Shock at scale of RTÉ cutbacks despite years of financial woe

Business Week: also in the news was Ryanair results; Boeing safety; and the Web Summit

RTÉ director general Dee Forbes this week announced sweeping cuts at the broadcaster.

RTÉ director general Dee Forbes this week announced sweeping cuts at the broadcaster.


Cat-calls, boos and exasperated laughter dominated the reception for RTÉ director general Dee Forbes this week as she chaired a town hall style meeting with angry staff after the broadcaster announced plans for sweeping cuts.

Despite RTÉ’s well documented financial woes, the news that it is to axe about 200 of its 1,800-strong workforce by the end of next year as part of a €60 million restructuring over the next three years shocked staff and many others.

The broadcaster is also planning a 15 per cent pay cut for its highest-earning presenters, the top 10 of whom earned €3 million between them in 2016, according to the most recently published figures.

Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy topped the list, earning €495,000 per year, followed by television and radio presenter Ray D’Arcy who raked in €450,000 courtesy of a €50,000 increase on the year before.

Other major reforms include the possibility of further land sales by the broadcaster; changes to the much maligned RTÉ player platform; and the closure of RTÉ’s Limerick studio next year.

Lyric FM will operate from Cork and Dublin instead of Limerick and will be “much reduced” in size. There will also be an indefinite pay freeze for all staff apart from senior management, who will take a 10 per cent pay cut.

The job woes this week weren’t confined to RTÉ either, as AIB signalled its intentions to shed more than 300 of its 9,831 employees to rein in its costs. It cited a “very challenging” interest rate environment internationally that is squeezing lending margins and income.

While it will be of no comfort to those in RTÉ and AIB facing the chop, the State’s unemployment rate has fallen below 5 per cent for the first time since the crash, reflecting the ongoing strength of the labour market.

The Central Statistics Office said the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October was 4.8 per cent, down from 5.7 per cent a year ago, something that no doubt contributed to a warning from the European Commission about overheating this week.

The commission also reduced its forecasts for Irish growth in 2020 and 2021 from 5.6 per cent to 3.5 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively.

Meanwhile, reductions in the cost of hotel accommodation and airfares saw headline inflation in the economy fall to 0.7 per cent in October, down marginally on the 0.9 per cent recorded in September.

In terms of the State’s coffers, corporation tax receipts hit a record €6.9 billion for the year to October, more than €660 million ahead of the Government’s target. The total tax take for the first 10 months of the year was just under €45 billion.

Nonetheless, the Government is under renewed pressure following a report showing housebuilding in Dublin stalled in the second quarter of this year, despite a severe shortage of properties to rent or buy.

Airlines under pressure

These are challenging times for airlines the world over, what with an increased focus on the role they play in carbon emissions, as well as a number of major crashes in recent years that have damaged passenger confidence.

The Boeing 737 Max was grounded in March following two crashes in the previous five months that resulted in 346 deaths, and Boeing is awaiting clearance from regulators to return the aircraft to service.

A leading Irish aviation executive who is in line to take up a senior role with Boeing next year this week said he would be happy to be one of the first passengers to travel on a 737 Max jet whenever the aircraft is certified as safe to fly again.

“This will be one of the safest aircraft in the world, and I’m confident that the Boeing company will bounce back from this, no question,” said John Slattery, who is to become president and chief executive of Boeing Brazil Commercial.

Boeing was hit by fresh safety concerns last month after cracks were discovered on parts of its earlier generation planes known as the “pickle fork” – the bit that attaches the plane’s fuselage to the wing structure.

Ryanair came in for criticism after it emerged at least three of its Boeing 737s have been grounded due to the issue, something the airline failed to disclose to the public.

In better news for Ryanair, half year revenue rose 11 per cent to €5.39 billion on the back of preferred boarding and assigned seat booking. But that airline narrowed its full-year profit guidance to between €800 million and €900 million.

Elsewhere, Aer Lingus announced the launch of new routes from Shannon Airport to Paris and Barcelona in a move that is expected to help return the Co Clare airport to growth next year.

Separately, its parent IAG has agreed to buy Spain’s third largest carrier Air Europa for €1 billion in a move designed to transform its hub in Madrid into a rival for Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London and Paris.

Web Summit extravaganza

More than 77,000 people descended on Lisbon this week for the annual tech jamboree known as Web Summit.

Ireland, which famously lost the event to the Portuguese capital in 2016 after its founder Paddy Cosgrove criticised the wifi at Dublin’s RDS, came under fire at this year’s event for its broadband coverage. Microsoft president Brad Smith, whose company employs about 1,500 people in Ireland, used us as an example of a state where large swathes of the population are being “left behind” in terms of internet access.

Other speakers included the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and former US intelligence official turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Barnier warned that Europe “will not tolerate” unfair economic competition on its doorstep if Britain chooses to “pick and mix” EU trading standards post Brexit, while Snowden said the data-hungry business model of big tech firms was based on “abuse”.

Snowden, addressing close to 20,000 attendees via video link from Russia, said the problem was not with data protection, but data collection. “It is as if it is okay to spy on everyone, as long as the data never leaks,” he said.

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