At a glance
The Irish broadcaster has been accused of running a slush fund
Executives from the broadcaster are being questioned by the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) after it emerged substantial undeclared payments had been made to former presenter Ryan Tubridy
Some of the payments to Mr Tubridy were made through a “barter account” operated by RTÉ
Payments made by RTÉ through the account also included €5,000 on flip-flops
Published5 July 2023
Irish broadcaster RTÉ has been accused of running a slush fund – including a payment of €5,000 on flip-flops.
Fine Gael TD (MP) Brendan Griffin made the comments during a hearing of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) media committee.
The committee questioned a number of current and former RTÉ staff and board members over spending and governance issues on Wednesday.
Recent revelations over broadcaster’s finances including undisclosed payments to presenter Ryan Tubridy were described as “undoubtedly the darkest period in RTE’s history” by chairwoman of the organisation’s board Siún Ní Raghallaigh in her opening statement to the committee.
Mr Tubridy and his agent Noel Kelly have offered to assist the committee with its inquiries into the non-disclosure of payments.
But it is unclear whether they will appear before a public hearing of the committee.
Mr Tubridy received €345,000 (£296,000) over what the broadcaster declared as his pay from 2017 to 2022.
The former RTÉ director general Dee Forbes subsequently resigned over the pay deal with The Late Late Show host.
Some of the payments to Mr Tubridy were made through a “barter account” operated by the organisation.
That is a payment method in which goods or services are exchanged for other goods or services.
For example, a local radio station might be provided with company cars by a dealership in exchange for adverts.
The committee heard that RTÉ engaged a UK-based barter agent to sell “surplus advertising airtime”.
The broadcaster paid the agent a fee and received about €300,000 worth of cash and services such as hotel accommodation and flights in return, the committee heard.
But questioning RTÉ’s chief financial officer Richard Collins, Mr Griffin accused the organisation of operating a slush fund.
The Fine Gael TD read out a number of payments the broadcaster had made, including €12,000 for Bruce Springsteen tickets and €6,358 for 50 tickets for a Phil Collins and Robbie Williams concert.
“I’ve heard of ‘let me entertain you’, but that’s a bit ridiculous,” Mr Griffin said.
“Two hundred units of flip flops for the summer party for agencies and clients €4,956,” he continued.
“This isn’t a barter account, this is a slush fund.”
The former chairperson of the RTÉ board Moya Doherty told Mr Griffin the board was “not aware of the existence of the barter account.”
Mr Griffin also asked the company’s witnesses to the committee whether Mr Tubridy had refused to take a pay cut?
“They didn’t refuse to take a cut,” RTÉ’s former chief financial officer Breda O’Keefe replied.
“It was the level of cut that we disagreed on.”
Independent TD Mattie McGrath later asked: “Are we really expected to believe that no-one apart from Ms Forbes could have known about figures published for Ryan Tubridy’s pay?”
Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster, meanwhile, accused RTÉ of “showing utter contempt for this committee”.
That was during further questioning over the barter account.
In an explanatory note for the committee about the barter account, RTÉ said that “the appropriate controls are in place regarding oversight and spend.”
“That’s simply not true, in fact it’s a lie,” Ms Munster said.
“The barter account was used to funnel secret top-up payments to Ryan Tubridy.”
“You used the barter account to raise false invoices under the heading consultancy fees.”
She later asked the commercial director of RTÉ Geraldine O’Leary if her position was tenable.
Ms O’Leary replied that she was due to retire shortly.
“I’m not sure my position is tenable because the invasion into my 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,” Ms O’Leary continued.
Toy Show The Musical flops
Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne later asked about documentation given to the committee which confirmed losses to RTÉ for Toy Show The Musical reached €2.2m.
Moya Doherty replied that “there’s a risk in all of these things but there was enormous pressure for commercial to bring in additional income”.
In the end just 20,000 people went to see the show and only 11,044 of them were paying customers.
5,500 tickets supplied to guests on a complimentary basis with a further 3,500 awarded as prizes.
Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy asked if Mr Tubridy had played any role in the musical.
Director of Strategy Rory Coveney said Mr Tubridy had no interest in the show.
“He was supportive of the project and producers. He didn’t see a role for himself in it”, he said.
Interim Deputy Director General Adrian Lynch told the committee he was aware of one instance where a staff member had a “loan of a car” for a period of five years.
Responding to Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick, Mr Lynch confirmed the car had been returned yesterday.
But he could not disclose the name of the staff member due to GDPR but admitted it would “come out”.