RTE at the Public Accounts Committee

RTE at the Public Accounts Committee

First Round of Questioning

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I thank the witnesses. I want to make a general point first. In
terms of the opening statements we received, Mr. Bakhurst’s was relatively straightforward and
Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s was similarly so. We received those last night in good time to be able to
read and review them. Mr. Lynch’s opening statement blew the door off the hinges. I thought I
was coming here to actually talk about the future of RTÉ and we are still talking about the past.
I received that this morning physically in the room. I know everybody on this committee takes
the role given to it by the public very seriously and I would have expected that information in
a more timely manner. Deputy Alan Kelly has raised issues about people in the press having
access to documents before we did.

Mr. Adrian Lynch: In terms of what Deputy Alan Kelly referred to earlier, my assumption
is that he was referring to the two emails, one of which was delivered as part of a pack last night,
the other one which is being circulated now, just to be clear.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I thank Mr. Lynch.

Mr. Adrian Lynch: They came to the Committee of Public Accounts first. They were not
released to the press.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I thank Mr. Lynch.

An Cathaoirleach: Can I just clarify, just to get the latest update on it? We still do not have
the email of 25 April; that is the one we are missing.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: That is the key one.

Mr. Adrian Lynch: Yes.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: And the opening statement, as I said. It was the third opening statement that contained new information and changed the whole context of this meeting.
I received that as I walked in today. I do not want to waste any more of my time on it. Somebody very close to me is often heard to say, “There are three sides to every story – your side, my
side and the truth.” I think that rings very true today, and particularly around this issue of the
underwriting. We have a particular set of events set out by Noel Kelly, which is supported, in
my opinion, by the email chain that has been referenced by previous contributors. Then there
is Mr. Lynch’s side of events around underwriting. I find it very difficult to accept, when we
see this email chain. Yes, absolutely it becomes legally binding when the verbal agreement is
written into it, but it has formed a part of the contract negotiations from the very start. I think
that needs to be reflected upon.

Mr. Adrian Lynch: Deputy—–

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: No. On the two €75,000 invoices, Mr. Lynch said that
RTÉ should never have paid those out. The taxpayer should never have been on the hook. I
agree with that but the taxpayer was on the hook for it. The crux of this matter for me is that
somebody, somewhere had a conversation. They said, “Flip it, lads, we have to pay out these
invoices. Where will we get this money from?”. There was a conversation that the witnesses
have referenced, that there is a junior person within the organisation whose name they do not
want to divulge, right. I do not for a minute believe that junior person made the decision that
Astus was the place the money was going to derive from. Somebody, somewhere within the
organisation said, “We have to find €150,000. We have to keep it on the QT.” I very much
agree with what Ms Ní Raghallaigh said that this was something designed to deceive. Someone, somewhere said, “Where can we get a quiet €150,000?”, and somebody else said, “Do you
know where? Down the back of the couch, barter fund.” Who had that conversation because
for me, that is the absolute crux of the matter? Who was involved in that discussion?

Mr. Adrian Lynch: I totally agree with the Deputy that it is the crux of the matter. The
only evidence we have of the credit note and the two payments, and who had the conversation because there is no email evidence – in terms of this barter account is that there was an instruction from the director general to the director of commercial to have these invoices raised. That
happened in the period of time which was, if the Deputy remembers, when NK Management
came looking for what was rightfully theirs in January, February, March of 2022. They were
looking to be paid, rightfully, for year 2 and year 3. We know because of the evidence we have
supplied that the Renault agreement had expired, Renault were not doing six more events—–

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: Is Mr. Lynch making the contention that Dee Forbes had a
conversation with Geraldine O’Leary, and that is the conversation about the back of the couch

Mr. Adrian Lynch: That is according to Ms O’Leary’s testimony, yes.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: This email from a junior person who will not be named says
on it that there are to be no names on the invoices, etc. Ms O’Leary forwarded that to Noel
Kelly. The only thing that the body of her email says, as she forwarded these instructions to
Noel Kelly, are two words, “As discussed”.

Mr. Adrian Lynch: That is correct.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: Where and how was this discussed and in what format?
Mr. Adrian Lynch: I do not have it. There is no evidence on this file to allow me to say
what was discussed or whether there was a conversation between the two of them. However, I
agree with the Deputy that the e-mail clearly says “As discussed”.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I have so many questions, but I am going to have to cut to
this one. The last time the witnesses appeared before this committee I asked about cards attached to the barter account. I was told that there were no cards attached to the barter account
in any way, shape or form. I understand how payments could be made by way of invoice. We
have seen that. We have seen the invoices exchanged. We have seen loads of salacious detail
emerge about what was paid for on barter accounts and what was not. One of them jumps out
at me, involving a small amount of money at Marco Pierre White’s restaurant. They say they
were not invoiced. They were not invoiced. I do not see any electronic funds transfer. How
was the restaurant paid for if this was paid for out of the barter account and there are no cards
attached to that account?

Mr. Adrian Lynch: I have also seen the full list of barter transactions. To clarify that one,
I will hand over to the head of advertising compliance, Mr. Conor Mullen. He might be able to
shed some light or bring the detail to the Deputy.

Mr. Conor Mullen: My understanding of how barter works is that the individual to be paid
raises an invoice.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: It did not apply in this case. Marco Pierre White’s restaurant
has clarified that it did not raise an invoice.

Mr. Conor Mullen: I will have to come back to the Deputy on that because my understanding is that the party to be paid raises an invoice to Astus and Astus makes the payment.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: We have been told here that it is a barter account and it is not
a slush fund. The more we hear about it, the more it sounds like money down the back of the
couch, and the more it sounds like a slush fund.
At the last meeting Ms Mullooly attended, she clarified that she was the secretary for the
remuneration committee. It did not meet in 2020 at all.

Ms Paula Mullooly: That is correct.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: It says in the terms of reference that, where necessary, “Meetings may be held by telephone or other suitable electronic means whereby all the members of
the committee can hear and be heard”. We were told that it was a Covid year. It was a Covid
year; we were all online. It says specifically within the terms of reference that they could do it
online. Why was this not convened in 2020?

Ms Paula Mullooly: It was a lapse. There had been a meeting scheduled for early March
which did not happen because of the way lockdown panned out. It did not happen after that. I
accept that I did not pursue it vigorously enough. That is with me.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: It only met once in 2021. It is supposed to meet twice a
year under the terms of reference. I have an additional worry. I went looking for the terms of
reference today. It is dated 1 June 2017 but when one looks at the address bar to look for the
uploads on the RTÉ website, the address bar dates it as July 2023. Why was that only uploaded
in July 2023 and were there any changes made to the terms of reference before it was uploaded?

Ms Paula Mullooly: I think there was an old version on the site and the terms of reference
had been updated. That is as I understand it.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: Tá an oiread sin ceisteanna agam ach ba mhaith liom casadh
go dtí ceist na Gaeilge agus ceist todhchaí na Gaeilge maidir leis an gcraoltóireacht. Tá a fhios
agam go bhfuil an cathaoirleach tiomanta don Ghaeilge. Cuirfidh mé ceist faoin athbhreithniú
a rinne Willis Towers Watson. Mr. Bakhurst, there is a review in place to consider the remuneration of Irish-language workers at Raidió na Gaeltachta in comparison to their colleagues. I
think there is also an open question about the funding of programming in Irish. Just because we
have TG4 in place and it operates entirely independently does not absolve RTÉ, as a public ser-
vice broadcaster, of the responsibility for producing high-quality Irish-language programming.
I direct this question to both Ms Ní Raghallaigh and to Mr. Bakhurst, as the incoming director
general. Where do we stand in terms of the current status of the Willis Tower Watson review
in relation to remuneration, particularly of the Raidió na Gaeltachta presenters? What commitments can the witnesses give us in terms of future funding into high-quality Irish-language

Mr. Kevin Bakhurst: I will answer this to start and the chair may want to come in. Regarding the review, I was speaking to the head of HR about that. I think this has been too long in
the making and we want to expedite the outcome of it. That has been part of the top-to-bottom
review that I have announced of how the organisation is run: the culture, the promotion opportunities, the terms and conditions and so on. We want to get that published as soon as possible.
One of the things I have been told at staff meetings is that they have been told for a couple of
years that this is coming and they want to know about it. Frankly, we need to communicate with
staff about when this is coming because it has been long-awaited. I can update the committee
when I have more news on that.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: Céard é dearcadh an chathaoirligh ar an gceist chéanna, is í
sin, ceist maoinithe do chláir Ghaeilge agus do láithreoirí?

Ms Siún Ní Raghallaigh: Is í mo thuiscint ó thaobh an tuairisc seo, a bhfuilimid ag fanacht
uirthi, ná go mbeidh ceist Raidió na Gaeltachta pléite inti. Is í sin mo thuiscint. Tá dualgas ar
RTÉ ó thaobh cláir Ghaeilge de. De réir mo thuiscint, ag an bpointe seo tá RTÉ ag comhlíonadh
an dualgas atá air. Tá níos mó oibre le déanamh air sin. Má labhraíonn tú le daoine i saol na
Gaeilge, deireann siad é sin leat. Is féidir níos mó comhoibrithe a bheith ann idir muid féin agus
TG4 ar an gceist sin. I know Mr. Bakhurst feels the same in relation to the Irish language and
how the content is—–

Mr. Kevin Bakhurst: In my previous role when I was here in news and current affairs I
used to make frequent visits to my “Nuacht” and Raidió na Gaeltachta colleagues in the west
and I intend to do that again in this role. In fact I was due to go there tomorrow, but we have
a board meeting. I will be going as soon as possible to see colleagues there. That is a priority
for me. I have already engaged with some Raidió na Gaeltachta colleagues in some of the staff
meetings in Donnybrook and I will continue to do so. It is a very important issue.

Second Round of Questioning

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: One of the frustrations here is that there were structures
that should have caught this but that, as Deputy O’Connor drew attention to, they were underresourced. There was a risk committee comprising two members over an organisation of such
size generating such revenues. There was also the remuneration and management development
committee. If these were properly resourced, they would have caught these issues.
I will focus on that remuneration committee, RemCo. It did not meet in 2020. Do I understand correctly that it met once in 2021?

Ms Paula Mullooly: I believe that is correct.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: How many times did it meet in 2022?

Ms Paula Mullooly: It did not meet in 2022.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: Has it met in 2023?

Ms Paula Mullooly: Yes.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: How many times?

Ms Paula Mullooly: Once.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: There is supposed to be a minimum of three people on
RemCo. How many people are on it?

Ms Paula Mullooly: There are three people on RemCo.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: It is at least populated to the minimum level. On the business
of exit packages, I am looking at the duties of RemCo and section 4(b) of its terms of reference
say that one such duty is “Consulting with the Director-General in relation to the remuneration
package of executive management”. Should this have caught the voluntary exit package issue?
Ms Paula Mullooly: This is something the chairperson and I have just been discussing. It
does not seem to cover this. It covers remuneration packages. There is a board meeting tomor-
row. The terms of reference for the remuneration committee are on the agenda for that meeting.
That is part of the discussion.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I will direct my next question to the director general and the
chairperson. Can we please, for the love of God, make sure that RemCo meets twice a year at
a minimum and that it is properly resourced? Can we please also have a look at the size of the
audit and risk committee? In fairness to Anne O’Leary, she came across these two problematic invoices on St. Patrick’s Day and reported up the chain. Even though there were only two
people on the committee at the time, they at least caught the thing.

Ms Paula Mullooly: There is a slight misinformation there. There is an internal audit function in RTÉ, which comprises two people, and there is the internal audit committee of the board,
which has four members.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: The point still stands with regard to an organisation of this
size. Will RTÉ give a commitment here and now that these structures, which should have
caught all of this carry-on, will be properly resourced from here on out?
Mr. Kevin Bakhurst: As I said earlier on, we will definitely do that. This is going to be part
of the review. We need proper governance in place. If that means putting in more resources,
while I have never been one to volunteer to spend more money on accountants, we will do it.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: With regard to future governance, I had hoped there would
be a future focus today. I will go back to the issue of the register of interests, which is something Mr. Bakhurst has committed to. As I have said before, there is clear blue water between
the programmes and ad breaks. People understand that ads are paid for. That is quite different from commercial sponsorship and very different from product placement, which is a much
more opaque way of selling material. In December of last year, the Oireachtas Joint Committee
on Environment and Climate Action heard about the role of advertising, specifically with regard
to climate coverage. Something the committee heard is that members of the editorial staff sit on
the internal sponsorship committee. The Chinese wall is quite clear between advertising revenue and content. One does not talk to the other, nor should it. However, there is no doubt but
that money buys influence. We have to be straight and honest about that. Is it appropriate for
editorial staff to sit on an internal sponsorship committee? While I am only giving Mr. Bakhurst
60 seconds, which is not much, I am giving him the opportunity to lay out his plans regarding
the establishment of a register of interest because it should be clear if presenters or senior executives are getting money from someplace else, just as it is and should be for politicians. What
are RTÉ’s plans to make clear to the public what influence money is buying?

Mr. Conor Mullen: I will answer the points with regard to advertising sponsorship and
product placement first. There are very clear guidelines from what was formerly BAI, now
Coimisiún na Meán, in terms of the general commercial communications code. They stipulate
very strictly to what you have to adhere, but—–

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: But people sell porridge and car ads as well.

Mr. Conor Mullen: Please hear me out. In advertising, we have two people who clear all
of the advertising that goes across radio and television. Every single commercial message that
goes out across RTÉ radio and RTÉ television has to go through the clearance committee. We
have to make sure the ads that are there are legal, decent, truthful and honest and protect our

In terms of the Deputy’s question regarding the sponsorship committee, it is absolutely
essential that there are editorial people there because they have a say in terms of saying, “Is
this suitable?” We have listed very clear sponsorship guidelines on our website as to what is
suitable and what is not. Similarly, with regard to product placement, and Coimisiún na Meán
measures us in this way, the measurement and the bar in terms of adherence to code is raised
each time, so as you get closer to the content sponsorship, the bar is higher, and as you get into
the content, product placement is higher again. Product placement is very heavily restricted.
Product placement has to go through an approval process as well. It is very clear and I am at
pains outlining this to people. It is really important that it is clear and transparent to our audience with regard to any kind of messaging like that. I am constantly telling people they must
avoid thematic placement.