THE chairman of the RTE board has revealed that one of its key tasks was to "drastically cut back" the rates of pay to high-profile presenters such as Pat Kenny.
Tom Savage said Mr Kenny was in a situation where the new contract RTE was able to offer him "was going to be quite lower than what (it) had been before".
He said it really was a "no-brainer" for Mr Kenny to take the offer from Newstalk. He said he did not know what figure Newstalk offered, but it was one "that we in RTE could not afford to match".
In an interview for The Gathering History Louth project, Mr Savage – who is from the Cooley Peninsula – said the RTE board was "very strongly criticised" over the amounts of money paid to star performers. He said one of the key tasks of the board was to drastically cut payments as contracts were due to be renewed.
This made for difficult choices for people such as Pat Kenny, Joe Duffy and Ryan Tubridy as their contracts became due for renewal.
"They were going to face difficult choices and RTE did not have much flexibility in that," said Mr Savage.
He said RTE could not continue to pay the previous larger amounts, "that either the political system or the general public did not deem to be valid in difficult circumstances".
Last month the broadcaster released a five-year blueprint to "stabilise" RTE for the future.
It depicts a "leaner" broadcaster, which has cut its cost-base by over €100m since 2008, with staff levels down by one-fifth and pay cuts implemented.
In August it reported a €65.2m deficit for 2012, mainly due to a €46m restructuring charge. It has indicated it should break even this year.
After Mr Kenny's shock move to Newstalk 106, RTE was forced to ask who among its stable could replace him.
"Pat Kenny is a man of exquisite standards and a terrific broadcaster and we needed to replace him with somebody that would be a big-hitter in the same arena as himself," said Mr Savage.
He said Sean O'Rourke, who won a PPI award last week, was an "obvious choice".
However, it will be another year before audience listenership figures are published.
Mr Savage said his time at the helm of the RTE board finishes next year.
"It is a five-year term, and when it finishes I will be happy because hopefully we will have brought the organisation through the most difficult readjustment financially and professionally," he said.
The interview can be heard at www.gatheringhistory.com