There have been calls for a criminal investigation into Ireland’s state-run broadcaster amid a scandal over secret kickback payments to media figures believed to have been worth €50 million euro.
There has been shock and anger in equal measure since it emerged that the broadcaster’s highest-paid star, Ryan Tubridy, received payments totalling €345,000 above his annual published salary between 2017 and 2022, lifting it above a half a million euro a year.
There were immediate demands to explain the reasons for the special arrangement, as well who knew about the payments, and if further revelations about other presenters might follow.
Mr Tubridy, who has quit his TV show and has now stopped presenting his morning radio show, said he was unaware of the details of his income. Many republicans and socialists have long suspected his support for the political establishment may have been a factor behind his rock-star income.
RTÉ staff mounted a protest on Tuesday outside the station’s Dublin headquarters, with many workers complaining of bogus self-employment contracts, low-paid freelance work and other examples of pay inequality and job insecurity.
The scandal began when a whistleblower said a ‘barter account’ used by RTÉ to make the undisclosed payments to Tubridy had also channelled secret payments in excess of €50m to media advertising agencies over the past 10 years.
A former broadcaster and government minister said the scandal is “the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of what is going on in the organisation and the way it operates.
Blame has fallen mainly on the former Director General Dee Forbes, who quit suddenly last week. She has blamed a sudden illness for her inability to attend parliamentary hearings on the scandal on Wednesday.
Other senior figures in RTÉ who did attend the hearings, including board members, the CEO and CFO, and the new Director General, have all claimed to be wholly or partly in the dark regarding the payments and/or the contractual status of Tubridy’s successor, Patrick Kielty.
RTÉ has insisted Forbes is the only member of the executive board who had the information to understand Tubridy’s salary payments. A statement said she was directly involved in aspects of underwriting an agreement with a commercial partner for the extra payments.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty, said on Wednesday that RTÉ had released only “selective information” on the scandal but that it “skirts around the issues that are at the heart of this fiasco”.
“It leaves more questions than answers,” he said.
“Reading the RTÉ statement, you would be led to believe that Dee Forbes was the only person who knew about this, but that simply isn’t credible.
“More than half of the executive board had knowledge about the commercial contract at a time of pay cuts for workers in RTÉ, at a time when people were struggling to pay the annual license fee during a cost of living crisis, in order to falsely portray that Ryan Tubridy was taking a pay cut, RTÉ created a sweetheart deal and an elaborate plan to cover it up.”
The Donegal TD added that “we have got to get to the bottom of this quickly” and the State had “absolutely no idea whatsoever” from RTÉ’s latest statement about what happened in 2017, 2018 and 2019 regarding payments to Ryan Tubridy.
“If there is to be full transparency, the public need to know about these payments,” he said. “It is not acceptable that we’re being asked to wait another month for more information to be released.”
His comments were echoed by Ivan Yates, a former Newstalk broadcaster and government minister, who also said the Tubridy scandal is “the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of what is going on in the organisation and the way it operates.
“The problem is with the governance. This is all systematic of a culture of denial, arrogance and cover-up,” he said.