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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Ferghal Blaney

Inside RTE's secret 'barter account' used for €138,000 rugby tickets and wining and dining clients

RTE chiefs have acknowledged the existence of an astonishing secret slush fund worth €1.25million which was used to pay for hospitality and luxury trips abroad for senior executives, their partners and advertising clients.

This was the same fund, a barter account, that was used to syphon Ryan Tubridy’s €75,000 a year secret payments, which enabled the top-ups to remain hidden from most people in RTE.

New RTE chairwoman, Siun Ni Raghaillaigh, was damning of the organisation she now heads at a blockbuster PAC meeting, describing this arrangement as “an act designed to deceive.”

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Details of numerous events paid for from the covert account, which existed outside the normal finance department, included a trip to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan for six people at a total cost of €111,000.

The head honchos at RTE would seem to be especially fond of rugby as they also used the slush fund to pay for €138,000 worth of rugby tickets for matches at the Aviva Stadium.

There was also a trip to the Champions League between Liverpool and Chelsea that year in Madrid which cost the taxpayer €26,000 through RTE.

The committee were shocked to hear that there was a corporate event organised in Croke Park that included hiring a private minibus to bring a party from a restaurant in Drumcondra to Croke Park, also in Drumcondra.

RTE board members and executives (left to right) Chief Financial Officer Richard Collins, staff representative to the board Robert Shortt, RTE Interim Deputy Director General Adrian Lynch, RTE Chairperson of the board Siun Ni Raghallaigh, Strategy Director Rory Coveney , board member Anne O'Leary and RTE Commercial Director Geraldine O'Leary leave the Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media at Leinster House, Dublin (PA)

And the RTE head of commercial, Geraldine O’Leary, also revealed there was a golf day and dinner at the salubrious K Club in the same year.

It was another stunning day of amazing evidence at a Dail committee, this time the spending watchdog PAC (Public Accounts Committee), which took up the reins from the media committee which had grilled RTE bosses on Wednesday.

The culture at the national broadcaster was slammed repeatedly as the TDs of the PAC forensically took apart their witnesses, revealing shocking instances of splurging licence payers’ cash with no accountability.

The board’s new chairman, Ms Ni Raghallaigh, who has only been in the job since last November described the situation uncovered as “outrageous.”

Former RTE chair, Moya Doherty, was also a witness at the meeting and she too was floored on hearing of the huge hospitality splurges, saying: “I was not aware over eight years as chair of the organisation of a slush fund.”

Fianna Fail TD Paul McAuliffe described the secret payments like an advertising company giving €75,000 to a bus company and instead of giving it to the bus company, giving it to the driver so nobody else knows that driver is getting paid more than everybody else.

RTE execs appear at Oireachtas committee over payments scandal (Oireachtas TV)

Mr McAuliffe questioned whether “balloon payments” of €120,000 to be paid on an end-of-contract basis were being used to disguise higher pay for Mr Tubridy.

Veteran PAC member and one of the Dail’s most dogged inquisitors, Alan Kelly, remarked: “I’ve been knocking around here a long while and this is the most extraordinary meeting I’ve ever seen in Public Accounts.”

The secret nature of the top-up payments to Mr Tubrudy was exposed in more detail.

It transpired according to CFO (Chief Financial Officer), Richard Collins, that the payments were billed by Mr Tubridy’s agent, Noel Kelly, as ‘consultancy fees.’

Mr Collins said he didn’t question the strange invoice because it had been signed off “at the top” by station boss, Dee Forbes.

Ryan Tubridy and RTE's former Director General, Dee Forbes (Collins)

The finance chief said: “I’ve had legal advice to say that it isn’t fraud….. it’s concealment and deception

“In my own opinion, the taxpayer was potentially defrauded.”

Head of commercial at RTE, Geraldine O’Leary, said about the fees: “I did not know that it was designed to conceal Ryan Tubridy’s earnings.”

There was a surreal moment during the gruelling four hour session when the station’s current head of finance, Richard Collins, stumbled to recall what he himself was paid.

He said: “I don’t know what my exact salary is….I think that’s a private matter.”

However, PAC Chair Brian Stanley intervened and demanded Collins to answer.

Fianna Fáil Cork TD, James O’Connor was shocked: “This is outrageous, the chief financial officer doesn’t know exactly what he’s paid.”

Mr Collins, after reflecting, then revealed his pay: “I believe my base salary is around €200,000, plus a car allowance of about €25,000.”

Ms Ni Raghaillaigh has a problem with describing the top earners like Mr Tubridy as ‘the talent’ of the organisation.

She said in her opening statement: “Can I say something about the use of the word ‘talent’. “Words matter and the term, as it is currently used, reinforces a ‘them and us’ culture in RTÉ. “It implies some have greater worth than others.

“The first step in cultural change is to consign this term to the dustbin.”

The committee is not finished its probing into RTE, with another session already scheduled for next Thursday.

Chairman Stanley also said they are considering using special powers of compellability to invite recently resigned Director General, Dee Forbes, or the man at the centre of the secret payments storm, Ryan Tubridy.

Either of these guests appearing in Leinster House for questioning would make for another blockbuster session of the PAC.

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