Top RTE executive resigns to make way for ‘fresh lead team’

Rory Coveney’s resignation comes on the eve of the arrival of the new director general Kevin Bakhurst at the broadcaster on Monday.

A top RTE executive has resigned to allow space for the new director general to create a fresh leadership team.

Director of strategy Rory Coveney said he had resigned with immediate effect in a statement on Sunday evening.

Mr Coveney said he met with incoming director general Kevin Bakhurst in recent days, and wants to give him the space to create a “fresh lead team”.

“Having worked with Kevin before, I’ve absolute faith in him. He’s the right person to rebuild the national broadcaster. I wish him the very best,” he said.

Incoming RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst
Incoming RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst (Liam McBurney/PA)

Last week Mr Coveney appeared before the Oireachtas Media Committee, during which he defended the Toy Show musical, which recorded losses of 2.2 million euros in its first year.

He said: “It clearly wasn’t a commercial success, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort from everyone involved.”

Mr Bakhurst has thanked Mr Coveney for his contribution to public service media.

“His diligence, energy and insight were hugely appreciated by many across the organisation. I wish him the very best for the future,” he said.

The new director general is taking over as the Irish national broadcaster remains at the centre of a storm following revelations last month that it had under-reported the salary paid to star presenter Ryan Tubridy.

Earlier Mr Bakhurst said it is “time for action”.

He is expected to publicly outline his plans to “restore trust” in RTE on his first day in the role on Monday.

Speaking briefly on Sunday, he said: “I’d rather not say too much ahead of tomorrow, just say we’re going to be in contact with staff first thing in the morning via email, and I’ll be going around meeting people, trying to take questions and explain what we’re trying to do.

RTE presenter Ryan Tubridy
Ryan Tubridy (Brian Lawless/PA)

“The only thing I’ll say to people is it’s time for action now, that’s all we need.”

Earlier government minister Thomas Byrne described Mr Bakhurst’s arrival at RTE as a “really good moment” as the broadcaster attempts to rebuild trust.

Appearing on RTE 1’s The Week In Politics programme, Mr Byrne also suggested there has been too much focus on commercial activity at RTE and a return to the “basics of public service broadcasting” is needed.

On Saturday Irish premier Leo Varadkar also called for change.

“I think we need to see change in RTE. Without change, I don’t think that trust can be restored,” he said during a visit to Co Clare.

“I understand that the new director general Kevin Bakhurst is going to make some announcements on Monday in relation to changes to the organisation, the way the management is structured and also is going to deal with issues around conflicts of interest.

“I am very reassured in what he has said to government and it’s important that he be allowed to set out those plans on Monday and to talk to staff first and then to inform the wider nation about those changes, and he’s going to make them quickly.”

Consultative Forum on International Security Policy
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the TV licence needed to be overhauled (Niall Carson/PA)

Asked about his views on reform of the TV licence, the Taoiseach said the current system needs to be overhauled.

“It’s a really old-fashioned way of collecting revenue based on ownership of a TV, a device that many people just don’t have anymore, and almost all the money goes to RTE even though there are many other bodies involved in broadcasting outside public service broadcasting,” Mr Varadkar said.

“So I think reform of the TV licence is long overdue and I want that to happen during this government.

“I can see the political temptation to put it off for another government or another Dail, but I do not want to do that, and I want to make sure we have a new system up and running during the lifetime of this government.”

The furore around RTE’s failure to disclose 345,000 euros of additional payments to former Late Late Show host Tubridy between 2017 and 2022 has since widened.

There have been further disclosures about the broadcaster’s internal financial, accounting and governance practices and its expenditure on corporate hospitality for advertising clients.

The Irish government has already announced two separate external reviews of RTE and also moved to send in a forensic auditor to examine the broadcaster’s accounts.

Meanwhile, two parliamentary committees in Dublin are conducting their own examinations of the situation.

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