Varadkar says former RTE chairwoman’s reputation should not be ‘tarnished’

The reputation of the former chairwoman of RTE should not be “tarnished”, the Taoiseach has said.

Siun Ni Raghallaigh released a statement on Monday saying her resignation last month was an “enforced dismissal” by Irish media minister Catherine Martin which was seemingly designed to “traduce” her reputation.

It comes as the Government is set to name Terence O’Rourke as the new chairman of the board of the crisis-hit national broadcaster.

Following a recommendation from the media minister, Mr O’Rourke’s appointment was agreed by coalition leaders on Monday night.

It will be announced, along with two other new board appointments, following approval from Cabinet on Tuesday.

Mr O’Rourke, originally from Co Monaghan, is a former KPMG managing partner and the current chairman of ESB.

Shared Island Forum – Dublin Castle
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the reputation of former RTE chairwoman Siun Ni Raghallaigh should not be ‘tarnished’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

It comes after the former chairwoman of the board hit out at Ms Martin, saying she had no option but to resign after the minister refused to express confidence in her during a television interview.

On Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ms Ni Raghallaigh has admitted she gave the wrong information to the minister, who “lost trust in what she was hearing”.

He said: “I think they’re both women in good standing, in my view. What happened, essentially, between them is the relationship broke down, trust broke down.”

However, he added: “I don’t believe that Siun Ni Raghallaigh’s reputation should be tarnished by all of this. Sometimes these happen – misunderstandings, relationships break down. It does not necessarily mean that anyone did anything wrong or lacked competence, in my view.”

Asked if Ms Martin should answer questions on the matter before Oireachtas committees, he told Morning Ireland: “I’m absolutely sure Ms Martin will be happy to respond to what the former RTE chair, Siun Ni Raghallaigh, has said.”

In her statement on Monday, Ms Ni Raghallaigh also criticised Ms Martin for “actively taking a hands-off approach” to the widening scandal at RTE and accused her of not assisting with falling TV licence revenues.

RTE pay revelations
Former RTE board chairwoman Siun Ni Raghallaigh said her resignation was an ‘enforced dismissal’ (Nick Bradshaw/PA)

Appearing on Prime Time on February 22, the minister said she was disappointed in Ms Ni Raghallaigh, saying she had been misinformed about the chairwoman’s role in approving an exit package for former RTE chief financial officer Richard Collins.

The minister was criticised for her handling of the situation, with opposition TDs claiming she had effectively sacked the chairwoman live on air.

In a statement, Ms Ni Raghallaigh said: “If the minister had decided that she no longer wanted me as chair, that is her privilege.

“However, I cannot remain silent about the manner of my enforced dismissal, which seemed designed to traduce my reputation.”

However, Ms Martin responded by saying she needed to be able to rely on getting “clear, timely and accurate information” from the former chairwoman of the RTE board.

She added: “This is particularly important at such a challenging time in RTE’s history.”

RTE pay revelations
Media Minister Catherine Martin said it is a challenging time in RTE’s history (Niall Carson/PA)

Commenting on the new appointments, Ms Martin said: “An important step forward for RTE will be taken when I seek Government approval for the appointment of a new chair and additional board members.

“Upon appointment I will seek to meet the new chair and the director-general in the coming days.”

The Public Accounts Committee is to make its recommendations after months of controversy at the national broadcaster later on Tuesday.

Mr Varadkar said it would be a “good idea” to put RTE under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

He said he hopes the Government will make a decision on that in the “next few weeks”.

Mr Varadkar said the Government has also set a target for a decision on the future funding model of public service broadcasting by the summer recess.

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said that he has “no doubt” Ms Martin will want to address some of the issues raised by Ms Ni Raghallaigh.

Speaking ahead of Cabinet, Mr McGrath added: “I have confidence in Catherine Martin. She has been dealing with a very difficult situation over the last eight months in RTE and gave a very comprehensive account of her actions last week before the Oireachtas committee.

“I have no doubt really that she will address some of the issues that were raised in Ms Ni Raghallaigh statement.

“We, as a government, are trying to move forward on this process with the appointment of a new chair.

“We anxiously await the final two reports that are due so we have the complete picture that will enable us to make a collective agreement as a government in relation to future funding for RTE and public service content more generally.

“I think it is time to move on and over the weeks and months ahead we will make decisions and ensure that RTE is on sustainable footing going forward is what we want to see.

“The government is committed to making a decision over the months ahead.”