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Media Minister ‘willing to answer more questions over RTE fallout’

Media Minister ‘willing to answer more questions over RTE fallout’

The Media Minister is willing to make another committee appearance amid calls for her to explain her role in the resignation of the RTE board chairwoman, the Taoiseach has said.

Opposition politicians have continued to criticise Minister Catherine Martin for a media interview she gave hours before Siun Ni Raghallaigh resigned over a dispute on her role in approving a severance package for an RTE executive.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has also said that the RTE board should have “clear lines of communication to the minister” over exit arrangements with staff, as part of 21 proposals in the wake of a series of controversies at the national broadcaster.

It comes as the Government appointed Terence O’Rourke as the new RTE chairman along with two other board members.

Amid calls for a question-and-answers session with Ms Martin in the Dail, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the minister would instead be willing to engage with an Oireachtas committee following the publication of the Government’s independent expert reports into RTE later this month.

He said: “That can be done in a matter of the next few weeks and I hope that we can move on from this.”

Siun Ni Raghallaigh resignation
Media Minister Catherine Martin facing questions from TDs and Senators over her comments during a TV interview that led to the chairwoman of the RTE board Siun Ni Raghallaigh to resign hours later (Screenshot/PA)

Speaking at the launch of the PAC report, committee member and Green Party colleague of Ms Martin, Marc O Cathasaigh, said there had been a “breakdown in communication” between Ms Ni Raghallaigh and the minister.

He said the minister had been given “incorrect information” by the former chairwoman: “That’s where this crisis sprung from.”

Ms Martin gave an explanation of the events leading to the high-profile resignation when she appeared before the Oireachtas Media Committee last week.

However, there have been further calls for the minister to explain herself after Ms Ni Raghallaigh released a statement of her account of the dispute on Monday.

Mr O Cathasaigh described the three-and-a-half hour questioning of Ms Martin at the media committee last week as a “circus”.

Siun Ni Raghallaigh resignation
Ms Ni Raghallaigh resigned as chairwoman of the RTE board after revelations that media minister Catherine Martin had been ‘misinformed’ about the approval of an exit package for a former RTE executive (Brian Lawless/PA)

However, he said the minister was trying to decide the best venue in which to “seek to clarify” the matter again.

Among other recommendations, the PAC said RTE should be brought back under the statutory remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG).

Committee members described some of the recommendations as “common sense”, “basic” and “corporate governance 101″.

It recommended that future severance agreements do not contain any confidentiality clauses and they ensure that departing employees must co-operate with internal and external inquiries.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin rejected accusations that Ms Martin has been a “hands-off” minister in her handling of the RTE crisis.

“I think the minister answered questions very comprehensively last week in the Oireachtas for three and a half hours,” Mr Martin added.

“I watched most of it and it was very lengthy. I thought she was very open and transparent in terms of the fact that the relationship broke down in the context of the minister not having confidence in responses she got to questions that she put very specifically and very deliberately to the chair at the time.

“I think it’s overall we all regret what has happened.

“I don’t think anyone doubts the bona fides of Siun Ni Raghallaigh in her role as chairperson of RTE and her commitment to public service.

“Likewise, the minister has said this and the minister has thanked Siun Ni Raghallaigh for her contribution and commitment.

“But the minister was adamant in her discussions generally with us that she believes that when she asked questions, she is entitled to get answers to those and to be informed fully when significant decisions are taken and as to who is responsible for the taking of those decisions.

“Clearly there was a breakdown in that confidence and in that relationship.”

He said that the independence of media and broadcasters is important, adding that previous governments have been accused of “overly interfering” with RTE.

He added: “In my view, the independence of media and independence of the public service broadcasters is something that’s very important. And we could lose some of this now in this debate, because there’s all sorts of recommendations coming forward.

“We’ve got to maintain that demarcation line between an overly interventionist political approach to RTE in the context of the necessary independence that RTE should have, and the discharge of its obligations and functions.”

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

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.”