RTÉ payments scandal: DEE Forbes quietly guillotined – what now for Ryan Tubridy?

by Rose Barrett
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Only a week and a half since we first heard of the Ryan Tubridy ‘overpayment’ – and where are we now?

Probably even more incensed as the Oireachtas hearings unveiled initially no further information and pretty much that the only persons aware of the bizarre payments and transactions were RTÉ’s then Director General, Dee Forbes and showbiz agent, Noel Kelly.

Even the national broadcaster’s most highly paid presenter may genuinely not have known the nature and convoluted invoicing process agreed. Or did he? We don’t know, is the simple answer.

What we do know now is that Kelly is painted as having more influence than any senior figure in RTÉ, even more than the recently exited Dee Forbes.  The additional payments to Tubridy of €75,000 were presented as “consultancy fees” to Kelly as Tubridy’s agent.  The then DG claimed the fees were payable to the agent – allowing him more than €1,200 an hour!

Nice work if you can get it. I know journalists and photographers still earning only €12.50 per hour for media work.

Chair of RTÉ Siún Ní Raghallaigh, told media following extensive scrutiny and debate before Oireachtas committees this week, that the supposed agent’s fee weres clearly subterfuge, “an act designed to deceive”.

RTÉ reported on Thursday night that, when asked about the invoices, the then director general Dee Forbes said they related to work done for the broadcaster by Kelly at a cost of more than €1,200 per hour.

Brain Stanley, Chairperson of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee said it is inconceivable that Dee Forbes could silently move €345,000 since 2017 in payments without any other senior executive in RTÉ being aware of it. The RTÉ Board should have been made aware of it, the Chair at the very least he said.  

But in a script befitting a storyline in Yellowstone (or JR of Dallas), the most ridiculous ‘barter’ system arose – when leading presenters including Tubriday had agreed to take a pay reduction, as RTÉ warned it would have to increase the cost of a TV licence, DG Dee Forbes arranged what seemed like a sponsorship deal with Renault and the popular TV and radio presenter.

Nothing unusual about that, but the Grant Thornton report on Friday revealed no breakdown of said consultancy fees were detailed in the accounts, which should have been queried immediately, it is simply put “false accounting”.

Even more bizarre is RTÉ paying €47,000 for the promotional events between Tubridy and Renault!  When Renault pulled out the following year from the deal, RTÉ legally were bound to make the payment.

And Grant Thornton revealed that RTÉ legally agreed to pay the €75,000 annual fee up until 2025.

This was agreed by someone or persons whom we, the public who our TV licences, perceive have financial experience and are best qualified to handle corporate governance in favour of the national broadcaster’s security.

What about Ryan?

Let’s look now at Ryan Tubridy (above). Two weeks ago, he was on our airwaves, with his natural, warm, slightly geeky personality.  A positive book or film review by him secured success. He tenderly interviewed parents of a sick child,  a bereaved partner, an adventurer, a person coping with a debilitating condition – his ease of interviewing on the Late Late Show were lauded by all, and well, he donned the annual daft Christmas jumper and threw himself into the annual toy show with gusto!

He spoke affectionately via a video link to the many who gathered in Finglas to bid farewell to the late Christy Dignam of Aslan.

He has done nothing illegal, he has broken no laws. His future now is debated hourly within the media, in coffee shops, across the counter in pubs. “He should be made to give back the money!” said one woman I overheard.

How can he, he didn’t receive the money illegally – it was agreed and approved by RTÉ Dee Forbes, the only person who knew, we are told.

Is Noel Kelly responsible for deception? Deception yes, but has he broken any laws? It seems “creative accounting” is not illegal.

But why didn’t anyone scrutinising RTÉ’s accounts spot the “creativity” sooner? And will the national broadcaster have to pay the remaining years within the “contract” (up to 2025).

Members of the NUJ union protesting at RTE television studios over the curent scandal of Ryan Tubridy’s “over payments”.
Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

What Tubridy’s fellow RTÉ workers won’t forgive is the misconception that he, one of the mighty as in top ten presenters, had agreed to take a pay cut when many of them were struggling to secure basic expenses and a decent salary to cope with the rising cost-of-living.

Listeners who loved Tubridy as a presenter saw him as down to earth, a father, a family man, a warm man that most could identify with. A man who supported many charities and good causes on air.

Except now we know his reduced salary did not include an additional €345,000. For many, that would buy a small family home in Dublin – but that was only a “top-up” for one employee within a company that hires 1,800 staff.

He offered little in apology. Neither Forbes, Tubridy nor Kelly could be forced to speak before the Oireachtas Committees. And that, I think is what most of us find unforgiveable – stay stum, say nothing and maybe it will go quietly away…

Will we see Ryan Tubridy back on air anytime soon or indeed, anytime again?

One thing is certain, RTÉ will have to get its house in order, staff are disenfranchised with senior management and certainly, there’s an angry audience out there who still want answers. Even payments of €120,000 remains unanswered.

Feature photo resigned DG of RTÉ, Dee Forbes with the national broadcaster’s highest paid presenter, Ryan Tubridy

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