The Mazars report commissioned by the Government into issues that arose at RTÉ outlines that there was “no valid basis” for several high-profile transactions being paid through the barter account, including €150,000 paid to Ryan Tubridy and €44,000 for Renault events associated with the so-called “tripartite deal” between RTÉ, Mr Tubridy and the carmaker which led to the payments.

The report, one of three commissioned after a series of controversies at the national broadcaster, also outlines how RTÉ lost financial records relating to three years’ purchases on the infamous barter account during an office move. The records, according to a report published on Tuesday by accountancy firm Mazars, were kept in hard copy.

“We note, however, the substantial deficit in RTÉ’s record keeping … and that this placed significant restriction on our ability to adequately consider the business purposes for all barter transactions.”

The report outlines a series of governance and oversight failings in the management of the barter account, including that a formal approval process for barter purchases did not exist, with most sanctions occurring verbally. The responsibility for approving and oversight of purchases lay with the broadcaster’s commercial director.

It outlines several payments where the basis for approval was “not clear”. These included €480 for a chauffeur; €5,375 in membership payments to London’s Soho House club; €73,000 for payments relating to the Rugby World Cup in Japan and an additional €20,000 for tickets for the same; €19,000 for the Champions League final in Madrid and €4,603 relating to an Ireland football match in Gibraltar.

With regard to Tubridy payments, Mazars found that they should not have been called “consultancy fees”, and outlines that it found several emails suggesting that the commercial financial controller at RTÉ had raised queries about the nature of the invoices, the type of consultancy and who they related to. No written reply was found in relation to this.

Mazars found that the barter account was “essentially managed as an additional budget which was available to the commercial division for primarily travel, accommodation and client hospitality purchases”. However, it “was not subjected to expected financial controls and the system in place to support barter purchasing transactions was not adequately designed”.

It outlines that the records for the account were not adequately maintained and the reconciliation and oversight of the system “could not have functioned effectively”, with “significant gaps in available documentation in support of barter purchases”.

It concludes that RTÉ “incorrectly excluded barter account transactions from its financial statements” including €418,000 of purchases primarily relating to 2017 and 2018, and trade credit balances between €243,000 and €572,000 not captured on the balance sheet between 2017 and 2021. It finds that in its report to the Minister, RTÉ “incorrectly omitted certain barter purchases from this annual disclosure amounting to €654,000″, seemingly as a result of not initially not accounting for barter purchases and then by misclassifying them.

RTÉ’s records of purchases “contained many gaps” which led to a reliance on statements of purchases provided by barter media agencies. Supporting evidence relating to the purchases “was not stored by RTÉ in an easily accessible manner” and Mazars said that overall record keeping was “not adequate” between 2017 and 2019.

“This placed significant limitations on our ability to satisfy ourselves as to the accuracy, completeness and validity of barter purchases for the period under review,” the firm found.

We consider that the ambiguity inherent in classifying RTÉ as a commercial/non-commercial body led to contrary expectations, which was unhelpful to those charged with RTÉ’s governance

—  Conclusion of the report

The report also addresses internal and external audit functions when it comes to the barter account, with the internal audit not having examined or queried in the governance or operation of the barter account – “primarily due to the function [internal audit] not being aware of the existence of the barter account”. It says the existence of the account does not appear to have been disclosed during discussions with members of the management team of the commercial division. It says there is no evidence of the board of RTÉ making inquiries about the account.

A separate Governance and Culture review has concluded that the failure to fill vacancies in RTÉ’s board and to ensure it had the right range of skill sets are among the factors that led to last year’s crisis at the national broadcaster.

The review, which identified “important weaknesses in RTÉ’s governance and culture”, makes 90 recommendations, among which is a call for greater clarity about whether RTÉ is a commercial or non-commercial state entity.

“We consider that the ambiguity inherent in classifying RTÉ as a commercial/non-commercial body led to contrary expectations, which was unhelpful to those charged with RTÉ’s governance,” the review concluded.

The review group said they considered RTÉ’s public broadcasting remit an “essential service for Irish society” but, despite having this important role in Irish life, its funding model has been “frozen” since 2008.

In the meantime global streaming and social media platforms had transformed the media market, creating cost pressures for the national broadcaster.

“The lack of a stable and predictable funding model, and resulting intense financial challenges, put extreme pressure on RTÉ to cut costs.

“RTÉ’s Top On-Air Talent Earnings were a particular focus. The pressure likely contributed to the decision to hide payments to a RTÉ Presenter, Mr Ryan Tubridy, through a barter agency account, to understate Ryan Tubridy’s actual remuneration.”

Given its impact on governance, RTÉ’s funding model needs to be made more sustainable, the review concluded, raising an issue that is currently being considered by the Government.

The review unsuccessfully requested interviews with the former Director General, Dee Forbes, and the former Chief Financial Officer, Breda O’Keeffe, both of whom have featured in the controversy that engulfed the station last year.

On the so-called barter accounts system, the review found it was operated off-balance sheet and outside normal controls.

Although both the board and the Internal Audit Function said they were not aware of the existence of the barter accounts, the review noted earlier mention of the system in the media and concluded it had been “hiding in plain sight”.

The review team comprised Prof Niamh Brennan (chair), Dr Margaret Cullen and Stephen Smith.