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Bakhurst: There is a ‘risk’ of legal action after talks with Ryan Tubridy ended

RTE’s director-general has said there is “a danger” and “a risk” of legal action after talks were ended abruptly on its star presenter Ryan Tubridy’s return to the broadcaster.

Kevin Bakhurst said he had received internal and external legal advice before making the decision and said he hoped it does not come to legal action between RTE and Tubridy.

“I don’t think it will be a good thing for anybody. Clearly, there’s always a risk, but we factored that in and considered that risk, and I still feel convinced it was the right decision for RTE and for audiences,” he said.

Asked why the decision had been taken to end the talks, Mr Bakhurst said he did not believe that Tubridy, formerly RTE’s highest-paid star, had “owned his mistakes” in relation to RTE’s under-declaration of the presenter’s salary.

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Mr Bakhurst said that it had been agreed that Tubridy would return to his weekly RTE Radio show on a 170,000 euro fee, while also presenting a new podcast series.

It is the latest development in a controversy over RTE’s under-declaration of his salary, which has widened out to probes launched into RTE’s financial affairs, accounting practices, governance and spending on advertising clients.

The crisis has led to a significant drop-off in people buying TV licences, an obligatory 160-euro fee for people with televisions, which goes towards funding operations at the broadcaster.

Mr Bakhurst said negotiations with Tubridy about returning to his radio show had concluded after stating that trust between the parties had “broken down”, but added the “door is still open” for a future return.

Mr Bakhurst said he was “particularly disappointed” with Tubridy’s response to a highly anticipated report into the presenter’s earnings, which the director-general said had questioned corrected figures for the period of 2020 and 2021.

RTE pay revelations
RTE’s former highest-paid presenter Ryan Tubridy (Niall Carson/PA)

RTE had sought clarification from the presenter after he stated that the Grant Thornton report “made it clear” that his actual income from the broadcaster in 2020 and 2021 “matches what was originally published” in February as his earnings for those years.

Speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland programme on Friday, Mr Bakhurst said that to question the report into the under-declaration of Ryan Tubridy’s fees was “counter-productive” adding “we can’t be going around in circles arguing about this”.

“I do think that everyone has got to accept those reports in full and not in parts and not try and spin their own narratives.

“We’ve got a version, it fairly reflects overall what he was paid in lieu of those years and to start questioning that is counterproductive and we can’t be going round in circles arguing about this.

“We’ve got to have (the) integrity to own our mistakes,” he said.

When asked whether he believed Tubridy was doing that, he replied: “No, I don’t.”

In his third interview with RTE in 12 hours, Mr Bakhurst said Tubridy was “shocked and disappointed” with the decision not to continue with negotiations, adding he did not think Tubridy saw the decision coming.

He said that RTE staff “were strongly divided” about whether Tubridy should return, but added that he is a “hugely talented broadcaster” and he felt it was the right thing to try to bring him back.

“However, I feel there was an issue throughout about the need to accept your role in what has been a hugely damaging scandal for everybody involved, and particularly for RTE who need to take the vast majority blame,” he said.

“But there are others, including Ryan and his team, who should take some of the blame and take some responsibility,” he said, adding that he did not believe he was aware of some “significant resistance” to his return.

He said the interim leadership team was consulted over the decision to end the talks and they agreed.

“They realised like I did, it was a tough decision but they also realise we’ve got a job to do.”