The Taoiseach has said he can’t rule out the possibility that some of RTÉ’s barter account payments were against the law.
It comes after RTÉ Chief Financial Officer Richard Collins told the committee that hidden payments to Ryan Tubridy may have officially been consultancy fees for the presenter’s agent.
Mr Collins said former Director General Dee Forbes informed him that that was the case.
The RTÉ CTO told the committee that, in his view, the public may have been defrauded by the hidden payments.
“A matter of real concern.”
The Taoiseach says he can’t rule out the possibility that some of RTÉ’s barter account payments were ‘on the wrong side of the law’. pic.twitter.com/FVrWpR0pM0
— NewstalkFM (@NewstalkFM) June 30, 2023
Speaking in Brussels today, Leo Varadkar said the claims are a “matter of real concern” – but stopped short of saying Gardaí should investigate.
“It did concern me to hear that, it would appear anyway, that payments were made by RTÉ to outside contractors for work that wasn’t actually done and that does raise issues in terms of accounting rules and company law,” he said.
“I think we’re not yet at the point [of a Garda investigation] but, certainly, I don’t think we can rule out the fact that it is not just a case of irregular payments and some of these payments may have been on the wrong side of the law – but I don’t want to jump to that conclusion.”
It also emerged yesterday that up to €1.25m went through RTÉ’s barter accounts – with hundreds of thousands spent on tickets and travel to rugby and football matches for clients.
RTÉ Chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh described the spending as “outrageous” – and noted that it should have gone through a procurement system.
Mr Varadkar said there is nothing unusual about the account in itself – but voiced ‘real concern’ about the hidden payments.
“I don’t think it is unusual that any company or any large body would seek to entertain its clients, that is part of the way business works,” he said.
“The fact that it was so untransparent - even concealed - that payments were made for work that perhaps wasn’t done, that is much more serious I think and is a matter of real concern.”
Mr Collins told the committee yesterday that RTÉ had received legal advice stating that no fraud had been committed.
“My own opinion is, maybe the taxpayer was defrauded,” he said.
He said RTÉ may need to put a new accounting system in place moving forward.
“I think, going forward, there is going to be an issue about how RTÉ manages its accounts,” he said.
“It receives public money from the licence fee and other sources and receives commercial money from advertising and commercia partners and it all goes into the one pot and I am not sure that is going to be appropriate going forward.”
He noted that his own party has to keep its public funds separate from the money it raises itself.
“We have to produce separate accounts and I am just kind of wondering might it have been better if RTÉ operated on that basis,” he said.
In her testimony to the committee yesterday, Ms Ní Raghallaigh, who described the controversy as “truly shocking”.
“As a trained accountant and a former financial controller, I am appalled as to how payments were recorded and presented in the RTÉ accounts,” Ms Ní Raghallaigh said in her opening statement.
“What was the motivation here? It appears to me that this was an act designed to deceive.”
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach called for Ms Forbes, Mr Tubridy and agent Noel Kelly to appear before the committee.