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Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Programme E - Broadcasting

Ms Dee Forbes(Director General, RTÉ) called and examined.

Apologies have been received from Deputy Verona Murphy. Deputy Colm Burke may be a little late because he has business to attend to in the Dáil. I welcome you all to our first engagement of 2022. Due to the current situation regarding Covid-19, only the clerk to the committee, the support staff and me are present in the committee room. Members of the committee are attending remotely from within the precincts of Leinster House. This due to the constitutional requirement that in order to participate in public meetings, members must be physically present within the confines of the Parliament. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, is a permanent witness to the committee.

This morning, we engage with officials from Raidió Teilifís Éireann, RTÉ, to examine Exchequer funding of RTÉ, which is now provided through Vote 33 - Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. The following conditional matters are included in the letter of invitation and may be examined during the course of the engagement by members: RTÉ's 2020 annual report and group financial statement; RTÉ's financial sustainability and capacity performance role as the national public sector broadcaster; the television licence fee; the investigation undertaken by the Department of Social Protection in respect of contract staff; the sale of lands; the Willis Towers Watson organisation-wide role review, including remuneration of Irish-speaking workers; and any gender pay gaps at RTÉ. RTÉ has also been made aware that the committee might wish to follow up on matters relating to it that were raised with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media on 25 November 2021.

We are joined remotely from outside the precincts of Leinster House by the following officials from RTÉ: Ms Dee Forbes, director general; Mr. Richard Collins, chief financial officer; and Ms Fiona O'Shea, group financial controller. The following officials are also attending remotely from outside the precincts of Leinster House from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, which is a big Department: Ms Patricia Murphy, assistant secretary, corporate division; Ms Tríona Quill, assistant secretary, broadcasting and media division; and Mr. Stephen Ryan, principal officer. broadcasting policy. They are all very welcome. When we begin to engage I ask members and witnesses to mute themselves and they are not contributing, so that we do not pick up any background noise or feedback. As usual, I remind all those in attendance to make sure that their mobile phones are on silent or are switched off.

Before we start, I wish to explain the limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards reference witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence that a witness who physically present, or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts, is protected pursuant to both Constitution and statute by absolute privilege. However, today's witnesses are giving their evidence remotely from a place outside of the parliamentary precincts. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present does. Such witnesses have already been advised of this and they may have thought it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter.

Members are reminded of the provision within Standing Order 218 that a committee shall refrain from enquiring into the the merits of a policy or policies of Government or a Minister of the Government, or the merits of the objectives of such policies. Members are also reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

To assist our broadcast and debate services I ask that members direct their questions to a specific witness. If the question is not being directed to a specific witness, I would ask that each witness statement name on the first opportunity that they contribute.

I now call on Mr. Seamus McCarthy for his opening statement.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I have a couple of remarks on the Vote. Gross voted expenditure on broadcasting in 2020 totalled €271 million, which was up 4% on the gross expenditure incurred in 2019. The largest element of the programme expenditure in 2020 was grant funding provided to RTÉ, totalling €197.6 million. This was slightly up on the grant funding of €196.5 million provided to RTÉ in 2019. Grant funding to Teilifís na Gaeilge amounted to €39.1 million in 2020. That was an increase of 8% year-on-year.

The broadcasting fund, which is managed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, is used mainly to grant, assist the development and production of programmes for radio and television. The fund received €21.8 million from the Vote in 2020, representing an increase of 47% on the 2019 contribution. The notes to the appropriation account explain that the additional funding in that case was provided to support enhanced programming as a response to Covid-19.

A substantial part of the programme is funded by television licence fee receipts into the Vote. In 2020, such receipts totalled just under €223 million. This was about the same as aggregate licence fee receipts in 2019.

Members may recall that, while I audit the financial statements of Teilifís na Gaeilge and of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, I do not have responsibility for the audit of the financial statements of RTÉ, which is classified as a commercial State body. Consequently, it is not appropriate for me to comment on RTÉ’s financial statements.

I thank Mr. McCarthy. As detailed in the letter of invitation, Ms Forbes will have five minutes. We have received her opening statement. I invite her to proceed.

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank the Chair. I thank the committee for the invitation to speak with members today on a number of topics, many of which are important to the future of Ireland’s national public service media.

First, with regard to RTÉ’s financial statements, 2020 was a transformational year in Irish life, and for Irish business. It was a hugely challenging time for everyone and for every sector, but it was also a year in which RTÉ demonstrated our purpose and our value as a public service for the people of Ireland. Despite the logistical, financial, and human challenge of the early stages of the pandemic, Ireland’s media, both local and national, played a critical and leading role in keeping people in Ireland informed, engaged, and safe. Naturally, today I want to highlight the very particular contribution made by RTÉ during this time. Along with public service media all over Europe, RTÉ informed and empowered the people of Ireland. In research conducted at in the first six months of the pandemic, 90% of people indicated that they turned to RTÉ for information, while a further 76% said that they placed their trust in RTÉ. This confidence and trust has been earned over many years, and in many ways and we never take it for granted.

Alongside comprehensive and in-depth news coverage, RTÉ was and is a source of companionship, diversion and connection for millions. People turned to story in all its forms; from documentaries, to drama, to comedy, to investigative journalism. The nation joined together in helping RTÉ to bring light to darker days, with events such as RTÉ Shine a Light. New original Irish drama, like the hugely acclaimed “Normal People”, got the nation talking, laughing and connecting more than ever. With connection comes community. RTÉ rallied around Irish businesses, Irish artists, producers, front-line workers and those in need. Together with the people of Ireland, we raised more than €12 million in 2020 for Irish charities. These achievements came against the backdrop of extreme and continued financial uncertainty. RTÉ is funded through a combination of public funding - the TV licence - and commercial income. An immediate result of Covid-19 was a sharp drop in licence fee revenue, and a decline in advertising revenue. Although income stabilised towards the end of that year, we witnessed the precariousness of the financial system underpinning public service broadcasting in Ireland.

RTÉ has highlighted for many years that the licence fee system on which Ireland’s national public service media is a reliant, is utterly broken.

In 2019 RTÉ committed to a range of cost-efficiency measures, and in 2020 we made good progress in achieving our agreed targets. This strong focus on cost management is reflected in the surplus achieved in that year, aided by the exceptional circumstances of that year when expenditure on coverage of live events and sport, among other types of production, was suspended.

The core structural funding problems remain and, in fact, are deteriorating quickly. Losses to national public service media funding are now estimated to be €65 million annually. RTÉ cannot continue to deliver on its remit for the people of Ireland without adequate public funding. We welcomed the formation of the Government-appointed Future of Media Commission in early 2021, and we await with interest the urgent publication of the recommendations of that commission. As we await meaningful reform of public funding, RTÉ has been focused on its own programme of reform. This has included: the critical upgrading of studio and broadcasting infrastructure; the appointment of a diversity lead to help improve representation within our workforce and our output; a large-scale organisational restructure to help us achieve greater collaboration and synergies; and we are investing more in digital services and content.

To help ensure that RTÉ evolves, we commissioned a number of different reviews of how we work. The review of role and gender equality in 2017 offered an in-depth analysis of gender equity within RTÉ's workforce. To begin with, RTÉ's staff body is almost evenly male-female, which in itself is notable when compared with the private or the semi-State sectors. The review also found that RTÉ is both a fair and equitable employer, with good terms and conditions of employment for its people. The review found that RTÉ equals, and in various cases exceeds, national policy objectives and targets for gender related employment. The review found that the pay differential at RTÉ is approximately 4%, which is significantly less than the 14% for the economy as a whole. While these findings were encouraging, they leave no room for complacency, and gender balance within our overall workforce, within roles, and within our output, remains a high priority. RTÉ's journey on gender pay and general employment continues and is supported by the Willis Towers Watson project, which is looking at an updated job and career framework for all staff.

RTÉ is also focused on complying with reporting requirements on gender pay. This will help us develop more plans to address any gaps. A consistent, methodical, and universal approach is now captured by the requirements under the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021. This is a welcome development on a national level, which will provide further transparency across all employment within the State. Following on from this review, we proactively undertook a review of the organisation's use of contractors. The resulting report found that the majority of those reviewed, that is, a list of 433 freelancers or contractors providing services across the organisation, were appropriately engaged as contractors. It also found that some contractors appeared to have some attributes akin to employment, and highlighted 157 individuals as being in need of further review. A total of 82 contracts of employment were issued, with 79 acceptances.

In accordance with the Eversheds review recommendations, we have also updated the relevant RTÉ policies for engaging individuals, and implemented training and awareness for all managers within the organisation. Arising from the review into the engagement of contractors, RTÉ also engaged in dialogue and co-operation with the Revenue Commissioners, and a settlement amount to the value of €1,223,252 has now been paid to Revenue in respect of identified liabilities. Alongside this audit, RTÉ has also been in dialogue and co-operation with the Department of Social Protection's scope division, and is one of 500 organisations in Ireland currently under review for potential PRSI classification liabilities. This is a substantial and complex process, involving the investigation of the contractual and employment arrangements of approximately 500 individuals. The precise duration of this investigation is unknown, but it is conservatively estimated to be active until at least 2023.

Arising from one of the recommendations of the original role and gender equality review, and as mentioned earlier, RTÉ has engaged with an external partner to carry out a full evaluation of staff roles and grades in RTÉ. This will enable RTÉ to control costs and make decisions on the best shape and size of the organisation so that we can successfully face the future. This will involve a full evaluation of the role and grading structure across every area in RTÉ. The original research clarified that RTÉ's existing structure, which comprises 164 different grades, is overly complex and is no longer fit for purpose. It is intended that this review will create greater levels of transparency, parity, and agility within the organisation. All staff and services will be included within this review. All of these measures will allow us to plan how RTÉ will evolve as a Ireland's national public service media. We and our staff have already embraced hybrid working, and the past year has resulted in a number of innovations in terms of our broadcast services. In spite of its many challenges, Covid-19 has accelerated change across the working world, and it is essential that RTÉ keeps pace. By comparison with many of our international counterparts, RTÉ offers a considerable range and quality of programmes and online services, on a very cost-efficient basis. We have a highly dedicated, experienced and qualified workforce, we are a highly trusted organisation and we continue to play an essential role in Irish life. Covid-19 has shown us the importance of public service media to the proper functioning of countries and democracies and to the nurturing of cultural vitality, unity and community. Whether it be in moments of celebration or in times of crisis, it is RTÉ's privilege and unique responsibility to be the place to which people turn and the place that brings the nation together.

We urge all members of the committee to engage with the work of the commission, when its recommendations are published, and to consider those recommendations with urgency and shared purpose. I extend apologies from our head of human resources, Eimear Cusack, who, unfortunately, is unavailable today due to personal circumstances.

I thank Ms Forbes. The lead speaker today is Deputy Neasa Hourigan, who has 15 minutes, followed by Deputy Colm Burke, if he is out of the Chamber by then. Everyone else will have ten minutes. I ask members for their co-operation to stay within the time allocated so that we can get to everybody.

I will do my best on time. I am watching the clock. I welcome everybody this morning. I am pleased that we found time for this session. I know we are going to talk a lot about the licence fee and the justification for it. I am very proud of the fact that we have a publicly funded national broadcaster. That is incredibly important. We are all trying to reach a sustainable long-term approach for RTÉ. In other countries we have seen a state-supported free media as a target to be undermined and de-funded. The only people that suits is populists, conspiracy theorists and the far right. Any questions I ask in the next few minutes are to be viewed within that context.

Could I take it from Ms Forbes's statement today that RTÉ will not be publishing information on the gender pay gap in the foreseeable future until the Bill is passed by the Government. The reason I ask is that the National Union of Journalists asked for that information in February 2021 and RTÉ said in June last year that it would not be providing it. Is there any reason RTÉ has not provided it, considering that groups like An Post have not only provided it but closed the gap? There was a reference to 4%. Is that number from 2018?

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank Deputy Hourigan for her questions. There are a couple of points to make on the gender pay gap. The review I mentioned was carried out in 2017.

That is five-years old now.

Ms Dee Forbes

Absolutely. At the time, we committed to a range of actions following on from the review. What we do every year, when we publish our-----

I am sorry. I do not mean to cut across Ms Forbes, but did one of those actions involve publishing gender pay information?

Ms Dee Forbes

Not specifically; it was to continue to look at the matter. What we do in our annual report is we provide a breakdown of our staff in terms of males and females, and we also provide regular information on salary bands on a male-female basis. That is there-----

As Ms Forbes knows, that is not the gender pay gap information that is required in the public realm.

Ms Dee Forbes

That is correct. It is not the gender pay gap information. We provided the RTÉ Trade Union Group, TUG, with everything we had. The difference in the gender pay gap ruling coming in is they are looking for very specific details around mean and median. We do not have-----

Is Ms Forbes saying RTÉ does not have that?

Ms Dee Forbes

We do not have that information in that format.

With the best will in the world, during the process of preparing for this session I have read through reams of information about licence fees and remuneration for employees and contractors. I find it hard to believe that RTÉ could not compile a report on the gender pay gap if An Post and other groups can do it, considering the fact that one of RTÉ’s remits is around transparency and the public good.

Ms Dee Forbes

As I mentioned, there have been a number of processes in play. We will comply with the regulation for this coming year.

RTÉ will not publish gender pay gap information until the Bill is passed.

Ms Dee Forbes

We are unable to do so in the current format. We are working towards it for the requirement next year.

I cannot accept that RTÉ is unable to provide that information if similar semi-State bodies are able to do so.

Ms Dee Forbes

Unfortunately, we are just not in a position to do it. We have a lot of work going on-----

Is it not simply the case that a choice has been made not to do it given that the numbers RTÉ is working with are five years old?

Ms Dee Forbes

Absolutely not. We have been engaged in a number of processes which were started by this review. The gender and pay review sparked a number of reviews around contractors, which led to the Eversheds review, the scope division inspection, etc. A lot is going on within the organisation which we are very committed to dealing with on a case-by-case basis. It would have been great to have been ahead of the curve in terms of having this data to hand but unfortunately we do not. We will have to engage on that quickly in line with the need.

As somebody who has worked in policy for quite a long time, the way of calculating the gender pay gap has been in the public sphere for well over five years, certainly since 2017 when RTÉ’s first report was done. If there was a will within the organisation to provide that information, it would have been done. Is Ms Forbes telling me RTÉ could not do it?

Ms Dee Forbes

I take the Deputy’s point. We did not manage to do it in that timeframe. We are working towards it for the ruling that is coming our way. We will have that information and be as open and informative as we can with it. We have always published our information by salary band and we have also been proactive in monitoring the way in which we are recruiting. We have ensured that, where possible, we have maintained a 50:50 gender balance in recruitment. We have a lot going on but I take the Deputy’s point. I would have liked to have been able to do more in this area. Unfortunately, with everything that has been going on, we have not been able to get to this one but we will have it done in time for the ruling.

I am delighted to hear Ms Forbes talk about having a diversity lead and a programme of reform but failing to focus on this issue when it has been in the public realm so much is a choice on the part of the institution. Considering RTÉ’s remit as a State-supported body, to wait for legislation to force it to publish gender pay gap information is unfortunate.

What percentage of the licence fee grant is used to fund the remuneration of employees currently within RTÉ and what percentage of that is for individuals who are high earners?

Ms Dee Forbes

I will have to come back to the Deputy on the overall number but the percentage of high earners is 1%. Some 1% of our cost base goes towards our top-paid employees.

Ms Forbes does not have the figure for employees more generally.

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not have it to hand.

I do not want to go too far into the Eversheds report. Was there a dispute process in place before the report in 2018 for contractors or freelancers who felt they had been misclassified as self-employed?

Ms Dee Forbes

The area of contractors was brought to my attention at the same time as we were carrying out the rolling gender review. At that time, I committed to looking at it and it was from that point onwards that we carried out the Eversheds process. I am not clear if there was a process before that or not but my commitment to the trade union group and the employee base was that, following the rolling gender review, we would carry out a detailed assessment of our contractors. That is what we have been doing, as I outlined in the opening statement.

Is a process in place now for freelancers or contractors within RTÉ who feel they have been mistreated or misclassified?

Ms Dee Forbes

Eversheds carried out a widespread and detailed review, which in turn has led to a scope inspection. That is all ongoing. The important point, as I outlined at the outset, is that we are looking at legacy issues which we will need to address. We quickly put in place a go-forward policy, which was employment first. All of our policies were changed and training was put in place, etc. All of this is tied up in a complex process, started by Eversheds, which moved into Revenue and is now in scope. That is where we will handle all of that.

For clarity, if I was working now and had a concern, is there an outlined process in place to query my status?

Ms Dee Forbes

Yes. That is ongoing.

Is it being developed or is it in place?

Ms Dee Forbes

It is in place.

I suspect, since we are not entirely sure how much of the licence fee is going towards employees more generally, that it would be difficult to outline how much of the licence fee goes specifically towards programmes that are in the category of public interest or within the remit of RTÉ's public responsibility. Is it fair to say that it is hard to identify that within the licence fee?

Ms Dee Forbes

In the annual report we outlined the categories of where we spend the money. I will ask Mr. Collins or Ms O’Shea to outline a profile of our costs. As the Deputy knows, we have a public remit and then we must optimise our public objects to commercialise. I will ask Mr. Collins or Ms O’Shea to outline the profile of the cost base.

I am mindful that I will run out of time in about five minutes so I ask the witnesses to keep the responses relatively short.

The Deputy has just over five minutes.

Mr. Richard Collins

Good morning to all. I am the chief financial officer. In note 2 on page 110 of the annual accounts, we set out how the licence fee is allocated. In summary, the licence fee is first allocated to cover the cost of the activities that are not capable of generating commercial revenues. It is then spread across the other channels that are capable of generating advertising or other commercial income. For instance, the cost of running Lyric FM is approximately €5 million per year and €5 million of licence fee funding is allocated to it instead of-----

Within each strand of a network, is it possible to identify particular programmes, such as news programmes, that satisfy the remit?

Mr. Richard Collins

No. We do not allocate on that basis.

For example, “Operation Transformation” would still be considered part of that public money and be publicly funded.

Mr. Richard Collins

It all goes into a pot. “Operation Transformation” is broadcast on RTÉ 1 and there are substantial commercial revenues against RTÉ 1. Between the licence fee and commercial revenue that is funded but it is impossible to give the exact breakdown. We do not analyse it such that the specific programmes are covered out of the licence fee and others are covered out of commercial income. It is one big pot.

Is that the way RTÉ intends to work going forward?

Mr. Richard Collins

The history of this is around fair trading rules as well. We have to have a balance in what we serve up to the public. If we were to focus totally on commercial income, the schedule we would put forward would be totally different.

I take that point and maybe this is a broader question but if we are providing State and taxpayer funding to our national broadcaster on the basis that it will provide programmes in the national interest-----

The Deputy has three minutes left.

-----are we also asking for information on programming provided that is not in the national interest?

Ms Dee Forbes

All of our services are public services. They are there for the public good.

I want to stop proceedings for a minute. Deputy Hourigan has three minutes left. There is a problem with Mr. Collins's microphone.

It is causing interference and there is also a problem with the volume. He might adjust it a little. I apologise for the interruption.

I might reframe the question a little. Last year, a number of organisations that concern themselves with eating disorders and health issues made the point that programmes such as "Operation Transformation" are damaging. For an organisation that has a public mandate and is explicitly mandated to operate in the public interest, where is the test of how RTÉ is doing that and who decides what is in the public interest?

Ms Dee Forbes

All our services are public service, which, by its nature, is about entertaining, educating and informing. The principles of public service broadcasting are a blend of those three areas. Every year, the BAI assesses how we deliver on our remit. It is our regulator. We have a lot of commitments we have to deliver on, and the BAI is ultimately the arbiter of how we deliver on that and how we spend our money. Again, it is that broad spectrum. We are a public service broadcaster with an obligation to serve the people and we commercialise that as a secondary objective. That is how we look at everything we do.

The programme the Deputy is talking about has evolved over many years. I hope she has watched this season and seen some changes. It is now a more holistic programme and it takes into account the wider area of health, not focusing on just one area. We get a huge positive reaction from the public to the programme. I appreciate there are possible triggers for people within it but, in the context of the overall health of the nation and the overall benefits taken from it, we get strong feedback. The creators of the programme, in conjunction with us, are very aware of the issues the Deputy mentioned. We have evolved the programme and it has changed, and we hope it fulfils a more holistic approach to the overall health issue she raised.

When undertaking a programme such as that, does RTÉ have standards or is there a group to which it reaches out to review whether it is on the right end of the argument?

Ms Dee Forbes

We also carried out independent research around this-----

Will Ms Forbes clarify what she means by "independent research"? Who undertook that?

Ms Dee Forbes

I am trying to get the name right. I think it is called “the HEA” but I will clarify that. In any event, we did some research prior to the programme with an official health authority to gauge any improvement that could be made to the programme, and that again goes into the feedback for the next commissioning. I will come back to the Deputy on the name of the organisation the research was carried out with. We engage in conversations like that.

The Deputy has gone over time. I will try to get her back in for a second round of questions.

I apologise that I was not able to join the meeting at the start because I was making a contribution in the Dáil. I thank the director general and the other representatives of RTÉ for coming before us and dealing with our questions.

I might start with the appointment of Willis Towers Watson review and the fact there are more than 164 different pay grades within RTÉ. The report is awaited and I am not sure what the timescale is, but has a process been started, even at this stage, as to how the broadcaster will reconfigure the fact there are 164 pay grades within RTÉ? I presume the review will not be made available for some time.

Ms Dee Forbes

We are dealing with 60 years of legacy and a 167-grade system, as the Deputy said, and it is very complex. The very purpose of engaging with Willis Towers Watson is to look at that and to look at how we can simplify it to a much more workable and modern way of working, and that is all part of the process. We engaged Willis Towers Watson last year. It is a thorough and complex process that will involve a lot of elements. We expect the report to be finished roughly around September of this year, and all the way through that there will be ongoing engagement with Willis Towers Watson on the process. It is all under way. The company, which came through a public procurement process, has also worked with the BBC. The BBC carried out a similar review a number of years ago, so Willis Towers Watson has a lot of experience in the sector. The BBC had similar issues to us as regards legacy numbers and a complex grading structure, and all of that is included in the review that is under way.

Have the board and Ms Forbes as director general set targets? I was involved in a company a number of years ago in which it took us 11 years to make progress on an issue like this. I am bit concerned, given there are 167 different grades, as to how RTÉ can put in place a simpler process.

Ms Dee Forbes

We spoke at length to Willis Towers Watson about the process in which it engaged with the BBC, and a number of people it had working on the BBC review are working on ours. We need to await the outcome of the process but, judging from that experience, we want to implement this as soon as possible, and I would expect that to be quarter 1 of 2023. That is very much in line with how the BBC process was worked through. It is a complex process and I very much hope we will stick to those timings. That is our plan at the moment.

I think there are 1,866 employees within RTÉ and the 2020 figure was 1,758 full-time equivalents. Of that 1,866, how many earn under €100,000 and how many earn more than that? There seems to be a significant variation, given there are 167 different grades.

Ms Dee Forbes

Ms O'Shea might have that information to hand.

Ms Fiona O'Shea

Of the 1,866, a total of 1,749 earn less than €100,000 and 117 individuals earn more than €100,000. Those figures are as at 31 December 2020.

I might move on to the issue of non-licence fee revenue. My understanding is licence fee revenue accounts for 59% of the total, while the figure for non-licence fee revenue is 41%. Does RTÉ foresee an increase in how much money can come in from sources other than licence fees over the next three to four years? Is there any plan in place to deal with that?

Ms Dee Forbes

The commercial and advertising side of the business, like that of many other traditional media companies, has been under a lot of challenge in recent years, particularly with the onset of digital and other large media organisations. Advertising used to make up the bigger proportion but that has not been the case for the past number of years because of what I outlined.

We have committed in our strategy that we need to diversify revenues. That plan has been put a little on hold because of the pandemic. We had a plan to look at events and raising other revenues. Having said that, it is fair to say advertising will continue to be a dominant part of our funding. It is a large pot of money to pay for. Obviously, as we deliver audiences, advertisers want to get to them. Towards the end of last year, as the country reopened a little, the demand for advertising was much stronger than we had anticipated, given the pent-up demand for advertising.

Diversity is needed. We are doing that. We are also looking at other areas where down the line we could blend our free-to-air offering with what we call "over-the-top offerings", which would lead to subscriber models. We work with the GAA on the GAAGo product, which is available outside Ireland and in Ireland, for the delivery of GAA games. We have recently launched a product with United Rugby Championship, URC, the rugby tournament - again, a similar offering. We are looking at a number of places, but underpinning the very notion of public service broadcasting needs to be a strong and fair public funding system. We look forward to the results of the media commission to see where that stands.

I will move on to the issue of the licence fee. Ms Forbes has spoken on a number of occasions about an increase in the licence fee and value for money. An Post is involved in the collection of fees and approximately 15% of people now say that they are not accessing the service. Can there be a better structure put in place for the collection of licence fees than what currently is there and has that been discussed with An Post at any stage?

Ms Dee Forbes

First, if I may, we have never asked for an increase in the licence fee. What we have always called for is reform of the existing system. It was probably the last time we spoke to the committee that we had identified €50 million was being lost through a combination of evasion and the no-television home scenario. That has now increased to €65 million. The system, if you like, is not getting access to €65 million. Therefore, any increase in the licence fee would be unjust on those who are paying. What we are asking for is reform of the current system in the first place. That is hugely important.

As the Deputy pointed out, the collector of the licence fee is appointed by the Department. In the case of ourselves, An Post is the collecting agent. I cannot speak for An Post but I think it has some issues with the system. There is a database that is very out of date. It needs updating. The collection system, with licence fee collectors on the road, is a costly one. That needs looking at but what needs to be looked at seriously is the future funding model. Whatever model that comes into play, it needs to be fair, independent and empirically set, not by us or by anybody in the Houses but by the regulator, to ensure it is a fair system for all.

The Deputy has half a minute left.

Will that review occur within the next 12 months and has Ms Forbes any indication that it will arise?

Ms Dee Forbes

I am sorry. I missed the beginning of that sentence.

On the review of the licensing system, where are we on the discussion on that issue and what progress will be made over the next 12 months?

Ms Dee Forbes

That is very much in the hands at the moment of the Future of Media Commission. As the Deputy will be aware, one of the key purposes of the commission was to look at the future funding of both public service media and media generally in Ireland. We are awaiting the publication of that document. My understanding is that it was made available. We are awaiting the publication of it, I would hope, very soon.

I thank Ms Forbes.

I thank Ms Forbes and her team for joining us today.

I want to return to the employment status issue, and particularly the difference between the self-employed contractually and directly employed that has been the matter of some controversy. The Eversheds Sutherland report, which has been discussed, identified 157 people who had what were described as "attributes akin to employment" or "attributes akin to both employment and self employment" that resulted in 82 people being offered contracts.

This report then served as the basis for a voluntary disclosure to Revenue that we learned about at our previous discussions. In that discussion, Ms O'Shea described an initial settlement of €1.22 million. In her opening statement, Ms Forbes describes this as "a settlement". I would like clarification, in the first instance, as to whether any additional payment has been made to Revenue since we last met and whether Ms Forbes expects that additional payments might have to be made.

Ms Dee Forbes

I will ask Ms O'Shea to take that.

Ms Fiona O'Shea

I thank the Deputy. I am the group financial controller at RTÉ. At our previous session I had used the phrase "an initial payment" because the matter of a Revenue audit was ongoing at the time and it was not clear to us at that point whether any further payments would be due in respect of the audit investigation by the Revenue Commissioners. We received confirmation of the conclusion of that audit in June 2021 subsequent to our meeting and I believe we shared that communication with this committee. No further payment was made. The settlement payment that was made to Revenue is as we had outlined.

I thank Ms O'Shea for that. Could we get confirmation of the period or timeframe that the Eversheds Sutherland report covered?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

The Eversheds Sutherland report was commissioned in 2018. It looked at the range of contractors that were in place at that time.

Was it just for that year?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

It was the contractors that were engaged by RTÉ in 2018, yes.

Was the Revenue settlement in respect of the Eversheds Sutherland findings or did it go beyond that?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

The Revenue settlement was in respect of an audit that was for a period beyond 2018. The Revenue Commissioners have under their jurisdiction a right of looking back over a number of years and they would have done that with us. We would have examined from 2015 onwards.

It has been reported that the Department of Social Protection investigation has been extended to 500 current and former contractors. If that Department were to find that PRSI was owed for a person who was not covered by the initial settlement with Revenue, would that beget a further settlement with that Department?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

It would. That process is ongoing. We do not know the outcome of that process but we are fully complying and will be paying any liabilities that arise out of that investigation.

Has RTÉ made any budgetary provision for what that might look like in order to make a settlement in that?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

It is very difficult at this juncture to make that kind of assessment. Although the process commenced in 2020, as a result of the pandemic it has progressed quite slowly. At this point, it is very difficult for us to make an assessment of what that would be. We await the outcome but we are fully complying with the Department of Social Protection in respect of that review.

Does Ms O'Shea expect that a settlement will have to be made?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

As the Deputy will be aware, the Department has no statute of limitations in respect of any look-back; the Revenue Commissioners do. They have a statute of limitations of four years but the Department does not have that. Therefore, it is conceivable that there would be a further retrospective amount of social security due to the Department of Social Protection should it find that an individual pre-2015 was misclassified for PRSI purposes.

Has any payment been made to date to the Department in that regard?

Ms Fiona O'Shea


It was reported in September that there were 28 considered by the scope section at that time. Eleven were found to have been in insurable employment. Are there any up-to-date figures on how many cases have been decided and whether there are financial implications arising from those?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

I am afraid it really would not be appropriate for us to comment in respect of an ongoing investigation by the Department of Social Protection. We are fully engaged and working with the inspectors but that process is ongoing. It is dealing with individuals. It would not be appropriate for us to comment on an ongoing investigation.

The National Union of Journalists, NUJ, stated in August that RTÉ had yet to engage with the trade unions regarding individuals who may have been wrongly classified. Has that engagement taken place yet? Have interactions begun?

Ms Dee Forbes

They have, indeed. Meetings happened before Christmas and another meeting is happening at the end of this month, so there is full interaction with the TUG.

That is welcome. Will there be a provision for an individual regarding whom a settlement has been, or may be, made with Revenue and the Department of Social Protection, because he or she was found to have been wrongly classified as self-employed rather than a direct worker to receive payments to which they were entitled? I am referring to payments such as maternity pay, sick pay, holiday pay and pension contributions.

Ms Dee Forbes

We have to look at all of this in the round. What we want is a process that we can view holistically. The spirit in which we went into the process and reviews was one in which we wanted to understand the complexity of what had gone on. In our governing principles, which we included in the members' briefing pack, the matter of retrospection, or anything on that level, would feature at the end of the process, as we outlined to the TUG. As the Deputy knows, the process that we thought was the Eversheds process has now turned into Eversheds, Revenue and scope; it has become a more complex process. We began the discussions with the TUG before Christmas and they will continue. We are very committed to looking at this to determine the impact down the line, but we are not there yet.

Could former contractors who may have been incorrectly identified as self-employed be entitled to redundancy payments retrospectively?

Ms Dee Forbes

Regarding the TUG, we are talking about a collective response. We will obviously have to look at all the detail once we have more. It is an ongoing process. I hope that as the months go on, we will know more about this. We are certainly committed to looking at the overall issues and then addressing them in the best possible manner.

On the broader financial framework, am I correct that Ms Forbes is satisfied no further payments will accrue to Revenue, and that element of the investigation is completed? Is it possible that a further settlement will have to be made with Revenue at some point in the future?

Ms Dee Forbes

It is probably fair to say that we have to be open to further settlements. At this point, we do not know, but we have to remain open as the process goes on. We will find out only as the process continues.

To clarify, further payments to Revenue are possible, payments to the Department of Social Protection are likely, and payments to individuals concerned are probable. Therefore, there is potentially quite an amount of expenditure yet to be determined and paid. I want clarification on the financial planning framework for that at a time RTÉ is seeking additional funding from the State, Exchequer, taxpayer or licence payer, or however we want to describe it. We have a period in which there is an undisclosed amount that will have to be paid. How is that planned for in RTÉ's strategies and financial frameworks?

Ms Dee Forbes

I will ask Mr. Collins to take that, if the Deputy does not mind.

Mr. Richard Collins

I thank the Deputy for his question. In our business, we assess all the risks facing us. On that basis, we look at the risks, their likelihood and how easy it is to quantify them. Beyond the risks pertaining to the scope investigation, there are many other risks facing the organisation. We create provisions against those risks. This case, as members have heard, is a very complex process. It is still at a relatively early stage. It is very difficult to quantify exactly what the exposures are. We are a prudent organisation and have made provisions, but those provisions are general provisions. It is impossible to be specific on this but we have made some general provisions. It is an evolving process. As the director general said, it is planned to finish in 2023 but it could go on further. It is something we will have to keep under review each year.

I thank the RTÉ witnesses for attending.

I want to focus on the other aspect of RTÉ's revenue, the commercial side, which the witnesses say amounts to 41%. Obviously, there is a lot of focus here on the licence fee. I see in the briefing material the witnesses provided, for which I thank them, that there is a strong focus on the licence fee and the threat to Irish programming generally if there is no action and so on. I want to consider the other side of RTÉ's revenue - the commercial advertising side. RTÉ has a dual funding model. There is no other media organisation of which I am aware that gets State support. The Irish Independent, The Irish Times and Virgin Media, for example, do not. Therefore, it is very significant to have received €1 billion in the period 2015 to 2019. On commercial advertising, can the witnesses explain to me what is RTÉ's advertising unit rate? For example, what is the cost per thousand eyeballs? Is that not the advertising unit? What is that here? How does it compare to an equivalent unit in the UK?

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank the Deputy for her question. The advertising rate, or the cost per thousand eyeballs, as she referred to, depends on the audience being targeted. We have a wide range of audiences, including all adults, young adults, ABC1s, men, etc. The cost per thousand is based on the audience. I can happily furnish the Deputy with some broad outlines of that.

Could I have an average figure or the median point?

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not have that to hand because I do not deal with the detail of that daily.

Perhaps the chief financial officer, Mr. Collins, could give it to me. I am seeking to determine the cost here and how it compares with that in the UK market.

Ms Dee Forbes

The cost of advertising generally is based on supply and demand.

I really am just looking for the value.

Ms Dee Forbes

RTÉ's rates are more expensive than those of Virgin Media. We are probably slightly cheaper than in the UK.

That is what I am asking. I am not asking about other Irish markets. RTÉ has such a dominant position in the market. Its strategy on pricing and commercial advertising has an effect on the rest of the sector, which is very important to note. What is the unit price and how does it compare with an equivalent unit price elsewhere? If, for example, Procter & Gamble wants to sell washing fluid to adults and to advertise on either prime-time ITV or prime-time RTÉ, what is the difference? Are both pitching at the same level, or would it be cheaper for Procter & Gamble to advertise to Irish audiences than audiences in the UK?

Ms Dee Forbes

Again, it is all down to the merits of the market. Another important difference here for us is that we have half the minutage of most commercial broadcasters because we are funded by both licence fees and commercial broadcasting. Comparing markets is interesting. We are competing with an overspill of UK channels come into this market, but what we do is deliver a premium product in the market. We deliver the most eyeballs, as the Deputy rightly pointed out. The cost of that within the market is, therefore, more expensive.

I am looking for a value. The market comparisons were valid when we talked back in April about the risk of talent flying to other markets, for example. Therefore, they are relevant. I am just looking for the unit price of advertising and how it compares to that in the UK.

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not have it to hand. They key point is that it varies hugely according to audience type.

What about discounts to large commercial brands? How easy is it? Are all brands taken? Is anybody refused?

Ms Dee Forbes

We are obliged to take all advertising. We are a universal service, and that is how we operate.

Tobacco, for example, is not advertised.

Ms Dee Forbes

Yes. There are rules and regulations.

That aside, has RTÉ ever refused advertising?

Ms Dee Forbes

I would have to check that with the commercial team. Under the rules and regulations, we are obliged to take advertising once it falls within the legitimate rules of the codes. There are probably some-----

Whose rules are these specifically? Are they RTÉ rules or different rules? I do not mean statutory rules, because that is obvious.

Ms Dee Forbes

These would be the code of advertising rules. There is no tobacco advertising, as the Deputy mentioned.

Also, for example, we have a self-policing code that we offer within our kids programming so there is no advertising on our kids channel. There are a number of areas like that.

In all other circumstances, as long as it is compliant with it not being tobacco and not being children, RTÉ does not refuse advertising from anybody.

Ms Dee Forbes

Correct. That is my understanding.

All right. I have brands that tell me that is not so and that they have looked to advertise on RTÉ and to try to develop their brand on television to those eyeballs, and have not been able to or have been cut off, having advertised previously either in the RTÉ Guide or on other RTÉ platforms. It might be something to go back to.

The subject the Deputy is raising with Ms Forbes, to be fair, was not on the invitation. I appreciate it is an issue of concern. I suggest that if Ms Forbes does not have the answer this morning, she would give the Deputy a written reply in the coming weeks, if that is satisfactory.

No problem. I want to ask about the material provided in the RTÉ briefing document at page 5. It states that total television trading revenue, including sponsorship, declined by 8.1% overall and a number of expected sponsorships did not materialise due to changes in the programme schedule and a number of delayed productions. What was the value of those expected sponsorships that did not materialise and what were the circumstances in which they did not materialise? For example, how much notice did they have? Why is it that RTÉ did not manage to get that revenue?

Ms Dee Forbes

First, our commercial strategy is commercially sensitive and we endeavour to make as much commercial money as we can in a given year. Things happen on an ongoing basis. Again, in terms of an actual figure, I do not have that to hand, nor, I think, would I probably give it to the Deputy because it is commercially sensitive. I want to state that, in a given year, things change and things happen; for example, advertisers change their plans and we change our plans. It is the nature of the beast we are dealing with. That happens in any given organisation such as ours.

In 2019, RTÉ was talking about a cost-saving measure of approximately €60 million over three years. Can Ms Forbes outline to the committee specifically how much has been realised from that?

Ms Dee Forbes

I will ask Mr. Collins to elaborate on that.

Mr. Richard Collins

That €60 million was to be achieved with €10 million in 2020, €20 million in 2021 and €30 million in 2022. To give some background on how it was to be achieved, 50% of it was to come from pay-related savings.

I appreciate that because I have had the opportunity to read into that. I am just asking how much has been saved. I know Covid happened, there was decline in revenues and the Government supplanted a lot of that with its own advertising revenues, and so on. I just need to know how much of that €60 million cost-saving measure was actually implemented.

Mr. Richard Collins

In 2020, we delivered the majority of that saving, although we delivered it by slightly different means than we had originally envisaged when we drew up the plans in 2019. In terms of generic cost savings, we overachieved. The second element was around content and service changes, where I would say we delivered on the pay element of it - we did not deliver on all of that, although we delivered on some of it. Putting the whole mix together, we could say we did deliver on those figures in 2020.

How much did RTÉ deliver?

Mr. Richard Collins

How much did we deliver? I would say we delivered the €10 million.

€10 million in total?

Mr. Richard Collins


Was it not €60 million over three years?

Mr. Richard Collins

It is €60 million over three years.

That was from back in 2019.

Mr. Richard Collins

No, it started in 2020 and went into 2021 and 2022. We are only halfway through it at the moment.

RTÉ is halfway through and it has delivered €10 million out of €60 million.

Mr. Richard Collins

In 2020, we delivered €10 million. Another €20 million was to be delivered in 2021.

Does Mr. Collins think RTÉ is on track for the three years?

Mr. Richard Collins

There is a risk with it. The world is changing continuously. There are a lot of risks out there and inflation is coming at us now. We are on track with that although I think it is going to be difficult to achieve it. What I would say is that RTÉ has a very good track record of achieving cost savings. If the Deputy looks back over the previous ten years, she will see we have managed to keep our operating costs around €335 million.

Excuse me for interjecting and I only do that because of time constraints. There is a huge focus in the RTÉ materials on the €65 million and how much RTÉ needs that. There is a cost-saving project of €60 million, which is important, yet in the RTÉ materials, beyond the realisation of non-evasion of licence fees as being plan A, I do not see a plan B or a plan C. Maybe it is happening but I do not see efforts to consolidate production staff, or a serious move out of Donnybrook to periphery centres, as other television stations have done, or co-ordinating with other production facilities to try to consolidate costs on that side while maintaining editorial difference. Does RTÉ really still need RTÉ 2 or can it change the model entirely to protect RTÉ 1 as an entirely publicly funded channel with no ads? There does not seem to be a plan B or a plan C. I am worried about the implementation of the cost-saving mechanisms, which are nearly equivalent to the difference in the licence fee. I wonder what plan B is.

Mr. Richard Collins

Let me go back. We put a plan in place in 2019 and there were three elements to that plan. The first part was stabilising and diversifying commercial revenues, the second part was controlling our costs and reforming them and the third part was additional public funding. The first two elements of that were under our control or substantially under our control, and I would say we have delivered on those. If we look at commercial revenues, I know we are talking about 2020 here but in 2021 we have grown them and they are nearly back to where they were in 2018. On the costs, as I have just said, we have delivered most of those cost savings, albeit in a different manner from how we had planned to do it. It is the third element that is outstanding, the public funding element, and that is a big part of the plan. If that is not delivered, we will still have a big gap in the bottom line going forward. That is where the issue is. For the parts that are under RTÉ's control, we have a plan or are working to those. Closing RTÉ 2 was not part of the original plan so it is not something we are looking at.

We have gone over time. I ask Mr. Collins to fix his microphone as the sound quality is poor and there is a lot of interference.

Mr. Richard Collins

I will do that.

As Deputy Alan Dillon is not available, I call Deputy Paul McAuliffe.

Is Deputy Verona Murphy ahead of me?

Apologies have been received from Deputy Murphy.

Let me move to restate the comments made by Deputy Hourigan. I and my party are significantly supportive of the idea of a publicly funded broadcaster. Throughout the pandemic in particular, we have seen key programmes on RTÉ like “Morning Ireland” and “The Late Late Show” which have been crucial in communicating important public health messages, and programmes like “Prime Time” with regard to debating the different restrictions. It is very important that we have that debate and although it is not often supportive of the Government position, it is important that the debate happens in public. I want to outline my commitment to the idea of a publicly funded broadcast model.

I also want to thank RTÉ and those in RTÉ for the work they have done through what was a crucial time. It is no mistake that in a revolution, the first thing somebody does is take over the television station. There is a reason for that. The fact RTÉ is not controlled by any one political outfit and RTÉ is not an instrument of the Government or the Opposition is very important, and it is important for us to remember that in the context of this discussion. I will be questioning RTÉ nonetheless but my comments are set in that framework.

In 2021, RTÉ made a decision to no longer use the digital audio broadcasting, DAB, format, which was a programme initiated in 2006. Has there been any review of the expenditure on that or any review of the money spent on the learnings that might be taken from that for other platforms?

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank the Deputy for his comments about our performance in the last year.

I am proud of everybody who has stood up during that time. I thank the Deputy for those comments.

It is important to make a couple of comments on DAB. The DAB trial operated for more than ten years. There was no take-up from industry around that. Neither was there an ongoing plan to have a wider policy in respect of DAB. Hence, we took the decision to close it, really as a future cost-avoidance measure rather than anything else. There was also the fact that, in the main, listenership to FM in this country is strong. It remains the key area. It is also important to say that broadcasting generally, both radio and television, is now moving to an Internet protocol, IP, base anyway. Our focus now is very much around how we can create an audio product for the future that will serve the needs of the audiences in that way. DAB was put in place many years ago. There was no take-up from industry or the audience. Hence, a decision was taken to shut it down.

Is there a total figure for the DAB trial?

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not have that to hand, but we can certainly have a look and see if we have something on it.

I accept that if RTÉ was not to be an early adopter of technology, it would also be a bad thing. However, it is important that we know what it costs. What lessons might be learned or savings might be taken for other formats other than IP? Do we know how many listeners to RTÉ radio and television programmes now use smart speakers?

Ms Dee Forbes

That is difficult to get in the round. We know that there is a growing online listenership, particularly to radio. We have seen that hugely during the pandemic. We now get regular numbers for our listenership via computer, mobile and a number of other ways. However, speakers, per se ,are not split out from that. It is a growing area, but it is completely split out yet within the numbers.

That relates to streamed content.

Ms Dee Forbes

Yes, that is streamed content.

There is also an increasing use of RTÉ's content on social media platforms, such as Facebook and so on. Some of that is done by RTÉ, which broadcasts it for free on its accounts. Has there been any attempt to seek to gain benefits from the social media companies for the revenue that they are claiming by using content provided by RTÉ?

Ms Dee Forbes

On what we call non-linear streaming or viewing outside of the traditional TV set, we have seen growth in that in the past couple of years, particularly via the RTÉ Player. Again, the point of the player is that viewers can view whenever they want, they can catch up, they can watch live, etc. There has been significant growth in the area the past two years. That is also an area of growth for us in the commercial world. As it grows, we can monetise it. As regards the social media platforms, in the main, what we see there is more promotional or snippet-driven. It would be highly unusual to see-----

I am thinking of the agreement between publishers in Australia and social media platforms regarding content. Much of the quality content on social media is content that has been paid for by the taxpayer through the licence fee. However, we are not gaining the advertising benefit from that.

Ms Dee Forbes

The Deputy is right. The agreement in Australia has been a landmark one for the industry. We are in discussions with a number of providers around that. Discussions are ongoing. We will be seeking to gain commercial benefits from that. The discussions have been long and complex, as the Deputy can imagine. However, they are under way.

Can I be more specific? Is Ms Forbes saying that RTÉ has opened discussions with a number of social media companies to seek a commercial arrangement for the use of its content on their platforms?

Ms Dee Forbes

Yes, we are currently in discussions with Google, for example, regarding a fair exchange of value and what that would be.

Would Facebook be included in that?

Ms Dee Forbes

Not at this point .

Is there a reason why RTÉ has not approached the largest social media platform?

Ms Dee Forbes

There is a difference between what Google is planning versus what Facebook is planning. As I say, we have ongoing dialogue with Facebook. However, it is a different sort of platform from what Google is proposing.

Let me move-----

The Deputy’s time is up.

-----RTÉ discontinued DAB, but it continued the radio stations, let us call them, although neither of those terms seems correct in the context of a digital format. The stations included RTÉ Gold, RTÉ 2XM and so on. Is there a significant cost implication in maintaining those stations?

Ms Dee Forbes

When we looked at the streaming listenership, these emerged as valuable stations. Particularly through Covid-19, we have seen significant increases in listenership to RTÉ Gold. We do the management of our stations in the round. We constantly review them. We are seeing that RTÉ 2XM is fertile ground for new music. However, as we evolve into what I would call a digital audio strategy, we will be keeping all of this under review. This will include reviewing what is the best way to provide that variety of music as the platforms emerge. New talent is also an important place particularly in the younger target stations.

Having led Ms Forbes up that path, let me now be more critical. One of my greatest criticisms of RTÉ is its complete lack of any sort of effective regional radio or television coverage for the Dublin market. The BBC managed to maintain two local radio stations on this island. RTÉ does not do that for the main capital city. Given that Ms Forbes has provided details around platforms, which allow local content or specific content to be provided through 2XM or Radio Gold, I cannot see why an RTÉ Dublin station could not be provided. As a politician, I am envious of the local radio stations that my colleagues have right across the country. RTÉ seems to believe that coverage in Dublin is national and that regional is everything outside of the M50. There is almost no Dublin-specific content.

Thank you, Deputy.

Ms Dee Forbes

There are a couple of things in what the Deputy said there. He is right that RTÉ did have a couple of local stations a number of years ago. However, we were regulated out of that market. We were no longer allowed to be in that market. We were also regulated out of local radio. Our remit, therefore, is a national remit. Local radios are local. That was done outside of our control.

The Deputy's time is up.

My understanding is that would not prevent RTÉ from providing online Dublin-specific radio or news coverage.

Ms Dee Forbes

On our news app, we try to create more regional-specific content. We have a number of regional correspondents. We are always filing stories every day into both the news bulletins and importantly into the digital space. If one looks on the app, one can localise within provinces. For example, one can look at Leinster or Munster. One can get more local there. We try to have as much of that in there as possible. However, the Deputy can appreciate that our role is the national broadcaster. We try to bring the national picture. However, of course, we do hone in on particular areas at different times.

The Deputy is over time. I call Deputy Sherlock.

I can hear Ms Forbes trying to articulate a good answer, but the reason she that cannot do so is because there is not a good product for the Dublin market. John Kilrane is a fantastic reporter, but he is one man. We have 1 million eyeballs in Dublin. The national broadcaster is seriously letting us down by not providing more Dublin-focused content.

Deputy Sherlock has ten minutes. We will break for ten minutes after that.

I happen to be from Cork. I might have a different view to Deputy McAuliffe on the amount of content that people in the regions perceive that is attributed to Dublin.

I will begin by saying "well done" to RTÉ on its latest partnership with Virgin Media Television in respect of the Six Nations Championship. That is a wonderful example of collaboration. Speaking as a proud Munster man and a Munster rugby supporter, I also commend RTÉ, TG4 and the independent sector on the provision of United Rugby Championship, URC, output. I strongly believe that model has provided excellent content for the average punter sitting at home who wants to view rugby or sporting output at the highest level through the terrestrial channels. The URC is a great example of where the licence payer sees the best of the utilisation of that fund. Are there plans to expand that further? Can we expect to see more of that? Does the director general perceive that RTÉ will do more collaborations of that nature and exploit further opportunities so that more and more people can enjoy - because that is what it is about - the output that is coming through collaborations of that nature?

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank the Deputy for his comments. In serving the people of Ireland, we always want to showcase our national teams and our national athletes in the best way possible, where possible. We are delighted with the two collaborations the Deputy mentioned, the URC and the Six Nations Championship, for a number of reasons. They mean that, number one, we can bring those very important sporting events back to RTÉ and, more important, they allow us to keep the entire tournaments free-to-air. That is a real objective of ours in the current marketplace, where sports rights have become so competitive. We are very pleased to be able to do that. Collaboration in this area is exactly something that we are pursuing. It will not apply to everything because it simply cannot. I have said a number of times that it is a combination of simply not being able to afford to do these things on our own any more, as a practical reality, so our collaborations in that respect have worked for both parties, where we can share that cost.

We are also very committed to the diversification of sports on RTÉ. We are very proud of the inroads we have made, especially around women's sport in the past couple of years where, again, we should be and are showcasing that. Certainly, collaborations are something that we will actively pursue. They will not always work, for various reasons, but we are very happy and proud that these two have come to the table and are showcasing the grassroots, it could be said, in the URC and the national and international game in the Six Nations Championship.

Is there anything in the pipeline at present that Ms Forbes can tell us about in respect of that collaborative model? She spoke about the diversification of sport and, specifically, gender, which is absolutely vital, but what is in pipeline that will embed that model further? From the ordinary punter's point of view, and I am an ordinary punter in this regard, when I look at the URC coverage I see the best of RTÉ, TG4 and the independent sector collaborating.

Looking at the Irish Examiner model of delivering sport at the most local level through a streaming package, I can tune in to my local team at a county final from the comfort of my living room. Should we go down to that level of granularity? Should the national broadcaster be getting on that wagon to see where the opportunities lie to further embed itself into that collaborative model so that there is more output and RTÉ is taking feeds from a more diverse range of venues across a more diverse range of sports? The technology allows us to do that now. Presumably, RTÉ does not need to have an outside broadcast unit at every single venue because it can implant technology at the venue and take the feed from that. I would love to see more of that from our national broadcaster: more localised, more regionalised and more diverse output. If Ms Forbes can tell me it is now part of a policy in RTÉ to continue with that, it will give many people a lot of confidence.

Ms Dee Forbes

As I said, the area of sports rights is a minefield. It is also highly competitive and hugely confidential. As I said, we absolutely want to continue the principle that we are working with here, in varying shapes. Will they always work out? Possibly not, for various reasons, but the spirit with which we went into both those discussions was to enhance the opportunity for the viewer. That is what will always drive our collaboration and our engagements at this level. Certainly, it is something we want to continue to pursue. I cannot get into detail because that is the nature of negotiations, but it is something I hope the Deputy will see more of.

I thank Ms Forbes. I will move on to the independent sector. My understanding is that there is a statutory requirement for RTÉ to spend in respect of it. For instance, in 2020, the statutory requirement was to spend approximately €40.2 million - Ms Forbes might correct me if that is wrong. My understanding is that RTÉ spent approximately €36.5 million, which is about €3.7 million under target. I understand that the Covid pandemic was a deciding factor in that because of cancelled productions and so on, but the underspend is then required to be spent within two years. Will Ms Forbes elaborate, or educate us, on how RTÉ plans to spend that underspend? Again, I speak specifically for the independent sector, which is starved of funding at present, has plans afoot to deliver content and is anxious to get going again.

There are two minutes left.

What words of assurance can Ms Forbes give us that that will be spent? What plans are afoot in that regard?

Ms Dee Forbes

As the Deputy rightly pointed out, we did not meet our commitment in 2020 because of Covid. We have made that up throughout 2021. It is worth saying that the independent sector is hugely important to RTÉ. We are partners in so many areas. I have to commend the sector on its resilience throughout the pandemic in doing everything it could to stay up and running and to put protocols in place that allowed the majority of productions to happen but, of course, some fell by the wayside. That was just the nature of the beast we were dealing with.

I have said that we want to spend more with the independent sector. It is something we would love to see and I know it would love to see. Again, this is something that could be rectified if reform of the licence fee happened. As the Deputy knows, there is money already through the BAI sound and vision fund but, likewise, if more money was to come into RTÉ, we would want to spend that in the independent sector. It is hugely important to us. We have made up our commitment; the Deputy is correct that there is a two-year period where we can make it up. We were very keen to make it up as quickly as possible, given the health of the sector. We have done that and, again, we have a very big programme of work under way for this year, which right now has stops and starts, given where we are with Covid. We want to do everything we can to both meet and over-deliver on that commitment, if at all possible.

We will take a break for ten minutes.

Sitting suspended at 10.59 a.m. and resumed at 11.10 a.m.

We are back in public session.

I will touch on four areas. I welcome the witnesses. Obviously, it is a good opportunity to address some of these issues. I will start with the misclassification of staff. We know there is a power differential between employee and employer, that SIPTU and the NUJ were very active on this for a very long time and that it went on for far too long. Due to people's employment status being misclassified, there will be an obligation to pay both employer and employee PRSI contributions. Certain people will have lost out badly on things like pensions and maternity leave and there may be liabilities and other actions taken as a consequence of that. I know this is not the first time this type of issue has arisen in RTÉ. It happened in the late 1980s. Where will the accountability rest? Will that be factored into this? We know that about 80 people have seen their employment status change. Why is there no commitment to dealing with issues other than Revenue and PRSI issues? Why would this not be automatic when these employees were treated this way? Where is the accountability regarding the person or people who decided that this was the employment status that would be offered to these people without understanding that this was really bogus self-employment?

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not agree with the statement that RTÉ has been involved in bogus employment practices. I agree that changes to employment legislation might not have been kept up to date with. We are dealing with legacy issues for many years. The important thing is that we come to a resolution, which we are working on through a very complex process involving Eversheds, Revenue and SCOPE, so we are committed to working through that. The important thing is that the measures are put in place to ensure this does not happen in the future.

I take it that Ms Forbes does not see that accountability. She talks about legacy issues. I will leave it at that but I must say that I do not accept that it is not bogus self-employment because people's employment status was changed, there was a review by SCOPE and there was a Revenue payment. I do not know what Ms Forbes would call it. If another semi-State company was in front of "Prime Time Investigates" or some other really superb really good programming RTÉ does such as "Crimes and Confessions" and this was the profile, it would be held to account. It is our obligation to hold RTÉ to account on this. I will leave it at that but I did not hear what I wanted to hear in terms of accountability.

I will move on to the RTÉ Player. There has been a significant change in how people consume content. It probably ties into the number of non-TV households. Much of that has to do with people struggling with the cost of living and putting a roof over their heads. Younger people in particular will fall into that category. How much has RTÉ spent on the RTÉ Player in terms of getting it to where it is at the moment? Does Ms Forbes use it herself? There is an ongoing discussion among people who use it. I have used it myself and have given up on it on several occasions because all you get are ads and then it drops out. Is Ms Forbes satisfied with the RTÉ Player and if not, what kind of investment will be put into it?

Ms Dee Forbes

The Deputy is right in saying that the RTÉ Player is becoming a preferred viewing option for many - younger audiences, older audiences and across the board - and we have seen significant increases. I take her point that there have been issues and I am very committed to doing as much as we can to iron out those issues. Advertising is a fact of life in our world and must be facilitated within that environment because of our remit and objective to commercialise our output. We have allocated moneys to continually upgrade the RTÉ Player. I will be honest with the Deputy. We do not have the resources or money of some of the streamers or the likes of Channel 4, which has invested significantly in this. In terms of our future proofing, we want to spend more and we are spending more. It has stabilised significantly in the past year recognising that we have work to do but it is a very important focus for us for the future.

Could Ms Forbes tell us how much needs to be invested in it to make it fit for purpose?

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not have that number to hand but it is significantly more than we are spending now or have been spending for a number of years.

Can Ms Forbes come back to us with an estimate of what is required?

Ms Dee Forbes

I take the Deputy's point. We want to have a world-class product. It is what is expected now. One thing about us that is quite different from Netflix or Amazon Prime is that we are dealing with the complexities of live television and on-demand, which requires quite a different investment compared to somebody who is not taking advertising or providing live television.

Could Ms Forbes come back to us on that? The area I represent, which would be described as the commuter belt, although people do not feel like they are economic units or just people who are on the move all the time, is probably well represented in the non-TV household cohort and the younger age cohort. It is a missing area in terms of coverage. We are not the midlands but we are classified as midlands. We are not Dublin because we are not Dublin, which is a missed opportunity. There are probably a lot of areas that are missed as a consequence of that.

I agree with Deputy Hourigan regarding gender. The lack of transparency in terms of RTÉ being able to give us that information has not been good. It is important information. Obviously, RTÉ sets the standards for other people and the fact that it is unable to give us this information means it is falling down on this standard in terms of transparency.

I have to agree with the Deputy on that.

On the orchestra, will RTÉ keep the funding it was provided to cover the cost of the orchestra now that the orchestra is being moved to the National Concert Hall, NCH?

Ms Dee Forbes

The Deputy may remember that we commissioned a report with Helen Boaden on the future sustainability on both orchestras a number of years ago. The outcome of that was the recommendation that RTÉ could no longer fund both orchestras. The Government decided that additional funding would be made available for the National Symphony Orchestra, NSO, to become part of the NCH. Yes, that money will remain with RTÉ and additional funding has been provided for the transfer of that orchestra to the NCH, which will take effect from Monday of next week.

RTÉ will get to retain that money, so that is an increase for its budget because it is something it does not have a liability for.

Ms Dee Forbes

Effectively, it was identified as a cost saving as we were planning our 2019-20 plans.

First and foremost, I welcome RTÉ to the committee. We have been waiting some time for this meeting to happen, but all the same, it is welcome. I welcome Ms Forbes and Mr. Collins.

I have a couple of issues that I would like to raise and questions I would like to ask. First, I would like to focus on the financial circumstances within RTÉ's organisation. I refer to advertising. Could Ms Forbes or Mr. Collins provide a quick breakdown in terms of sporting advertising, that is, advertising from sports events that RTÉ operates? How much revenue is generated from doing that? I will follow up with a subsequent question.

Ms Dee Forbes

We do not break down advertising by category. Again, advertising is commercially sensitive. We provide the full figure as opposed to breaking it down by any particular genre or any particular programme etc. That is the way we report our advertising.

Obviously, it must be a very large part of the revenue that the organisation takes in. We have seen from viewership figures that it is one of the areas where RTÉ successfully manages to attract a large viewership of the television audience. Has RTÉ ever considered having a separate sports channel for broadcasting GAA, horse racing, soccer, the IRFU and other sports across male and female participation in Ireland? Why is RTÉ not doing the same as what other jurisdictions and countries are doing?

Ms Dee Forbes

The Deputy has rightly pointed out the importance of sport. It is of growing importance to us, particularly given it is a live viewing experience for audiences. We regularly look at the amount of content that we have in this area. Currently, we maximise what we have across RTÉ 1 and RTÉ 2. In terms of another channel, that is something we obviously have to look at in detail and see if there are enough rights out there to be able to afford to put on another channel. We continue to look at if there is more opportunity in getting other rights. Certainly, we try to optimise between the two channels. We are very committed to a wider number of sports, be it women's sports, be it broader codes etc. For now, the way that we can treat that content is across the two channels that we have.

I will perhaps disagree with some of the points there in terms of not having a separate channel as it stands. There is enough sport going on in Ireland and we have a sports-mad culture, therefore this is something that should be considered. RTÉ is in very serious financial circumstances, arguably down to the television licence. On behalf of the taxpayers in the country, one could also argue that the content that we are getting in return is not up to standards.

First and foremost, I want to be positive. Particularly, RTÉ Radio's current affairs section and RTÉ's documentaries are excellent. Those are definitely things that the station does better. However, from a content creation point of view, whether it was the new year show on RTÉ - which many people found deeply frustrating and disappointing - one of the many lifestyle shows or reruns of old dramas, content creation is lacking in an era where it is so important. RTÉ is nowhere near where it needs to be as a station and as a national broadcaster, particularly with the growth of online content.

Just to go back to the point that Deputy Catherine Murphy made, the RTÉ Player is a disgrace. It is just not where it needs to be. These issues have been identified to RTÉ by many people. For a station that is in receipt of so much State support, what proactive measures will RTÉ undertake over next 12 months to deal with the issues with the RTÉ Player?

Ms Dee Forbes

First, on content, I agree with the Deputy that we do not have enough content of the quality we would like to have. That is down to, quite frankly, the funding situation. We do the best we can with the funds we have available. Nobody sets out to make a bad show. That is just not the case. I spoke before about our commitment towards Irish drama. We will have up to 60 hours of Irish drama in the coming years. Ideally, if we had more funding, it would be spent on content and on capital, to the Deputy's earlier point on the RTÉ Player. Our capital budget is €7.5 million per year. That number is a result of the persistent and consistent underfunding that the organisation has found itself in. Quite honestly, we would not have been able to get through Covid if we had not had the investment that we put in from some of the land sale into infrastructure over the past couple of years. A combination of content and capital is what we need to get this organisation to a place that is viable and is future-proof. I might ask my colleagues-----

I apologise for interrupting Ms Forbes but I have a question that must be asked. Has RTÉ come forward with a concrete business plan to the relevant Departments that need to provide it with this additional funding to bring it out of that hole? Is that something the station is proactively doing? The drama, "Normal People", for example, was extremely successful. It was an original drama and obviously had assistance internationally. Extraordinary things can be done when minds are put together and new talent is brought in. RTÉ has demonstrated with "Love/Hate" and other shows that it has created in the past number of years that it can be very successfully done. I am at a bit of a loss as to why that is not done more by the station. In terms of coming to the Government with a concrete business plan for support, taking away the television licence issue for one moment, is that something the station is doing, undertaking or has done already in the course of the past five months?

Ms Dee Forbes

We have engaged exactly on these subjects with the Future of Media Commission and with the Department. We outlined very clearly what was needed, particularly in terms of capital and content for the future. Just to give the Deputy an idea on the cost of something like "Normal People", it cost €3 million per episode to make. It is a huge investment. We could never have afforded that. Therefore, the deal that we did was a different deal, where we got to be the Irish broadcaster. We put some money in but we could never afford that. Hence, the approach we have taken with drama now is to try to increase the amount of drama we are getting, but we are a minority funder. We are bringing in third-party funding all the time. For example, "Hidden Assets", which was recently on, was a co-production between a number of parties, from Belgium, France and here. "Smother", which is on air at the moment, has got money from the BBC, Screen Ireland and the western region audiovisual producers, WRAP, fund. Again, we absolutely should be doing those things but the way in which we can partake in content creation is no longer one where it is us alone, given the scale that these productions are now commanding because of the wider market. That is the reality.

I do not want to be overly negative. I wish to compliment the current affairs aspect of what RTÉ is doing; it is excellent. The public get good value for tax money in that regard, particularly with radio. The figures internationally are very impressive. Coming back to the content creation side of dramas with home-grown talent in Ireland, is Ms Forbes at liberty to divulge how much RTÉ is investing in this on an annual basis or how much money it may need on an ongoing basis? The public is willing to support RTÉ as an entity as long as it sees a return for that investment. RTÉ has proven that it can be done successfully, through a very limited scope in recent years and with certain shows that it has worked on. For the survival of the station, that is an area that deeply needs further investigation and, obviously, investment.

From an annual expenditure point of view, what is RTÉ currently spending on its own content creation, looking purely at the lifestyle and arts side of the station, rather than current affairs and sport?

Ms Dee Forbes

On page 110 of the annual report, it is outlined that for 2020, we spent just over €17 million on drama, compared with, for example, €67 million on news and current affairs. The Deputy is correct. We should be investing more in drama. We wish to do so and the way we are doing it is by bringing more parties together. Even at that, however, we should be spending more and it is an area on which we would love to spend more should the funding come our way. It is the place where we see ourselves-----

I am sorry to interrupt Ms Forbes but I am up against the clock. My apologies for being so rude. I am sure she understands. The figures she compared are telling. Some €67 million is being spent on current affairs, while €17 million is being spent on the whole area of production of shows in RTÉ outside that scope.

Ms Dee Forbes

That figure relates to drama.

Drama. The sum needs to be drastically increased. Obviously, that will require support from the Government. My view is that increasing that budget significantly, and perhaps even doubling it, would represent a good return for that type of investment. Going back to the success of "Normal People" and other shows, it can be done. In the limited time I have left-----

The Deputy is over time.

-----I wish to make the point that it is worth exploring RTÉ having its own dedicated sports channel and investigating the financial income that could be generated from that. Irish sport needs this. There are so many sporting events that are not covered, particularly across women's sport, but also many other aspects of sport that are not given the coverage they could be given. This may be an area on which the station could focus.

I refer to the 11 of 28 cases that were identified by the scope section. Has the Department of Social Protection communicated with RTÉ how much it owes arising from those cases?

Ms Dee Forbes

This process is still under way, so the short answer is "No". The important thing is that we are now in a statutory process and we need to let it take its course. The quick answer to the Deputy's question is "No".

RTÉ has no idea thus far how much it owes arising from those cases.

Ms Dee Forbes

That is correct.

Okay. Of the 11 cases decided in favour of the workers, how many were also covered by the Revenue settlement?

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not have that information to hand.

Do any of our guests have that information to hand?

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not think so.

Do our guests from the finance department of RTÉ have that information?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

I refer to the challenge in respect of this information. This is an ongoing investigation and it would be improper of us to start disclosing information in respect of individuals during this process and while it is ongoing.

I am not seeking disclosure of information relating to individuals; I am just asking how many of the 11 cases that were decided in favour of workers were also covered by the Revenue settlement.

Ms Fiona O'Shea

Those investigations are ongoing. RTÉ will have to take a view in respect of them and also consult with Revenue in respect of them. The investigation with the scope section is a matter that is ongoing and, as such, it is confidential. We are not in a position to discuss those details today.

Other Deputies have raised this issue but, for clarification more than anything else, how can RTÉ commit to paying back social insurance for those who should have been employees but not the entitlements they would have received?

Ms Dee Forbes

First, what we have committed to is that we are looking at this whole area collectively with the trade union group, TUG. Those discussions have just started and, given the complexity of what is at stake here, will take some time. As part of our guiding principles going into the Eversheds process, we said we would look at addressing the area of retrospection collectively at the end of the process. We are not at the end but we have started discussions. It is something that will be addressed as we go further down this process.

Does RTÉ believe those employees should be paid the entitlements they would have had?

Ms Dee Forbes

At this point, it is not for me to say what should or should not happen. We have to go through a process-----

In general, does Ms Forbes believe those workers should be paid the entitlements they would have had?

Ms Dee Forbes

We have to go through this process and work together with our TUG colleagues to have a fair outcome here. I cannot say at this moment what that outcome will be. We are engaging with all the parties transparently and openly. I agree that we have legacy issues to deal with but, as regards the actual subject and the detail within that, I cannot speak to that. We went into this process on a voluntary basis to understand what the issues are. We are addressing those issues and we will continue to work through the process to get to a final outcome.

Does Ms Forbes not believe it would be fair for RTÉ to give those workers what it deprived them of?

Ms Dee Forbes

We have to go through the process and see what is at stake here.

That is fair enough. Does Ms Forbes accept that her refusing to accept or state that she believes they should be paid what was owed to them could give rise to a perception among the public that RTÉ is a rogue employer?

Ms Dee Forbes

I do not accept that because we are dealing with legacy issues and trying to understand and comprehend what happened at a time before many of us were involved with the organisation and through a period when legislation changed. The importance of this review is to understand and get a handle on the scale of the issue and then consider how we will address it. We will do so collectively with our trade union colleagues.

Ms Forbes acknowledged they are legacy issues. I would have thought she would want to put right the mistakes that were made. That is why I am a bit taken aback that she will not commit to stating that the workers should be paid the entitlements of which they were deprived. She has not said that. I am sure Ms Forbes will accept that, as a result, RTÉ is perceived as a rogue employer.

I wish to return to the issue of Irish-language workers being paid 25% less than their English-language counterparts. A colleague of Ms Forbes committed to carrying out a review, the findings of which would be furnished to the committee. In spite of successive rounds of correspondence with the committee, RTÉ has thus far refused to furnish us with those findings, continually referencing a review of all 167 grades. What is the status of the review? When will the committee be provided with a copy of it in full? When will it be completed? Do the terms of reference of the review specify requesting the contrast between the different payments to Irish-language workers and their English-language counterparts?

Ms Dee Forbes

Willis Towers Watson has been commissioned to carry out a full evaluation of the role and grading structure across all of RTÉ. That will deal with every area of the organisation, including Raidió na Gaeltachta. The purpose of this is manifold but we need to become more agile and transparent and benchmark remuneration across the organisation. That is the purpose of this. In terms of the timing, we hope to have the recommendations in September or thereabouts.

Once we have seen that and we know what is at stake, we will share some of the findings with the committee and relevant parties. It is a complex process.

Do the terms of reference specifically request a contrast between the payment of Irish language workers and their English language counterparts?

Ms Dee Forbes

The terms of reference include every part of the organisation not just-----

I am asking if the terms of reference specifically request that a contrast between those two categories be addressed?

Ms Dee Forbes


That is not very thorough.

Ms Dee Forbes

It will come out in the review because we will be looking at everything. The entire organisation is part of this.

Why would you not include that?

Ms Dee Forbes

Every part of the organisation is part of this; it is not just one particular area.

That was an area flagged as one that RTÉ has not addressed thus far. RTÉ is carrying out the review to address that matter, but it is not specifically referenced.

Ms Dee Forbes

We are carrying out the review to look at the entire 167 grades within RTÉ and to make recommendations for the future.

It was flagged that there is a 25% difference between what Irish language workers are paid and what their English language counterparts are paid, which is incredible. In the review of all grades, RTÉ did not see fit to specifically request a contrast between these two payments in the terms of reference. Am I correct in saying that?

Ms Dee Forbes

That is correct.

That is unbelievable. In 2008, RTÉ gave a public commitment to publish details of its ten top earners. In January of last year, it published the list of the top earners for 2017, 2018 and 2019. We have not received the list for the top earners for 2020 or 2021. When will that be published?

Ms Dee Forbes

I will ask Ms O'Shea to speak to that question, but just so the Deputy is aware, our commitment is that we publish two years' in arrears.

They are now due.

Ms Dee Forbes

We will be publishing this year. I will ask Ms O'Shea to comment.

Ms Fiona O'Shea

I thank the Deputy. Our intention would be to publish the 2020 top ten earnings in due course this year. I will make a couple of points in regard to those figures. To put it in context, as stated earlier by Ms Forbes, the total value of those represents less than 1% of our total operating costs. Ms Forbes committed during 2019 to delivering a 15% reduction on those top ten earners. I can confirm today that that has been achieved in 2020.

I note that RTÉ is happy to publish the figures. Can the witnesses give a date for publication? The figures for 2017, 2018 and 2019 were published in January of last year. We are now waiting for the figures for 2020 and 2021. Will they be published this month?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

We are finalising the audit in respect of the 2020 earnings and they will be published in due course. Unfortunately, I do not have a date for the Deputy today.

Okay. Thank you.

I acknowledge the witnesses and express our deep appreciation for the work that they have done in the past 24 months in terms of the coverage of Covid. A trusted media broadcaster is hugely important.

I would like to gain some understanding of the review process that is being undertaken and how RTÉ operates. I ask the witnesses to give me an outline of RTÉ's combined revenue from advertising and television licence fees for 2020 and 2021.

Ms Dee Forbes

I will ask Mr. Collins to speak to the 2020 figures. The figures for 2021 are still being finalised and they will not be available until later in the year.

Mr. Richard Collins

I thank the Deputy. The figure for combined revenues for 2020 is €331 million. As stated by the director general, the 2021 figures are being prepared at the moment, but I can confirm that the figure for 2021 will be higher than €331 million.

In terms of the reality and the challenges that RTÉ will face, what type of measures are being taken to ensure there is sustainability over the long term in terms of how RTÉ operates? How can RTÉ become a more nimble public service broadcaster? In terms of delivery of services, are there opportunities to pare back services? Is that something that RTÉ is reviewing? In regard to the ongoing concerns around RTÉ 2FM, how can RTÉ justify the station's public service credentials and have the wider offerings of RTÉ been looked at?

Ms Dee Forbes

I thank the Deputy for the questions. On the first point around sustainability, when we published our 2019 revised strategy we outlined three areas that needed to come together to prove that RTÉ could be sustainable for the future. The three areas were: commercial income, which needed to be increased and diversified; costs, which needed to reduce to the tune of €60 million over that three-year period; and licence fee revenues, which needed to come to the level that the BAI recommended a number of years ago. In terms of the two areas under our control, on which I will ask Mr. Collins to elaborate further in a moment, we are increasing our commercial income and we are in a programme of cost containment. What has not happened through any of this process is any change to the licence fee funding. As we pointed out in our submission, the system is losing €65 million that should be coming in. I will ask Mr. Collins to elaborate on that.

Mr. Richard Collins

As stated by Ms Forbes, there were three pillars to this strategy. Two of them were under our control, that is, the commercial revenue and the cost containment. We have delivered on those. The outstanding matter is the public funding. There is a big gap. In terms of television licence fee income, for the past three years it has been running at approximately €196 million. The BAI recommended that it go to €220 million, which means there is a €24 million gap. If that is not closed, when the world returns to normality again RTÉ will be back to running deficits if it continues to provide all of the services it provides currently. That is the main issue that is hanging over us at the moment.

On the commercial income, in terms of the advertising revenue aid, has Covid had any impact? Mr. Collins mentioned an expected increase in the 2021 figures. I would like an understanding of where that increase will come from.

Mr. Richard Collins

I will try to explain the trends that have happened with advertising. Commercial advertising was in decline for a number of years up until Covid. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we saw a severe decline in advertising revenues. We were down approximately 30% at that stage. Those figures stayed down until about July. As the economy started to open up, they started to recover. By November, because there was a lot of pent-up demand in the economy, advertising revenues came back. We still ended up €11 million below where we were in 2019 but there was a recovery at the end of the year.

In 2021, the country was in lockdown for the first four months so advertising revenues were sluggish but we saw the same trend that we had seen in 2020. Once the economy opened up again advertising took off. We had Euro2020 in June and July, which gave us a big boost. As we came into October and November, again, because there was huge pent-up demand, we had a very strong November. The figures were among the highest we have had in November since 2008, November being the best month of the year for commercial advertising. We ended the year in a good position. The question now is how much of that will continue; was it pent-up demand; has there been a change in attitude towards television advertising; and have advertisers realised there is still value in television advertising, whereas they had doubted that before the pandemic?

Advertisers have realised there is still value in TV advertising whereas they had doubted that before the pandemic. We have plans. This year, we have ambitious targets. We have more sporting rights and there will be advertising revenues coming off them. Digital revenues in the past have been sluggish. In 2021, we made good progress there. In 2022, we have ambitious budgets in that area as well. We will see them growing and contributing.

In regard to the net cost for public service activities, does the report provide a breakdown for individual items such as RTÉ 1, RTÉ 2?

Mr. Richard Collins

Yes. It is in note 2 on page 110 of the annual accounts. There is a breakdown there. We itemise how much public funding goes into each channel.

Is there anything about how it is hoped to offset some of the costs for underperforming services that would possibly be surplus to commercial activities? Advertising and sponsors would be supported by the licence fee.

Mr. Richard Collins

I am not fully clear on the Deputy's question.

Have any activities of note been looked at which are underperforming in regard to their commercial activities and advertising that would raise concerns about how they can be sustained in the long term?

Ms Dee Forbes

It is important to point out that because we are a public service broadcaster, there are a number of services that would not exist if there was not any public funding. Not every service has a commercial aspect. For example, Raidió na Gaeltachta is a public service channel. It is important to say that we would not be able to sustain all of our services if we did not have commercial funding. It is the blend of both that allows us to fulfil our objects. Over the past number of years, our revenue has fallen but our obligations have not. We are maintaining the services to fulfil our public requirement. The Deputy mentioned 2FM. The very principle of public service broadcasting is that it should be a universal offering for all ages and 2FM fulfils a particular role in that younger demographic. Without it, quite honestly, we may have a severe disadvantage. Therefore, 2FM fulfils a unique and specific purpose and an age demographic that is engaging with RTÉ on a daily basis and is very valuable both to us as an organisation and to advertisers.

I ask members to signal to me if they want to contribute on a second round of questions. I have a question for Ms Forbes in regard to the total wage bill at RTÉ. From the information supplied, I understand wages amount to €123 million, social welfare payments, PRSI and so forth amount to €13 million, pension costs are €13 million and €23 million is paid to self-employed contractors in RTÉ, giving a total in the region of €173 million. Can the witnesses confirm that wages account for approximately 57% or 58% of the total budget? Is that correct?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

Personnel-related operating costs represent 56% of our total operating costs.

It is 56%. I was not too far out.

I have a question on the overall financial position, which Ms O'Shea may wish to answer. It has been stated that income has fallen more than €100 million in the past six years and costs have gone up in the region of €30 million. The yield to the company from the sale of land was approximately €100 million. I listened to the replies of witnesses on the potential bill arising from the Department of Social Protection investigation. Is it correct that, at this point in time, up to 500 workers could be included in that?

Ms Dee Forbes

That is correct.

Ms Fiona O'Shea

That is the figure that is being examined by the Department of Social Protection.

We will keep the discussion concise. Given that a statute of limitations does not apply to an investigation by that Department, I find it hard to understand that RTÉ's financial section at this stage would not be doing some calculations as to the possible implications of that. We are talking about a substantial sum of money. In the context of a decline in income and the organisation running a deficit in five of the past six years, I ask the witnesses to indicate whether RTÉ is doing any financial calculation on that at this point? While I understand it would not have a definite figure, surely the financial controllers in RTÉ are doing some kind of assessment of that at the moment?

Mr. Richard Collins

I will answer that question. As I said earlier, we carry provisions. Given the nature of this investigation, which is complex, we do not really know where it will go at the end of the day and it is difficult to make a very specific provision. We are carrying general provisions. In terms of making them specific and linking them to individuals, that is not possible at the moment. The process has to work its way through and the scope investigation has to finish before we can do that.

In regard to the €100 million yielded from the sale of the land, RTÉ outlined to the committee previously that it was being used as capital investment to improve infrastructure on an annual basis. How much of that €100 million is left at this stage?

Mr. Richard Collins

The receipts were €107 million and it netted down to €75 million after tax was paid.

I saw that.

Mr. Richard Collins

There were some sales enabling projects as well. At the moment, we have €30 million cash on hand but €20 million of that is committed to projects. I would say €10 million is uncommitted.

I am pleased to hear that an increase in the licence fee is not being sought because it would be unfair to those who are paying it. As I said to Ms Forbes last April, some of them are in low-income households and are dutifully paying that €160 every year. The licence fee makes up 57% of RTÉ's funding. The fee is not being collected from 14% or 15% of households and then there are 15% of households without a television. I am surprised to hear that figure is so high. Is it correct that 30% of households are not paying a television licence?

Ms Dee Forbes

I am sorry; I did not hear the question.

Approximately 14% of households that should pay a television licence fee are not paying it. The documentation supplied indicates that a further 15% of households are without a television. I was surprised at how high that figure is. Is it correct that 29% or 30% of households in the State are not paying a television licence fee?

Ms Dee Forbes

That is correct.

I am delighted to hear that RTÉ is not seeking an increase in the television licence fee because it would be unfair to those households that are paying, particularly the low-income households. I know the fee is collected by the Department and collection is contracted out to An Post. Is RTÉ in favour of improving the database? I have suggested this a number of times over the years.

I have suggested improving the database by having registration at the point where people would be connected to a service by the companies, such as Vodafone, that provide television signals. The same thing could happen when a television is purchased. When someone purchases a car, it is necessary to register to pay motor tax and the purchaser becomes the registered owner at that stage. The same thing could happen when people sign up with a television signal provider. The database would be improved by using that method, although I am not saying such an approach would solve all the problems. Would such measures give us a comprehensive database and would RTÉ favour such an approach as a way of spreading the load?

Ms Dee Forbes

Regarding the system, it has been said for many years, and this was also stated in a report published by the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment in 2017, that the current system is just not fit for purpose. It needs major reform, rather than just an improved database. We have gone beyond the point of going down particular paths in that regard. This situation requires major reform in respect of the collection method, as well as consideration of the way in which people are now viewing television programmes. The last time I was before the committee, we spoke about people in households without televisions watching or listening to RTÉ through our online player. The Broadcasting Act 2009 states that is okay. The ways and means of viewing and listening that exist have changed this whole context, so the entire system of collection and the Broadcasting Act 2009 need to be reformed. That is the important point that must be examined. It has been said for many years by many people. We await the outcome of the Future of Media Commission report to see what its recommendations will be and where we will go from there.

The proportion of households that have a television but which are not paying the licence fee has reached 14%. Regarding the figure of 15% we are being given for what are described as non-television households, how has that been reached? How has the information been gathered to be enable it to be stated that 15% of households do not have televisions? That is more than one in seven.

Ms Dee Forbes

Ms O'Shea has the information on the methods used.

Ms Fiona O'Shea

Those are not RTÉ's statistics. The figures come from TAM Ireland, which is part of the Nielsen data, and that is the recognised unit of measurement for television viewership. It is recognised throughout the market. The reports are issued by TAM Ireland, and the figures concerning homes with no television have increased significantly during the past decade. It has grown from 3% in 2011 to just over 15% in January 2022.

The public, and particularly those people who are paying the television licence fee, and, as I said, especially households that are stretched to pay it because they are on low incomes, would be surprised to hear that more than one in seven households do not have a television set. Ms O'Shea stated that this is a recognised measurement, but the public would have a job accepting it. I certainly question that figure. I accept that more people are viewing programmes online. Generally, however, households viewing programmes online also have televisions. The game here must be to try to improve the collection rates without increasing the licence fee. We must spread the load to be fairer to the households I mentioned. That is important. I reiterate that I seriously question that figure for non-television households. RTÉ and the Department - and we have people here from the Department with us - should look again at where this figure is coming from. There may be a dual system in operation, where people are viewing programmes online but also have television sets. We do not want to penalise anybody, but we must be fair to those low- and middle-income households.

Ms Dee Forbes

Regarding the non-television homes, what qualifies in that category are not necessarily households with no television sets, but those that do not have a connection to an aerial to effectively allow the reception of what we would call regular, linear television broadcasts. It is possible to have a television that is connected to a box or it might involve a box and IP delivery. Hence, again, the definition here is also out of date. That is why that figure may seem unbelievable, but it is a definition issue.

It is also worth stating that we have seen significant increases in the viewing of live television via the RTÉ Player.

I accept that.

Ms Dee Forbes

Typically, if those households had televisions, particularly for sports events, we would imagine that they would watch it on the big screen. Those people, however, are watching through the RTÉ Player on a laptop or mobile device, generally. This whole area of the non-television homes has been exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many younger people, especially, are not buying televisions. They are using their laptops, desktop computers or mobile devices as their viewing mechanisms.

Ms Dee Forbes

It is a big figure. The other aspect, of course, is that we know that 92% of people access RTÉ in any given week. There is an anomaly there as well. That is what the information is telling us.

I thank Ms Forbes. Some Deputies have indicated that they wish to come back in a second time. I ask anyone else who wishes to contribute again to indicate. To be fair, I will call Deputy Devlin first because he has just joined the meeting and has not had the chance to comment yet.

I apologise for being delayed. I will start with some questions concerning the opening statement. I apologise as well if some of these questions have been posed already. I welcome Ms Forbes and her team. It is good to see everybody again. Turning to the opening statement from the Comptroller and Auditor General, concerning the additional funding provided to support enhanced programming during the Covid-19 pandemic, I am aware of the educational programmes that were broadcast. I commend them, because they were very informative and beneficial, given that schools were closed at the time and there was online learning. Those programmes were good productions and really well done. I praise the people behind those programmes. What other types of programming were funded from that additional allocation given in 2020?

Regarding the licence fee, I noticed that roughly the same amount of money was collected in 2019 as in 2020. Ms Forbes said that there was a rate of a little over 15% for non-payment of the licence fee. What steps are being taken in that regard, or what kind of review of the process is underway, to try to reduce that figure? It has climbed year on year, if I am not mistaken. A similar figure is provided in Ms Forbes' opening statement concerning more than 15% of people who classify themselves as having no television, if I am not mistaken on that aspect.

Moving to the mention that was made of the critical upgrading of studio and broadcasting infrastructure, what kind of percentage of RTÉ's overall spending is being spent on replacing that equipment? Those are my questions for now.

Ms Dee Forbes

On the extra funding provided, it was allocated to TG4, as opposed to RTÉ.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Actually, it was the broadcasting fund that got the additional resources. Additional resources were given to TG4, but the significant increase was in the broadcasting fund.

Ms Dee Forbes

Yes, and my recollection is that money went to the radio sector. I thank the Deputy for his comments regarding "Home School Hub" and the other content. We created all that content within the existing budget. Any additional content that was produced came from within that budget. We had no additional funding per se to cover any Covid-19 issues.

Turning to the licence fee and the whole process there, as I have outlined and as was outlined by the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment in 2017, is that the current system is not fit for purpose. As the Deputy is probably aware, the collection of the licence fee is done by An Post. There is an agreement between the Department and An Post in that regard.

The Department can comment on measures being taken to amend or change any of that. The Future of Media Commission was established to try to come up with a future-proofing method of collection, recognising what has been said in the past about the current system not being fit for purpose. That is my comment on that.

What was the third part of the Deputy's question?

The third part was about the percentage of spend on the replacement of equipment in RTÉ.

Ms Dee Forbes

Mr. Collins can talk about the capital spend.

Mr. Richard Collins

Our operation capital spend has been approximately €7.5 million over the last few years. When we did the land sale, the proceeds were ring-fenced for strategic projects. Part of that was capital expenditure, with €35 million ring-fenced for capital expenditure. In 2018 and 2019 we were able to divert another €7.5 million to capital spend. I am giving rounded figures, so we spent about €15 million a year on capital. Obviously, the onset of the pandemic slowed things down in the last two years, but they are the sort of figures we are running at. However, that fund is going to run out and we will be back to the €7.5 million. The business needs to be spending €15 million a year into the future to refresh our existing infrastructure but also to prepare us for the digital world or the digital roadmap of the future. This all links back in with our funding issue.

Ms Forbes mentioned in her opening statement the large-scale organisational restructure being undertaken. I note the issues regarding gender pay. I understand RTÉ is participating in a working group with the Department as one of 500 other organisations. Specifically regarding the large-scale organisational restructuring in RTÉ and given the challenges Ms Forbes just spoke about in the media sector, particularly public service broadcasting, can she point to any other organisation similar to RTÉ anywhere around the globe that she would like RTÉ to emulate in respect of digital content, news and current affairs and other general programming, or is it a unique challenge here? If one looks across the water to the BBC, for example, and what has happened there with the licence fee and the challenges it faces, it is quite similar for public service broadcasting, but can she point to any other jurisdiction where she would say there is a good balance and a good mix and it is something she would like to replicate here?

Ms Dee Forbes

First, it is probably common that every public service broadcaster is faced with challenges at present. It is the nature of the time and of the obligations that go with that. If we were to look at particular markets that have a well-functioning system and as a result have strong services, one has to point to the Nordic countries. Perhaps Finland is comparable with us in terms of size and population, for example, but it has more revenue and a lot more people employed. Likewise, Norway is a very strong hub for content creation, as is Denmark. Again, the funding mechanism there has changed over the years and they have moved much more to a tax-based system to ensure that the public service broadcasters are funded. The Nordic countries certainly would be a place to consider.

Is my time up, Chairman?

You have two minutes left.

Ms Forbes also mentioned in her opening statement, with regard to the casual contractors who were ultimately offered contracts, that 82 contracts were offered and there were 79 acceptances. Without naming anybody, can she give us a rough reason for the other three individuals deciding not to accept? I assume they were doing regular work and would have accepted a contract.

Ms Dee Forbes

There were three. I have to go and look at why that was. I do not have that information to hand but I can refer back to the Deputy.

Ms Forbes might send a note. I thank the witnesses.

I call Deputy Carthy. He has four minutes.

I have three short questions. The first refers to note 18 of the 2020 financial statements, and this relates to our previous conversation. Other payroll-related accruals are up from €7 million in 2019 to over €15 million in 2020. That is a substantial increase. The footnote states that other employee-related accruals consist of employee benefits such as employee remuneration and holiday leave provided for in accordance with IAS 19 employee benefits. That is a substantial increase. How is that accounted for and does it relate to our previous discussion about the historical misallocation of people as being self-employed?

Ms Dee Forbes

Mr. Collins will take that question.

Mr. Richard Collins

The Deputy is correct that it is a substantial increase, but there is a wash-through in there. It is to do with the wages subsidy scheme and the reconciliation of that will wash through this year. It is quite complicated, but it is just that the way the system was being reconciled at the end of the year created a large accrual or liability. There was also an accrual there for increments that had not been paid for a couple of years. There were various other accruals, including holiday pay that had built up where staff had not taken all their holidays. We accrued for the cost of that.

I take it from the response that the increase is not related to the issue regarding the negotiations with the Revenue Commissioners and the Department-----

Mr. Richard Collins

The Deputy is correct; it is not. It is mainly related to another one-off issue, a wash-through there on the temporary wages subsidy scheme.

Perhaps Mr. Collins might provide us with a paper on that expenditure to allow us to elaborate on it further.

I have a question for Ms Forbes about the high earners. We know that RTÉ publishes the ten high earners annually. They are usually household names. When is it intended to publish those figures pertaining to 2021? Considering the discussion we have had about RTÉ's precarious financial situation, have there been negotiations with the highest earners to reduce their level of remuneration?

Ms Dee Forbes

Yes. We outlined in the 2019 strategy that we were seeking a reduction of 15% in that number and that has been achieved for 2020 and also for 2021. In respect of the publication of the 2020 numbers, they are still being audited. Once they are available, which we hope will be in the coming month, we will publish them. Our obligation is that we publish two years in arrears, so we will be publishing the 2020 numbers as soon as we can.

Why does it take two years to publish what is paid?

Ms Dee Forbes

This was the agreement that was made at the time. There are commercial sensitivities around these numbers and the agreement at the time was that it would be done two years in arrears.

Of the top ten individuals, how many of those would have seen decreases in their payments in 2021 vis-à-vis 2020?

Ms Dee Forbes

We will outline that when we publish the numbers. To reiterate-----

I am talking about 2021. Ms Forbes is saying it will be 2023 before we will be able to see those figures.

Ms Dee Forbes

The 2021 numbers. That is correct. However, what I can confirm is that the 15% reduction applies to 2020 and 2021.

That reduction could be accounted for through individuals retiring as opposed to current high earners seeing a significant reduction in the payments made to them.

Ms Dee Forbes

I will ask Ms O'Shea to take that.

Ms Fiona O'Shea

To confirm, we are looking at the same individuals. In 2020 the reduction is not on retired individuals.

Nevertheless, the population of that top ten does vary from year to year depending on the programmes, the number of programmes and the volume of output that they are involved in.

The old Radio Centre is still being used. Doe RTÉ intend to keep that building operational?

I have a particular interest in the orchestra studio as it is the only recording studio of that type in the country. Will RTÉ ensure that it will remain operational into the future?

Ms Dee Forbes

The Radio Centre, as the Deputy mentioned, is a hugely valuable building to us. We are carrying out some upgrade works. We need more modern studios, more radio studios. In fact, they are in the process of being finalised at the moment so we will have some new studios in what we call the TV building. They will be visual radio studios so will allow both audio and video to come from the same studio, which we do not have right now.

As we go forward we have to assess, I suppose, what work that Radio Centre will need in terms of further future proofing. A lot of the infrastructure is very old hence we are upgrading the studios in a different place. The future use of it will be determined as we go forward in that face. It is a core part of RTÉ.

As the Deputy said, studio 1 is unique. It plays a very big role for the orchestra and I do not see that changing, certainly in the short term.

I ask the witnesses to please forgive me if they have answered a question on this matter before but I had to attend another meeting. I seek assurances on the future of the Cork radio and television studies. Can Ms Forbes give us a guarantee that there is a sustainable future for Cork specifically?

Ms Dee Forbes

The Cork studio and office is hugely important to RTÉ not only because of our presence but because of the output that comes from that studio. We have many radio shows that come from there. We have "The Today Show" and we have a lot of other shows that come out of there. So, it certainly is important to us to remain in Cork. Again, like all of our infrastructure, we have to review it. Is the building fit for purpose? Again, there is analysis going on on that one. We are certainly not leaving Cork any time soon.

I hope that the Deputy heard that Cork will be looked after.

I thank Ms Forbes.

A sum of €13 million was allocated for the orchestra in 2019 and funding was reduced in 2020, presumably due to Covid. What level of revenue is generated by the orchestra? Does the orchestra generate revenue?

Ms Dee Forbes

For clarity, the €13 million is for two orchestras. That is both the NCO and the NSO. So, going forward, we will have under half of that for the NCO.

To date, have they generated any revenue?

Ms Dee Forbes

It is small.

How many employees are engaged in both orchestras?

Ms Dee Forbes

Will Ms O'Shea handle those?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

I am happy to come in on that. Just to confirm, in relation to the revenues generated by the orchestras, that would be disclosed within our annual report on pages 110 and 111.

Ms Fiona O'Shea

One can see, obviously in 2020 the impact of Covid, there is a surplus on commercial activities of €600,000. In the previous year, 2019, it was approximately €2.5 million. So that would be the surplus and commercial revenues generated.

In respect of the number of employees, there are approximately 160 employees engaged in the orchestras.

Yesterday, I heard the news that one orchestra will be transferred from RTÉ. What is the total debt combined for RTÉ at the moment?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

We have borrowings currently of €65 million.

Is that the sum total?

Ms Fiona O'Shea

That is the total of drawn borrowings currently, yes.

I have a question on the centenary coverage for Ms Forbes. By and large, there was some good coverage and the programme was informative, particularly for a young audience. There was fairly balanced coverage but I have two little criticisms.

First, on the re-enactment of the media coverage around the signing of the treaty, I query the setting. Mr. David McCullagh did very well but he was in a very modern studio and more modern than the one we are in now. The programme did not catch the atmosphere as well as it could have because a modern studio was used. However, in general, the content was good.

I have another small criticism or suggestion as last weekend the programme was repeatedly broadcast. I received a number of complaints and phone calls that the programme was repeated ad nauseam on the RTÉ channels as a commemoration of the weekend when British troops left Ireland. That was inaccurate in the sense that, obviously, for the people who live in the North they know that British troops have not left Ireland. People currently, looking back over the last four decades, have lived in one of the most militarised parts of the world. I am just pointing out that there was a huge inaccuracy. In the round I can say that the coverage was good. In future it is important that RTÉ is mindful that when talking about Ireland there are 32 counties on the island.

As no members have indicated a wish to comment then that concludes questions. I thank Ms Forbes and her staff from RTÉ and all the witnesses from the Department for joining us today. I thank all of them for the work involved in preparing for this meeting and the substantial documentation that was supplied prior to this meeting was useful. I also thank the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, and the staff for attending and assisting with today's committee meeting.

Is it agreed to request the clerk to the committee to seek any follow-up information and carry out any agreed actions arising from this meeting? Agreed. Is it also agreed that we note and publish the opening statements and briefings provided for today's meeting? Agreed.

The meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts is suspended until 1.30 p.m. when the committee will resume in public session to consider correspondence and any other business of the committee.

The witnesses withdrew.
Sitting suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed at 1.30 p.m.