RTÉ unions say decision to close London office has left staff 'shocked'

Sat, Mar 31, 2012, 01:00

RTÉ STAFF have expressed dismay at the decision to close its London office as part of a €25 million cost-cutting programme.

The announcement was made to the five members of staff of the station’s London bureau, including London editor Brian O’Connell, on Thursday in advance of the announcement to other staff.

Mary Curtin, secretary of the trade union group in RTÉ, said the decision was taken without prior engagement or discussion and staff were “shocked”.

“We understand that everything is against the background of a serious financial situation, but we have huge questions over the wisdom of closing that office,” she said, adding that the closure would be a key part of negotiations between management and unions over the cuts.

National Union of Journalists Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said UK affairs ought to be a “core part of RTÉ’s coverage”.

The London bureau will close by the end of the year and the staff will be offered relocation back to Dublin or a redundancy package.

It is understood UK affairs are likely to be covered by journalists based in Dublin or Brussels.

A statement from RTÉ said the decision to close the London office was “part of a significant and ongoing series of cost reductions”.

A spokesman for Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said the closure was a matter for RTÉ alone. “The only issue here is that RTÉ get its house in order financially, and he is glad to see that serious steps in that direction are being taken.”

Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh, who is the co-chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, said he intended to raise the closure at the next plenary session of the assembly in May.

He described it as “short-sighted” given the long-standing links between the UK and Ireland.

“There should be time and space given to some form of analysis of the cost-benefit analysis of keeping the office. Part of journalism is to have field research and if we don’t have people there, it will be out of sight and out of mind.”

The Federation of Irish Societies in Britain chief executive Jennie McShannon said UK affairs could not be covered by “the red-eye from Dublin”.

“This will be a loss to the Irish community here. There is a need to understand British issues, and journalists need to become embedded and engaged in the community to give a proper picture.”

RTÉ is seeking €15 million in savings from reductions in staff.

Unions have been told that allowances, overtime and shift payments will all be looked at, but there has been no mention of further pay cuts or a figure in relation to redundancies.

However, 200 redundancies would yield yearly savings of €12 million based on an average RTÉ salary of €60,000.

The next redundancy package is likely to be targeted at those on defined contribution pension schemes as the previous package was aimed at those on defined benefit schemes who joined RTÉ before 1989.

RTÉ has said all of its 20 top paid presenters will take pay cuts of at least 30 per cent. It already publishes the pay of the top 10, but a spokesman declined on the basis of confidentiality to name the rest or their range of pay.

RTÉ has also announced that it will reduce the amount of money it pays for sports rights by 25 per cent over the next two years. Head of sports Ryle Nugent said previous rights’ payments had “gone through the roof” in boom times.

He declined to say what sports coverage might be affected.

Mr Nugent pointed out that RTÉ lost sporting rights even in good times and had recently lost the Heineken Cup and professional boxing.

“Is there a potential that something may not be here in three years’ times? Of course there is, but we have already had to make extremely difficult decisions in relation to this issue.”