Charlie Bird among 80 departing staff at RTÉ

 

IT WAS a day of long goodbyes yesterday for 80 RTÉ staff who left as part of an extended voluntary redundancy/early retirement scheme designed to trim staff numbers.

Among them was RTÉ’s chief news correspondent Charlie Bird, who has been with RTÉ for 38 years.

There was also a significant cost-saving announcement by RTÉ in its regional services. Costs will be cut by a new partnership agreement whereby the station’s regional offices and studio facilities in Waterford, Dundalk, Athlone, Galway and Sligo will be moved to local institutes of technology.

It is hoped the plan will save €1 million a year. It means RTÉ’s London offices will be the only ones to close in the broadcaster’s drive to close a €25 million funding gap, as it strives to break even by the end of next year.

The RTÉ decision avoids the potentially controversial effect of closing regional offices. A strong lobbying campaign, particularly in Waterford, helped to stave off closure.

Fears that regional correspondents might be withdrawn to headquarters were allayed when it was confirmed that they will stay in position.

RTÉ director general Noel Curran said the move would ensure licence fee payers in the regions would not have a reduced service for the money they paid.

RTÉ hopes the partnership with the institutes will be of mutual benefit, with the move enhancing the ITs’ multimedia capacity.

It is part of the strategy outlined by Mr Curran to seek partnerships with other organisations.

As part of the restructuring, RTÉ has already redeployed some journalists from Cork, Limerick and Belfast to Dublin. Nuacht staff have moved from Donnybrook to Connemara, and Nuacht radio will broadcast from Casla in Connemara from January.

RTÉ offices in Cork and Limerick will be maintained. Nationwide will remain in the Cork base. The new afternoon programme Today will be broadcast from there from November. In Limerick, the regional office and RTÉ’s Lyric FM remain in place.

As departing staff bid farewell to colleagues yesterday Charlie Bird admitted it was a difficult decision to take the redundancy deal. However, he said he was “not deadwood” and intended to come back in some guise, but he had a “blank sheet as of Monday morning”.

“Nobody has died. Lots of people in this country don’t have jobs and one has to put this in perspective, but for me personally it was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my life. It has been far more difficult for me than I thought,” he said.

He also expressed misgivings about the future of RTÉ, given the broadcaster’s current difficult financial situation. “I want RTÉ to survive,” he said, “I want Noel Curran to succeed in saving RTÉ. The truth is that RTÉ is hanging on by a thread.”

Bird paid tribute to RTÉ’s London editor Brian O’Connell, who retires this weekend following the closure of the London office, and his cameraman Denis Devane.

Others leaving this week include sports presenter Con Murphy, Morning Ireland sound supervisor Alex O’Gorman and news co-ordinator Doreen Dermody.