In over 100 years of its existence, the Irish state is no stranger to scandal. Such incidents in the past have mostly involved politicians, businessmen/women, priests or bishops. But now we have the unprecedented situation of the national broadcaster at the centre of the latest outrage. Although not totally unprecedented if you take into account the incident in 1972 when journalist Kevin O’Kelly attempted to circumvent the broadcasting ban on members of outlawed paramilitary groups from the airwaves by interviewing the then IRA chief of staff Seán MacStiofáin off air and subsequently reading out a transcript of the interview on air – as a result of which RTÉ’s entire governing body was sacked by the government.
RTÉ now finds itself in a similar position to that of the BBC some years back when the salaries of the UK state broadcaster’s top presenters came under public scrutiny.
Undeclared payouts going to an already well-paid presenter like Ryan Tubridy were always going to result in an inevitable public backlash. Getting paid €345,000 more than the figure officially announced by RTE over a six-year period is not something that goes unnoticed.
But this sort of thing is hardly new. There’s a famous clip from 2009 doing the rounds on social media of a heckler in the audience having a go at Pat Kenny over his salary.
Having worked for many years in the Freedom of Information and data protection field at various public bodies I’m all too familiar with the need for transparency when it comes to the spending of public money. Since the resignation of RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes once her position became untenable, her replacement Kevin Bakhurst has wasted no time in clearing out the dead wood and announcing a new era of transparency and accountability in Donnybrook.
In an ironic twist of fate The Late Late Show which has historically prided itself on exposing scandals (notably the famous interview with the then European Commissioner for Social Affairs Padraig Flynn which eventually led to his resignation) and acting as a catalyst in modernizing Irish society, now finds itself at the centre of a row largely of its former presenter’s (and possibly also his agent’s) own making.
Tubridy’s failure to make public these additional payments has been compared to a famous line from Father Ted. When questioned about the proceeds of a charity fundraising event mysteriously ending up in his bank account the titular priest claims “the money was just resting in my account!”
The evidence given by Tubridy and his agent Noel Kelly to the Oireachtas committee on Tuesday 11 July made interesting viewing. Kelly seemed to be constantly invoking the classic schoolboy line of defence – “but it wasn’t our fault, sir – RTÉ made us do it, sir!”
The scandal has inevitably become something of a godsend for social media comedians (or should that be soc-medians?). One wag on Twitter (who shall remain strictly nameless!) posted a picture of a plane owned by a well-known Irish airline accompanied by the caption “Ryanair”. Below was a picture of Tubridy with the caption “Ryan off air”. I would strongly advise this Twitter user not to give up his day job.
— CIARAN WARD (@CiaranWard73) July 7, 2023
The satirical magazine Phoenix also gets in on the act with the cover of its latest edition featuring an amusingly captioned picture of Tubridy and Forbes, as well as several clever cartoons.
What more will come out next week?
— The Phoenix Magazine (@ThePhoenixMag) July 8, 2023
In a series of further twists in addition to the omnipresent #Tubridygate, it was revealed that the sports presenter Marty Morrisey had been given use of a free car by Renault which had not been declared. In a nod to a song by Marty’s namesake, the former lead singer with The Smiths, he’s been referred to as the “last of the famous international playboys”.
Furthermore, RTE’s decision not to broadcast the recent All-Ireland football quarter finals free to air, despite the involvement of the two previous winners Kerry and Tyrone, but instead make them available behind a paywall on its GAAgo streaming service at €12 a pop has justifiably come in for much criticism. And indeed that other great pillar of the Irish establishment the GAA has in the past been cynically dubbed the “Grab All Association” in the light of the supposedly amateur organisation’s increasingly materialistic tendencies. In a similar vein could RTE be labelled as “Ripping off Taxpayers of Eire”?
Clearly coming under pressure to avoid a similar fate to his predecessor before he’s even started, the Late Late Show’s new presenter Paddy Kielty has now published comprehensive details of his payments on his website, stressing that although he is entitled to claim expenses for flights and accommodation he will be waiving them and instead paying out of his own pocket.
Incidentally, I have heard unconfirmed reports that Paddy is to also co-host a new podcast on Northern Irish politics with the editor of Slugger O’Toole which will apparently be called by the catchy title of “The Fealty & Kielty Show”. The idea certainly has potential, but I suspect that unfortunately there is no truth whatsoever in this rumour!
But if his RTE career is indeed over as has been widely predicted, I’m sure Tubridy will no doubt bounce back in another medium. He may even end up crossing the water to become a sort of new age Terry Wogan – perish the thought!
Scandals almost always result in a major clean-up operation. The extent of how the current crisis will pan out remains to be seen. It’s a safe bet though that quite a few TV licences in the Republic will remain unpaid over the coming months.
GAAgo – to see
Campaign not to pay TV licence
Ciaran Ward is from Co. Tyrone and is now based in London where he works in the data protection/cybersecurity field. His latest book “On Square Routes”, a collection of memoirs, travel writing, short stories and poetry has just been published and is now available from Amazon.