RTÉ is back in the news rather than where it wants to be - reporting the news.

Last Wednesday, the perilous financial position of the broadcaster was analysed by aghast ministers at the first Cabinet meeting following the summer break.

The RTÉ Annual Report for 2022 revealed losses at the organisation in the order of €2.8m, but the real shocker was another document which focused on the precipitous decline in TV licence fee payments in 2023.

The latest RTÉ projection is that the national broadcaster is on course to lose €21m in licence fee revenue by the end of December.

That's a hell of a lot of ordinary citizens who are refusing to stump up their €160 annual charge due to disgust at RTÉs self-inflicted wound, otherwise known as the secret payments debacle.

It’s heading into what one Government TD described to me as "scary Mary territory."

What to do?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, somewhat understandably, opted to put the pressure straight back onto Montrose.

In blazing sunshine at Charles Stewart Parnell’s stunning Avondale estate in Wicklow, Mr Varadkar declared that no interim payment would be made to RTÉ until Cabinet was able to assess a reform strategy due next month from its new Director General Kevin Bakhurst.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving for the first meeting of the Cabinet since the summer break

The Taoiseach said bluntly that the national broadcaster needed to rebuild trust with both the Government and the public, before any cash could be handed over.

There was a chink of light for RTÉ, when Mr Varadkar added that the organisation would receive additional funds. Pointedly, however, he declined to say how much.

Media Minister Catherine Martin outlined the next step, saying that there will be an independent evaluation of a request from RTÉ for interim funding of €34.5m as well as the €21m projected collapse in licence fee payments.

That forensic assessment of a seemingly calamitous position, the minister suggested, would be completed within a fortnight.

The screaming question is this: what remedial action will Mr Bakhurst be obliged to take if, like last year, the government gives less than 50% of what RTÉ requested in supplementary funds?

Mr Bakhurst isn't able to go off-grid until mid-September while the independent assessment is carried out.

On Wednesday, he will take a deep breath before walking into Leinster House along with other senior executives and members of the RTÉ Board to be grilled - yet again - by the Oireachtas Media Committee.

I approached several of its TDs and senators this weekend regarding what approach they’d be adopting.

Specifically, I asked: do you still feel the need to rip up the floorboards at Montrose, or has the time arrived to look ahead and rebuild?

Meath senator Shane Cassells told me he believes this is an existential moment for RTÉ.

He said: "We're at a critical point because the [RTÉ] financial crisis is worsening and there's an attitude among some of the public that thinks 'so what if they go bust'."

The senator added he believed in the need of a robust RTÉ but added: "What we need to see now is the DG demonstrating to the public that there's been change in how the ship is run, because that's what's annoyed the public."

"People didn't lose faith in the quality of RTÉ news, sport or current affairs … they lost confidence in the management of the ship."

The Independent TD for Tipperary Mattie McGrath opined that it was "madness" that RTÉ could be seeking additional funding in the region of €55.5m from the Exchequer.

He added that he "of course" understood why so many people were not paying their licence fee, adding that the Government needed to "firmly" deal with the broadcaster.

He questioned the "courage" of the Cabinet to do that, even though the public was "sick and tired" of the absence of financial controls.

The deputy declared that it still seemed that "nothing has changed" at Montrose, with executives apparently feeling that they can "do what they like."

The Cork South West TD Christopher O’Sullivan was more emollient.

While he said there was a need for more clarification from RTÉ and more documentation, he added: "I would like to see a lot of the focus now being switched to the future of RTÉ."

He said: "It will always retain an incredibly important role. We need to ensure its survival. That is very much going to being centred around how we fund RTÉ."

The Taoiseach divulged this week that the Cabinet will decide on the future model this year; legislate for it next year; and introduce it in 2025.

Just exactly what model will replace the TV licence fee, well, he declined to say.

Convincing, if not battling with the politicians, is only part of the Director General’s to do list.

There’s also the absolute requirement for senior management to retain and rebuild the confidence of the workforce at the organisation.

That’s not easy when the 2022 Annual Report also revealed a reversal of a 10% pay cut for senior executives - at a time when the broadcaster was sliding into a deficit.

Mr Bakhurst’s initial response, in an email to staff, was to say: "It is my understanding that this pay cut, along with the waiving of fees by the Board of RTÉ, was intended to be temporary."

The wrinkle was that the staff were not aware of the temporary nature of the reduction, according to NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley.

It has to be stated that Mr Bakhurst had nothing to do with anything related to 2022 but, the following day, he wanted to be crystal clear about how things would be done in the future.

He said in an additional statement: "I am committing that there will be complete transparency around the pay of the new leadership team at RTÉ. I have already said that we will publish their pay annually in the RTÉ Annual Report, and we will do so."

That resolve isn’t in doubt - but the future of RTÉ most certainly is in question.

The fact that this week’s Cabinet meeting had taken place in Avondale, birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell, made me seek out an appropriate quotation from the patriot.

The one which caught my eye was this: "Do what is beyond your strength, even should you fail sometimes."

Director General Kevin Bakhurst is going to require all the strength he can muster, should the Government decide to give substantially less additional funding than what RTÉ is requesting.

The consequences of failure would be dire.