÉ executives held by the Department of Media, which she said should be “published in full immediately”.

“The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste must now reflect on the Media Minister’s handling of this whole debacle and ask: is she the person to ensure that necessary reforms take place in RTÉ that will be crucial to its survival, and is she the person who can restore public trust in the State broadcaster?”

Public Accounts committee chair Brian Stanley said the minister “jumped the gun a bit” and “should have kept her powder dry” and wait to meet Ms Ní Raghallaigh.

“The minister should have waited, I believe, until she had the opportunity to speak with Siún Ní Raghallaigh and to hear exactly what Siún Ní Raghallaigh had to say. And then she could make her judgment on whether she had confidence or not.”

He said that Ms Ní Raghallaigh had made a “very comprehensive statement” that raised further questions.

“The minister may have made the right decision, the minister may have not made the right decision, but what I’m saying is … there’s a number of lines in (Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s statement) that raise questions, and the minister should have waited to thrash that out with Siún Ní Raghallaigh to get to the bottom of it.

“When a minister goes on television without any notice, I presume, to Siún Ní Raghallaigh or anyone else, and doesn’t express confidence, refuses to express confidence in the head of the board at RTE, that creates a whole new situation.”

Media committee member Senator Malcolm Byrne said that he does not believe Ms Martin should have held the interview before the meeting scheduled for Friday.

“I would have preferred any decisions to have been made following discussions between the minister and the chair.

“If it does transpire that the department was aware of the process surrounding Richard Collins’ exit package, this brings the department into this dispute.

He added: “Siun Ni Raghallaigh is a dedicated public servant and has been honest and competent in her dealings with our committee. She and Kevin Bakhurst are trying to reform a very difficult organisation.”

Ms McEntee said: “Minister Martin didn’t ask anybody to step aside and we have to be clear on that, she committed to doing an interview and did not renege on that. What she did was outline the facts as they had happened this week.

“I think the difficulty here is that all of us want to have confidence in RTÉ, we want to have confidence in those who are managing it, and we want to move forward. And unfortunately when we continue to have information coming out in the way it is on numbers of different issues, it’s very difficult for people to have confidence.

“Of course this will add to the challenges that RTÉ are facing now.”

Media Minister Catherine Martin thanked Ms Ní Raghallaigh for her service since November 2022 as RTÉ board chairwoman.

“At this critical time for RTÉ, it is imperative that we continue the important process of restoring trust in the organisation. As Ms Ní Raghallaigh stated, there is an urgent need for the transformation process to continue and a sustainable funding model put in place – I am deeply committed to this,” Ms Martin said in a statement.