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Flip-flops and gigs: Irish national broadcaster RTE engulfed by scandal over extravagant spending

Senior figures have been grilled about throwing money on flip-flops and undisclosed top-ups for the highest-paid presenters.

Irish national broadcaster RTÉ is embroiled in a furore over "slush fund" payments to presenters and extravagant spending, a major scandal that one of the organisation's senior figures has called "undoubtedly the darkest period in RTÉ's history".

RTÉ, whose board is government-appointed and which draws funds from a licence fee paid by viewers, has been rocked by the scandal since mid-June.

After months of rumours about practices at the broadcaster, the scandal kicked into gear on 26 June when RTÉ officially released a report it commissioned into its staff payment practices from professional services firm Grant Thornton. Another report has since been commissioned to look at payments to top presenters stretching back to 2008.

Documents released by RTÉ have also shed light on multiple examples of outlandish spending at a time when many staff's salaries were being cut.

Among the lurid examples of misspending running into thousands of euros is an annual membership of London's high-end Soho House members' club, tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert, and 200 pairs of flip-flops bought at €25 per unit for staff to wear to a summer party.

The Soho House membership has rubbed particularly raw with RTÉ staff formerly based in London who not only had their salaries cut, but were also forced to work from cafes around the British capital after the broadcaster gave up its offices there, unaware that there was a luxurious private space available for their use.

It has emerged that one staff member was loaned a car belonging to the broadcaster for five years without formal approval – and that the vehicle was only returned after the current scandal broke.

However, the most headline-grabbing revelations revolve around the salaries of RTÉ's top talent, notably Ryan Tubridy, outgoing host of the flagship Late Late Show.

It has emerged that the broadcaster topped up Tubridy's already large salary – well over €400,000 – was topped up with tens of thousands of euros in excess of his contractual wage paid via a so-called "barter account".

The detailed allegations, which have emerged in a deluge in recent weeks, were laid out in detail by MPs at a hearing of the Irish parliament's media committee earlier this week.

One committee member, Brendan Griffin, who called the system of payments a "slush fund", described the hearing as "jilted, tedious, frustrating and, at times, infuriating".

He noted public interest in the fast-moving scandal is "like nothing I’ve seen in my 12 years" as an MP.

The scandal has left RTÉ's senior leadership divided, with members of the board saying they can no longer express confidence in its executive leadership.

Testifying at the same hearing, RTÉ Board Chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh expressed her regret at a "culture of careless stewardship and indifference to proper process" that allowed the misuse of funds to take place.

"The overwhelming majority, the silent majority, of RTE employees have nothing to apologise for. On the contrary, I want to apologise to them. They have been let down also."

“At what is undoubtedly the darkest episode in RTÉ’s history it may seem odd to attempt to strike a positive note. But we owe this to the public and the staff of RTÉ."

"I hope this can be a cathartic period that will lead to a reformed and robust RTÉ. This organisation will be 100 years old in 2026.”

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