Minister told about RTE committee reforms before Collins exit

The media minister was told a key subcommittee of the RTE board had been given new duties to approve changes to executive pay one month before an exit payment was given to a former chief financial officer.

A letter to the minister in September, seen by the PA news agency, states that the remuneration committee of the RTE board must approve “the remuneration of executive management and any amendments”.

Minister Catherine Martin said that while she received this letter, it did not explicitly state that the remuneration committee had been given a role in approving severance payments for executives.

One month later, RTE’s former chief financial officer Richard Collins left the organisation with a termination fee following an independent mediation process.

The remuneration committee signed off on the arrangement as per its new duties.

RTE pay revelations
Siun Ni Raghallaigh resigned as chair of the RTE board after minister Catherine Martin said she had been misinformed about her role in the approval of an exit package (Niall Carson/PA)

The additional duties of the remuneration committee, which was chaired by Siun Ni Raghallaigh, meant that she was personally involved in signing off on the termination fee in October.

Ms Martin said Ms Ni Raghallaigh told her on Monday and Wednesday this week that she had no role in the approval of the package.

However, Ms Ni Raghallaigh then told the Department of Media on Thursday that she had failed to recollect her involvement in approving the payment, which is the subject of a confidentiality agreement.

The minister later made a television appearance where she said she was disappointed to have been misinformed.

Ms Ni Raghallaigh resigned from her role as chairwoman of the RTE board hours later.

RTE pay revelations
Media minister Catherine Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

At a press conference on Friday, Ms Martin said she had received the letter about reforms of the RTE remuneration committee in September but emphasised she had not been told about its new duties in approving exit fees prior to Mr Collins’ exit.

She said: “There is a letter I received (from the RTE board) in September that talks about these new reforms.

“There was an annex to it and it talked about its role in executive pay.

“It did not mention in the annex, it did not give the severance payments.

“That was not included in the letter and we were not given any new terms of reference.”

Ms Martin said she was only informed about Ms Ni Raghallaigh’s involvement in Mr Collins’ termination agreement on Thursday.

RTE pay revelations
Former RTE chief financial officer Richard Collins’ termination fee was approved by the remuneration committee (Brian Lawless/PA)

Asked if she should have queried whether the board had a role in signing off on the package at the time of his departure, she said: “I can only go with the information that I am supplied with.”

The letter, which states that the committee must approve “the remuneration of executive management and any amendments”, also said the updates to the terms of reference were not limited to the summary provided.

Those new terms were introduced for the remuneration committee in September 2023 amid a widening scandal over corporate and financial governance at the broadcaster.

Since then, all changes to executive pay and terms had to be approved by the remuneration committee.

This was part of a wide range of measures to strengthen controls and fully restore public trust in RTE.

The remuneration committee approved a package including a termination payment for Mr Collins on October 9 2023 after an independent mediation process.

RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst attended that meeting.

The board said Ms Ni Raghallaigh called the then-secretary general of the Department Katherine Licken the following day to inform her that the remuneration committee had approved an exit agreement with Mr Collins.

The minister said she had been in contact with Ms Licken and that while the former secretary general remembers being told on October 10 that the process had concluded, she had no recollection of being informed about the termination payment.

There was no note of this call taken.

Ms Martin said: “There was no note taken because it wasn’t of significance.”

She added: “If there had been (mention of an approval of an exit package), there certainly would have been a note taken.”

Ms Martin said she was aware at the time that Mr Collins was leaving with an exit package, but had not been told that the board had any role in approving it.

The minister said she asked Ms Ni Raghallaigh specific questions on two occasions this week about whether she personally had approved the package, following media reports to that effect.

Ms Martin said that Ms Ni Raghallaigh had told her that the board had no role in Mr Collins’ package but said it would be involved for future exits.

“So she talked in the future tense even on Wednesday.

“So she was clarifying with me for a second day that she had no role whatsoever,” she said.

Asked if she was blameless in the situation, Ms Martin said: “I am doing my best to manage a very difficult situation.”