Taoiseach supports cap on RTE exit payments

Leo Varadkar said he wants the maximum transparency when it comes to exit packages at the broadcaster.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture by Norma Burke/PA
Transparency at RTÉ Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said confidentiality clauses should be avoided in the future at RTE. Picture by Norma Burke/PA

The Taoiseach has said he supports a cap on RTE exit payments while confidentiality clauses “should be avoided” in the future.

Leo Varadkar also said he has confidence in director-general Kevin Bakhurst and chairwoman of the RTE board Siun Ni Raghallaigh, saying they are “doing their best” to stabilise the organisation.

The Fine Gael leader said he wants the maximum transparency when it comes to exit packages at RTE.

It comes after Mr Bakhurst defended his decision to give an exit package to former director of strategy Rory Coveney.

Mr Bakhurst said there were “absolutely no grounds” to sack Mr Coveney, who was described as the “driving force” behind an ill-fated musical which lost the organisation 2.2 million euro.

Mr Coveney, the brother of Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney, received a package when he resigned and his role was made redundant in July last year – the same week Mr Bakhurst took the helm.

Mr Bakhurst would not comment on the exact figure provided to Mr Coveney.

“I suppose what we want is the maximum transparency that is really possible when it comes down to exit packages,” Mr Varadkar said on Tuesday.

“I understand that the director-general Kevin Bakhurst is getting legal advice on that and it may be the case that because of confidentiality clauses, it won’t be possible to disclose all the information that we’d like to see.

“But certainly, whatever is at the legal limit of possibilities, we want to see maximum transparency.”

Mr Varadkar said he would not get into anyone’s individual remuneration but said it was “essential” that RTE provides full transparency to the extent that is legally possible.

“The public and the government want to know exactly what the nature of these exit packages were. Where some are early retirements, we want to know how it was calculated,” he added.

RTE former strategy director Rory Coveney received a redundancy package
RTE pay revelations RTE former strategy director Rory Coveney received a redundancy package (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Where it was redundancy and exit package, we want to be assured that there were real savings here, that these posts are not backfilled and were genuine redundancies.”

He said he agreed with Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin in her calls for a cap to be placed on exit payments.

He added: “I think what Minister Martin said about this is spot on, is that there should be a cap on the exit payments, and confidentiality clauses should be avoided wherever possible.”

Asked if he has confidence in RTE to tackle the crisis, he said: “I do. I think Siun Ni Raghallaigh as new chair is doing a very good job in difficult circumstances.

“We have the new DG in Kevin Bakhurst, who I think is doing his very best to stabilise the organisation.

“I think it’s important that we we give them our support, they are relatively new in their roles and they deserve a chance to get things right.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said she wants to see Mr Bakhurst be “fully forthright and transparent” on the payment to Mr Coveney.

“I mean, he describes himself as the new broom to sweep clean and (bring in) change. That to me is very welcome language. That’s what he needs to be,” Ms McDonald said.

“I think the extent to slowness of RTE in coming forward with information is making a bad situation a whole lot worse. I’m surprised that they haven’t realised that at the most senior level. So we need full transparency, the Oireachtas committees are now investigating these matters.

“They will get to the bottom of them, you get to the bottom of these matters eventually. But it’s always much more productive if you have organisations and entities that are actually cooperative and assist the committees in their work.

“But Kevin Bakhurst doesn’t even have to wait on all of those processes. He has access to the information, he’s the boss, he’s in charge. Now he really needs to be in charge. And assuming that that’s what he’s going to do, I support him in that.”

The Dublin TD also defended her party’s proposal to replace the TV licence with direct exchequer funding, saying it was also the view of experts who recommended that funding model in the Report Of The Future Of Media Commission.

“I think it is quite something that if you’re an RTE executive and you mess up, and you walk away, you walk away with a golden handshake. If you’re a regular person, and you walk away from your job, you walk away with nothing. As a matter of fact, you could have difficulty getting a social welfare payment.

“If you are a senior person within RTE it seems accountability comes very slowly if at all, but if you haven’t paid your television licence, you’ll be summoned to court, you’ll be fined, or you might even be sent to jail for a couple of hours. How is that for contrast? That to me is an outrageous situation.”