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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Rory Carroll

RTÉ suspends director general over payments to presenter Ryan Tubridy

The RTÉ director general, Dee Forbes.
The RTÉ director general, Dee Forbes. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ, has suspended its director general over hidden payments of €345,000 (£295,000) to a star television and radio presenter, Ryan Tubridy.

The board suspended Dee Forbes on Wednesday, RTÉ said in a terse statement on Friday.

The disclosure came amid a political and public backlash since the broadcaster admitted on Thursday that it had made undeclared payments above Tubridy’s annual published salary between 2017 and 2020. It apologised for what it said was a betrayal of public trust.

Government and opposition politicians expressed shock and demanded more information. Catherine Martin, the minister for media, said she was “deeply concerned”. The RTÉ branch of the National Union of Journalists expressed anger and was to hold an emergency meeting on Friday.

“When you deliberately seek to hide money, when you deliberately seek to misrepresent accounts for whatever sum of money, that’s actually fraudulent accountancy,” Brian Stanley, a Sinn Féin legislator who chairs the Irish parliament’s public accounts committee, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.

“This isn’t happening in any kind of a dodgy backstreet operation. This isn’t Del Boy and Rodney, this is actually the national broadcaster,” said Stanley, referencing the TV sitcom Only Fools and Horses.

The scandal undercut RTÉ’s long-running attempt to obtain more funding by overhauling the licence fee funding model.

Ryan Tubridy.
Ryan Tubridy. Photograph: Damien Eagers/PA Media

Tubridy, 50, who hosted the flagship TV chatshow The Late Late Show, did not present his regular radio show on Friday. In a statement he said it was up to RTÉ to explain the “errors” in its accounts.

“I have no involvement in RTÉ’s internal accounting treatment or RTÉ’s public declarations in connection with such payments,” he said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed to be at the centre of this story but unfortunately, I can’t shed any light on why RTÉ treated these payments in the way that they did nor can I answer for their mistakes in this regard.”

Moya Doherty, who chaired the RTÉ board until November 2022, said neither she nor other board members under her tenure knew of the payments. She expressed concern at the “profoundly serious lack of transparency”.

The discrepancies came to light during an internal audit. They partly stem from an agreement, separate to Tubridy’s regular salary, that guaranteed an additional annual income of €75,000 that was supposed to come from a commercial partner in return for personal appearances. When the partner did not renew the deal in 2021 RTÉ made the payments itself.

RTÉ said the revised calculation showed Tubridy received a total of €3.15m between 2017 and 2022, with his annual pay exceeding €500,000. This coincided with cost-cutting negotiations with staff.

The national broadcaster’s integrity was at stake, said Ciarán Cannon, a Fine Gael member of the public accounts committee. “Further answers are needed from all involved.”

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