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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
David Young

RTE staff member who had loan car for five years returned it this week

PA Wire

A staff member at RTE had a car loaned to them for five years without approval – and only returned it this week, a parliamentary committee has been told.

The revelation emerged when Fianna Fail senator Timmy Dooley questioned RTE’s interim deputy director-general Adrian Lynch on whether any employees at the broadcaster were in possession of a car as a result of being brand ambassadors for motoring companies while at the same time receiving a car allowance from RTE.

Mr Lynch revealed one RTE staff member had secured the loan of a car for five years.

He told the Media Committee the loan period was “not approved”, and the car was returned on Tuesday.

“I’m aware of one instance where somebody had a loan of a car. My understanding is that car has been returned and that individual is a staff member of RTE,” Mr Lynch said.

Mr Dooley asked how long the car had been on loan.

“I believe for a period of five years,” Mr Lynch said, adding: “That was not approved.”

Mr Dooley later asked when the car was returned.

“Yesterday,” replied Mr Lynch.

Mr Lynch later declined to specify whether the staff member was an executive, board member or on air presenter. He said indicating what position they held in the organisation would fuel speculation as to their identity.

He said he would have to clarify if the individual was also in receipt of a car allowance from RTE.

Mr Lynch said he would also need to seek clarity on a follow-up question from Mr Dooley on whether anyone in receipt of an RTE car allowance did not possess a driving licence.

The disclosure on the car was among a series of further revelations around RTE on the latest day of the controversy that has rocked the national broadcaster.

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, RTE provided a series of further documents to committee members to inform their examinations of the affair.

They include a list of the broadcaster’s top 100 salaries, all of which are above 116,000 euro, with the highest earner being paid 515,000 euro.

A letter from ex-director general Dee Forbes, written in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, guaranteeing that presenter Ryan Tubridy would not be subject to a pay cut between 2020 and 2025, was also scrutinised at Wednesday’s committee hearing, as was multimillion-euro losses incurred by RTE’s ill-fated musical based on the Late Late Show’s annual Toy Show episode.

Rory Coveney, director of strategy at RTE, defended the Toy Show musical, which recorded losses of 2.2 million euro in its first year.

“We took a creative and commercial risk to try, and for the best of reasons, to try and create something unique for Irish families and for children at Christmas,” he told the committee.

“I’m not sure if anyone here was at the show, but those who attended it absolutely loved it, particularly children.

“It clearly wasn’t a commercial success, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort from everyone involved.”

Since the scandal broke, it has emerged that RTE used a barter account to pay out hundreds of thousands of euro to pay for tickets and trips to entertain clients at events such as the Rugby World Cup in Japan, Ireland rugby matches in Dublin and the 2019 Champions League final in Madrid.

The RTE documents provided to parliamentarians included details on further expenditure through barter account spending.

The committee heard these included 20,900 euro spent on a summer party for agencies and clients in 2016; 12,000 euro for a Bruce Springsteen concert; 7,500 euro for a golf outing with accompanying purchases of golf balls and jackets; and 6,358 euro for tickets for Phil Collins and Robbie Williams’ concerts.

Committee member Brendan Griffin, a Fine Gael TD, was particularly critical of the 4,956 euro spent on 200 pairs of flip flops for a summer party for clients.

“Two hundred pairs of flip flops at 34 euros each – this is what’s going through this account. This isn’t a barter account, this is a slush fund,” he added.

“And all of these entries ask more questions of RTE, who was benefiting, who knew what, why wasn’t this showing up?”

Commercial director Geraldine O’Leary robustly defended the expenditure on entertaining clients, highlighting the importance of building strong relationships with companies that spent millions of euros advertising with RTE.

Ms O’Leary also revealed the personal toll the furore has had on her.

Asked if her position was tenable, she said she is due to retire in eight weeks’ time but will have a conversation with incoming director general Kevin Bakhurst.

“I would like to also say that from my side, I’m not sure my position is tenable because of the invasion of privacy, the effect on my mental health and, most importantly, the erroneous reports on both Twitter and in newspapers about me and my husband has crossed a line that I do not find acceptable,” she added.

“For the record, my husband and I paid for our own hotels and flights to Chicago.”

That was an apparent reference to questions that have been raised about her attendance at an international rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand in Chicago several years ago.

The commercial director also defended the purchase of an annual membership for meeting rooms at the exclusive private members club Soho House in London.

Responding to questioning from Fine Gael’s Ciaran Cannon, Ms O’Leary said the membership was in her name.

“Depending on the year, approximately 5% of our business comes from the UK (through UK agencies),” she said.

“Previously, we used to have offices in London in Millbank, and previously on Bond Street where we would meet clients. We don’t have that anymore.

“So we avail of the opportunity to have meetings in Soho House in London, when we are there with clients.”

Ms O’Leary added that due to multinational clients based there, “well over a third” of revenue is decided in the UK.

She was asked why the membership was renewed roughly during the second wave of Covid-19 in September 2020.

Ms O’Leary said: “We need to travel to London to meet our customers, we couldn’t predict when the next lockdown was going to come.”

She said no accommodation was included in the package.

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