Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘No valid basis’ for €150k payment to Tubridy through barter account; €25k spent on ‘client entertainment’ at Jenny Greene concert

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Hard copy of barter transactions for the period of 2017-2019 lost during an office move.Figures show more than €400,000 spent on client entertainment between 2017 and 2022, €230,760 in talent agency payments and flights and hotels cost €222,283.Receipts show more than €25,000 spent on a “client entertainment” at a Jenny Greene concert in the 3Arena
Mazers report found there wasn’t “adequate usage” of London’s exclusive Soho House which cost €5,375 in membership fees

Media Minister Catherine Martin in favour of scrapping the licence fee
Government decision on the future funding model for RTÉ will be made before the summer recess

The Mazars report into RTÉ accounts is one of the three major damning reports published by Government today into the national broadcaster.

The Mazars report has flagged a number of barter purchase transactions which it deemed have “no valid basis for these transactions to have been paid through the barter account”.

This is because the transactions were not suitable for the barter account and for the purposes which it was used.

The transactions deemed as unsuitable for the barter account include the €150,000 payment to Tubridy – which Mazars calls payments to “talent” – and €44,000 worth of Renault payments.

Two payments of €75,000 totalling €150,000 were described as “consultancy fees” and were listed as “promotion costs” in RTÉ accounts.

More mystery payments from RTE ‘barter account’ uncovered

However, this was “not consistent” with the basis for the payments, the report states.

Some of the Renault payments, which totalled €44,000, were classified as “audience research”, which also was “not consistent” with the basis for the payments.

Mazars also identified a payment to a cancelled executive board meeting which cost €2,510 and a payment of €8,054 which relates to spending on “office purchases”.

A total of €5,375 was spent on the membership of Soho House, an exclusive club in London, for four years.

Mazars said it did not see evidence which would show there was “adequate usage” of the club over the four years, which included lockdowns due to the pandemic.

The review shows how the barter account was used for hundreds of thousands of euro worth of client hospitality, including concerts, restaurants and gifts.

It also found that some barter purchases amounting to €654,000 euro were incorrectly omitted from reports to the minister.

The review also states that a hard copy of barter transactions for the period of 2017-2019 was lost during an office move.

Figures complied as part of the Mazers report show more than €400,000 spent on client entertainment between 2017 and 2022, €230,760 in talent agency payments and flights and hotels cost €222,283.

  • Receipts for the account also show more than €25,000 spent on a “client entertainment” at a Jenny Greene concert in the 3Arena. Ms Greene is a presenter with the broadcaster.
  • Over €18,000 was spent in the Fade Street Social restaurant over the five years alone.
  • Over €25,000 was also spent in Croke Park on concerts during that time.
  • In 2019, a total of €138,456 was spent on IRFU rugby tickets. €30,354 was also spent on Rugby World Cup tickets.
  • RTÉ also spent €222,283 on flights and hotels during that period, including flights for New York, London, Vienna, and Madrid. Hotels including The Dean and Hayfield Manor were also booked.
  • Some €160,413 was spent on RTÉ ‘events and societies’ during the five years and a further €41,271 on charity events and donations. €56,159 was spent on training and conferences.

The Mazars report concludes that the barter account was used because there was no “alternative budget” available.

It comes as Media Minister Catherine Martin said she is still in favour of scrapping the contentious €160 licence fee.

She said the Government will sign off on plans to overhaul the TV licence before the Dáil recess on July 11.

However, the Coalition will be under pressure to pass the relevant laws to give effect to the new system before the next general election.

Reforming the TV licence and providing a top-up from the taxpayer for public service media is being viewed as the most likely outcome by the Coalition.

Minister Martin said this is not a recommendation she has received from any group tasked with looking at TV licence overhaul.

Minister Martin said any future funding model needs to be “sustainable.”

She said there is a “variety of opinions at the table” on TV licence discussions.

She said the revamped TV licence should be “free of political influence”.

She was speaking as the Government released three long-awaited reports into the broadcaster’s culture, governance and accounts today, which include 116 recommendations. RTÉ now has six weeks to come back to Government with an implementation plan.

Media Minister Catherine Martin said her department will withhold a second round of funding to RTÉ pending its implementation of recommendations contained in a series of reports.

She also said that she understands the salary cap for RTÉ employees will remain at €250,000.

She added that following the implementation of recommendations, she intends to release the first tranche of €40 million in additional Exchequer resources allocated to RTÉ this year.

“The dispersal of the final tranche later this year will be subject to a satisfactory assessment of RTÉ’s updates on the implementation of the plan by my Department and the further agreement of the Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform,” she said.

RTÉ told Mazars that the money in the barter account was under the control of the Commercial Director and they had “discretion of how these balances could be utilised”.

A review into the culture and governance of RTÉ has also revealed how RTÉ management didn’t trust the board of the broadcaster because sensitive information has repeatedly been leaked.

The review says board members felt the management believed they were accountable to the board. The report goes through a series of leaks of information over recent years, up to late last year

“A lack of trust between the board and former executive board. Some board members told us that they did not believe executives considered they were accountable to the board.

“In contrast, some of executives we spoke to, perhaps unfairly, thought the board a possible source of previous leaks of confidential information,” the report says.

The perceived threat of leaks may have contributed to the lack of transparency in RTÉ executives dealings with the Board. The report says research shows “that this lack of transparency is a more widespread issue, with less than 20pc of those surveyed believing RTÉ’s management had been fair and open about decisions made”.

Media Minister Catherine Martin has published reports into governance and accounting practices at the national broadcaster RTÉ this afternoon.

The long-awaited reports were published alongside a separate examination on the organisation’s use of off-balance-sheet accounts which was commissioned by RTÉ itself.

RTÉ was plunged into crisis in June last year after it admitted understating the fees for its star presenter and previous top earner Ryan Tubridy.

A series of probing Dáil committee hearings also uncovered other concerns about culture, governance and financial management at RTÉ and there have been several high profile resignations from the board and executive of the station.

In a statement, RTÉ director-general, Kevin Bakhurst said: “We welcome the publication of the three reports by the minister and accept in principle the recommendations included in both Expert Advisory Committees.

“We have worked closely with both committees and with Mazars since last year to provide all information available and enable the completion of the reports.

“We understand the need to restore trust in RTÉ following a succession of revelations last year and I hope it is clear that we take the issues which have emerged very seriously.

“The events of last year are a source of deep frustration and disappointment to all of us in RTÉ and those connected to this organisation.

“We have already undertaken major reform of RTÉ and addressed many of the recommendations included in the reports and we are committed to continuing on this process of reform, now with the benefit of recommendations set out in the reports today.

“We will respond formally and in full when we have taken time to give the reports full consideration.”

The Department of Media will draw up its own implementation plan also within six weeks and both of these will be signed off by Cabinet.

Plans to overhaul the TV licence are expected to be signed off by senior ministers shortly after, before TDs break for the summer recess.

Hospitality, travel and subsistence expenses within RTÉ which were reported to Media Ministers between 2017 and 2022, will also be reviewed by the RTÉ Board Chair.

Laws will also be changed to make the State’s public spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General, RTÉ’s auditor.

RTÉ will also now be accountable to the Dáil’s public spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Further laws will also strengthen the authority of the RTÉ board and make director generals accountable to the board.

Minister Martin said the more than 100 recommendations “chart a path forward” for the public service broadcaster.

“These are root and branch examinations that were needed because of the governance and other failings that we saw – from organisational to cultural to financial failings in the past. So with these recommendations, we now see the blueprint for going forward,” she told RTÉ’s Six One News.

Minister Martin added it was “essential” that RTÉ “accepted these principles”.

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