MPs urge RTÉ to reconsider plan to close London bureau

Fri, Jun 22, 2012, 01:00

RTÉ, WHICH is facing losses of €50 million and significant redundancies this year, has been urged by MPs in the House of Commons to reconsider its decision to close the station’s London bureau from September next.

Former Labour Northern Ireland secretary of state Paul Murphy said he understood “the enormous financial pressures” facing the body, but said “it is our belief that RTÉ should still have a presence here in Great Britain”.

“It could be, for example, that RTÉ might share an office with another television or radio company, just as the BBC does in Dublin,” said Mr Murphy, during the first-ever debate on the work of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in the Commons.

The London bureau was needed to reflect the importance of the political and economic ties between the two countries, the enormous significance of the Irish diaspora in Great Britain and the fact that tens of thousands of British people worked in Ireland, he said.

Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland spokesman, Vernon Coaker, said RTÉ’s London bureau was “valued by Irish people in Britain and by those in Ireland with family members living here or with an interest in British affairs”.

Northern Ireland Office minister Hugo Swire said RTÉ’s plan “concerns us all”, but he insisted the station was “an independent broadcaster and it must make its own decisions, so I cannot comment further on that”.

Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd said he agreed “that we must encourage the Irish Government to retain RTÉ in London and in the United Kingdom, where it plays an important role”, adding that RTÉ “needs to come up with slightly more flexible working arrangements” that would cut costs.

Former SDLP leader, Foyle MP Mark Durkan, said he shared “the concerns expressed by others about the RTÉ presence in London”, adding that there should be much greater cross-Border co- operation on digital communications.

Labour MP Chris Ruane said MPs “want to make sure” RTÉ’s role in Britain was “not downgraded”, adding: “We need to ensure that we have proper coverage of British events in Ireland and Irish events in Britain, and an RTÉ base in London is key to that.”

Noting that the work of the inter-parliamentary body had never before been debated on the Commons floor, its chairman, Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, said “there has been a suspicion and concern in the past” that it was “not taken quite as seriously on the British side”.

The inter-parliamentary assembly includes TDs and senators, MPs and members of the House of Lords, representatives from the devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, along with those from the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Several MPs, including Mr Murphy, urged the British-Irish Council, which includes members of the administrations, to “look seriously” at improving links with the parliamentary assembly.

Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds said he has “no difficulty” about relations “developing further”.

Tributes were paid by Conservative and Labour MPs to Barbara Jones – the deputy head of mission at the Irish Embassy in London, who is leaving to head the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast – for the work she has done to foster better UK-Irish relations.