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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Grainne Ni Aodha

Govt to send auditor to look at RTE's books as PAC wants Ryan Tubridy for questioning

The Government is set to green light an auditor to examine RTE’s finances – just as the Public Accounts Committee warned it plans to continue inviting witnesses to testify before the panel.

Coalition chiefs also played down reports of hundreds of redundancies and a sell-off of 2FM amid the ongoing crisis over secret payments to Ryan Tubridy.

Minister of State Ossian Smyth said yesterday the external review process is expected to take months and would include interim reports.

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He also told RTE’s The Week in Politics that Media Minister Catherine Martin has the power under the Broadcasting Act to send in an auditor and he expected she “will use that power”.

She is also due to meet with chairwoman of the RTE board Siun Ni Raghallaigh and incoming director general Kevin Bakhurst.

They will discuss the external review, Mr Bakhurst’s plan to “reconstitute” the executive board and to engage with staff at the station

Sinn Fein TD Brian Stanley, who chairs the PAC – the Oireachtas spending watchdog – also said witnesses may be called in over the summer recess in relation to the payments.

The panel heard evidence from RTE executives and its board last week and has requested extensive documentation from the broadcaster relating to its accounts and payments.

Ryan Tubridy (Collins Photos)

It wants details of Tubridy’s five-year contract and a legal note taken on the May 2020 video call where a key decision was reportedly made in relation to payments to him. At the hearing on Thursday, RTE’s director of legal affairs Paula Mullooly said the note was protected by legal privilege and could not be submitted amid “active and threatened litigation”.

The PAC has sought parliamentary legal advice in relation to this and called on RTE to waive the legal privilege in the interest of transparency.

Mr Stanley said: “What we need here is full transparency, and the fact that we haven’t had full transparency has brought us to the mess at the top of RTE.”

He added he was also interested in hearing from former director general Dee Forbes, RTE director of content Jim Jennings, Tubridy, his agent Noel Kelly, plus former RTE director general Noel Curran.

Mr Stanley told RTE Radio’s This Week: “Certainly, we will be adding other people to that list.”

Ms Forbes has not appeared before the committee, citing ill health. Mr Stanley’s PAC colleague Peadar Toibin said when her health issues are resolved, she should appear under new expanded powers given to the committee.

It is expected to meet in private this week to discuss the breadth of evidence it has heard so far, and to examine any documents handed over by RTE.

Dee Forbes (Collins)

Mr Stanley added: “The fixing of this won’t be done with a sticking plaster. It won’t be done with day surgery.

“This is a major transplant that has to happen here at the top of RTE. It’s major surgery.

“My own personal view is if we have to bring them in over the summer period, that’s fine, we need to do that.

“Because this matter is fundamental to how our country operates, how the State operates, and how our democracy operates, and to public sector broadcasting.”

The Dail term is due to end for the summer on July 13. A spokesman for Ms Martin said she has no proposals for staff redundancies or selling assets at the station.

It comes after the Irish Mail On Sunday, citing Cabinet sources, reported on plans that could see the commercial and public service parts of the broadcaster split, radio station 2FM sold, and significant redundancies also implemented.

On Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed concern that commercial and public funds “all goes into the one pot”, suggesting that would no longer be appropriate.

Ms Martin’s spokesman said: “There are no proposals by the minister for staff redundancies or selling assets.

“These, and related issues, would be matters for the RTE board in the first instance.”

Ms Martin is said to be “acutely aware” of staff concerns after meeting with them, and recognises the “real and understandable anger the public feels”.

The statement added: “However, what she wants to see is fundamental change, not piecemeal reactions.”

Meanwhile, a TD denied yesterday that the coalition could be seeking “revenge” against RTE while it was vulnerable due to the debacle around undeclared payments.

Fianna Fail TD Niamh Smyth, chairwoman of the media committee, said neither she, her panel, nor the Media Minister were using the controversy at the broadcaster to “wield revenge”.

She told Newstalk: “I’m pretty certain from speaking with the minister this morning, that is our intention to protect the staff, to protect RTE.

“And when I say ‘protect’ I mean protect that entity of public service broadcasting.”

Time is also being set aside in the Dail tomorrow to allow TDs to give statements about recent developments at RTE.

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