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Ministers back Catherine Martin as she faces calls to step down over RTE crisis

The Media Minister was accused of ‘summarily dismissing’ the chairwoman of the RTE board live on television.

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Catherine Martin

Cabinet ministers have backed their colleague Catherine Martin despite calls for her to step down, with the Labour Party describing her position as Media Minister “untenable”.

Ms Martin has been criticised after she was accused of dismissing the chairwoman of the RTE board on live television on Thursday night.

Politicians have been reacting to Siun Ni Raghallaigh resigning overnight after Ms Martin failed to express confidence in her.

Ms Martin said she had been “misinformed” about the approval of an exit package for a former RTE executive and was “deeply disappointed” when asked to express confidence in Ms Ni Raghallaigh.

The Labour Party has accused the minister of “summarily dismissing” Ms Ni Raghallaigh live on air, while the chair of the Public Accounts committee accused Ms Martin of “jumping the gun a bit”.

Questions have also been asked about whether Ms Martin’s department was informed in October about the approval of the exit package.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that Ms Martin had not effectively dismissed the RTE chairwoman through her Prime Time interview.

On Friday morning, Ms McEntee, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman and Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris all publicly stated confidence in their government colleague.

Speaking in Dublin, Ms McEntee said: “I think Catherine Martin has handled this in the best way possible. She has engaged at every stage with the board and in particular the chair of the board. That is the person she is legally responsible to engage with to ensure that the information that she gets is factual and correct and the right information.

Siun Ni Raghallaigh
RTE board chairwoman Siun Ni Raghallaigh has resigned (Niall Carson/PA)

“Last night she had committed to an interview she followed through on and outlined a number of conversations that happened this week. Further information came to light that she had not been aware of.

“I think it is regrettable that a meeting that had been due to happen today between the minister and the chair of the board is not now going to happen.

“I think what people want is information, they want to see transparency, would want to have confidence in our public service broadcaster, confidence in those who are managing RTE and the only way we can have confidence is by knowing all of the facts and all of the information, and I don’t believe we are at that point just yet.”

Siun Ni Raghallaigh resignation
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister of State James Browne taking questions in Dublin about the latest RTE scandal (PA)

Ms McEntee said that Ms Martin simply “laid out the facts”.

Mr O’Gorman said his party colleague has his full confidence over RTE.

“I think what Catherine outlined last night is that on two occasions this week, she asked the chair of the board (Siun Ni Raghallaigh) about whether the remuneration packages were disclosed at the board and she was told they weren’t,” Mr O’Gorman added.

“Subsequently yesterday, I understand, new information was provided by the chair of the board.

“Catherine had a pre-existing commitment on Prime Time and she expressed, I think, her very legitimate disappointment in terms of new information coming forward like that.

“She did it in a transparent way. I think, all along in our discussions since the story broke, the issue has been a lot of transparency and Minister Martin speaking on a national political show was transparent in terms of what the situation is right now.

“She indicated clearly she wanted to discuss this matter further with the chair of the board. That would have happened this morning but obviously the chair of the board has subsequently made a decision to resign.

“To be absolutely clear, when I look at the work Catherine has done in terms of the two expert bodies, looking at governance and culture in RTE, remuneration and pay in RTE and the work Catherine is doing in terms of looking to bring a sustainable funding model to RTE, she has my full confidence.”

RTE pay revelations
Media Minister Catherine Martin speaking at Government Buildings (Niall Carson/PA)

RTE has come under heavy scrutiny to release details of exit packages for executives dating back to 2016.

On Thursday it published legal advice that said publicly releasing the details of former and current employee contracts would expose RTE “to avoidable legal challenge”.

Questions have been raised about the governance over exit packages after it was revealed that former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe was paid 450,000 euro which was not approved under the terms of a voluntary redundancy programme.

Appearing on Prime Time on Thursday night, Ms Martin said she had been given repeated assurances that the RTE board had no role in signing off on an exit package to former RTE chief financial officer Richard Collins.

However, it has since emerged that the remuneration committee of the board, of which Ms Ni Raghallaigh is a member, had approved of Mr Collins’ exit arrangements.

The minister had said she had sought an urgent meeting with Ms Ni Raghallaigh on Friday over the matter.

However, hours later, Ms Ni Raghallaigh said it was “abundantly clear” her position is no longer tenable as she had lost the confidence of Ms Martin.

In her statement, issued just before 1am on Friday, she said her misrepresentation of the process was not “intentional”.

Ms Ni Raghallaigh said that during a meeting with Ms Martin earlier in the week, she had been asked if the board knew about the exit packages for former strategy director Rory Coveney and Mr Collins.

“I said that I was aware of them, but they had not come before the full board. However, I neglected to recollect that Richard Collins’ exit package did go before the renumeration committee.”

Ms Ni Raghallaigh said RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst was also present in the two meetings with the minister and her officials this week, which lasted for more than three hours.

RTE pay revelations
Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said Catherine Martin has ‘been on the back foot’ (Niall Carson/PA)

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, the board echoed a statement made by Ms Ni Raghallaigh that she had informed the Department about the agreement with Mr Collins the day after it had been approved.

The RTE Board also published the minutes of the board’s remuneration committee on October 9, held on the video platform Teams at 5pm, which was attended by director general Kevin Bakhurst.

“The day after this meeting of the remuneration committee, October 10 2023, Siun contacted the Secretary General of the Department directly by telephone and updated her about the meeting of the remuneration committee, and its outcome – ie, that it approved an agreement with Richard Collins,” it said.

Labour’s Marie Sherlock has said Ms Martin’s TV interview amounted to “summarily dismissing” the chair of the RTE board live on air, and said Ms Martin’s position was “now untenable”.

She said that from the beginning of the crisis, Ms Martin “has been on the back foot” and “failed to ask the most basic questions”.

She said that from Ms Ni Raghallaigh’s resignation statement, there appeared to be details of exit packages from former RTE executives held by the Department of Media, which she said should be “published in full immediately”.

“The Taoiseach and the Tanaiste must now reflect on the Media Minister’s handling of this whole debacle and ask: is she the person to ensure that necessary reforms take place in RTE that will be crucial to its survival, and is she the person who can restore public trust in the State broadcaster?”

Public Accounts committee chair Brian Stanley said the minister “jumped the gun a bit” and “should have kept her powder dry” and wait to meet Ms Ni Raghallaigh.

“The minister should have waited, I believe, until she had the opportunity to speak with Siun Ni Raghallaigh and to hear exactly what Siun Ni Raghallaigh had to say. And then she could make her judgment on whether she had confidence or not.”

He said that Ms Ni Raghallaigh had made a “very comprehensive statement” that raised further questions.

“The minister may have made the right decision, the minister may have not made the right decision, but what I’m saying is … there’s a number of lines in (Ms Ni Raghallaigh’s statement) that raise questions, and the minister should have waited to thrash that out with Siun Ni Raghallaigh to get to the bottom of it.

RTE pay revelations
Siun Ni Raghallaigh and RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst (Niall Carson/PA)

“When a minister goes on television without any notice, I presume, to Siun Ni Raghallaigh or anyone else, and doesn’t express confidence, refuses to express confidence in the head of the board at RTE, that creates a whole new situation.”

Mr Harris said that some “glib” commentary on Ms Martin has been unfair.

He said that Ms Martin will speak publicly later on Friday to “provide clarity” around aspects of Siun Ni Raghallaigh’s statement on her resignation as chairwoman of the RTE board.

He said Ms Martin found herself in “a very difficult position last night” as she was scheduled to go on TV before meeting with Ms Ni Raghallaigh on Friday.

Asked whether Ms Martin’s handling of her department was in question, Mr Harris said: “I don’t believe it is, I believe Catherine Martin is a good minister.

“I know Catherine Martin to be a very diligent, very hard working, very honest person… and I think some of the glib commentary today from some in opposition is unfair.”

Asked whether getting rid of the RTE board chairwoman would put the broadcaster on the right path, Mr Harris said: “That was not the minister’s intention.

“I think the minister’s intention was to speak with the chair today and provide the chair with the space to outline why this confusion happened during the week that led to the minister being misinformed and I regret that that did not happen.”

Ms Martin thanked Ms Ni Raghallaigh for her service since November 2022 as RTE board chairwoman.

“At this critical time for RTE, it is imperative that we continue the important process of restoring trust in the organisation. As Ms Ni Raghallaigh stated, there is an urgent need for the transformation process to continue and a sustainable funding model put in place – I am deeply committed to this,” Ms Martin said in a statement.

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