RTÉ representatives meet gardaí over retirement gathering

Chair Moya Doherty says failure to adhere to social distancing a ‘matter of serious concern’

Broadcasters David McCullagh and Miriam O’Callaghan with their retiring colleague (centre) at a gathering in Donnybrook.

Broadcasters David McCullagh and Miriam O’Callaghan with their retiring colleague (centre) at a gathering in Donnybrook.

 

RTÉ representatives met gardaí on Monday in relation to an inquiry into a recent retirement gathering amid Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions. Gardaí are examining how the gathering on RTÉ’s Donnybrook campus was organised.

Broadcasters including Bryan Dobson, Miriam O’Callaghan, Eileen Dunne and David McCullagh have apologised for not practising social distancing after they were photographed standing next to a retiring staff member. The photographs were posted on a website for retired RTÉ staff last week.

The chairwoman of the board of RTE, Moya Doherty, said the failure to adhere to “proper social distancing procedures” at the recent gathering in RTE is “a matter of serious concern” for the board.

Ms Doherty said she has asked for an update on the matter this week and “the board will address the matter in full at its meeting next week”.

“As has been already acknowledged by the individuals present, there is an onus on all of us in RTÉ to be both above reproach and to lead by example at this time of exceptional national challenge,” Ms Doherty said in a statement on Monday.

Eimear Cusack, director of human resources at RTÉ, said “we are very aware of the impact created by the photos which have appeared across Irish media over the last few days”.

“Those involved have rightly apologised. We are all extremely disappointed and frustrated with what has happened, but it is important that we understand what occurred and learn from it,” Ms Cusack said in a statement on Monday.

“There is a full health and safety review in progress. In addition, RTÉ representatives met with An Garda Síochána today in respect of their enquiry. While this enquiry is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.

“RTÉ has always accepted invitations to appear before Oireachtas committees and will of course, if requested, do so on this occasion.”

Earlier the chair of the joint Oireachtas committee on Media and Culture has said it was important to have RTÉ management come before the committee to explain how the retirement gathering was organised during Level 5 restrictions.

While their apologies had been fulsome, committee chair Niamh Smyth said she did not accept the event had been impromptu and RTÉ would have to explain how it was organised.

The incident was of “huge concern”, the Fianna Fáil TD told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, adding that the Oireachtas committee had a responsibility to request answers.

It had been obvious from the photographs that social distancing had not been adhered to and the committee wanted RTÉ management to give a full explanation about how the event occurred in the first place, she said.

Pulling together

Ms Smyth said she was concerned about the message that was being given to the public about social distancing. The public was expected to miss out on important events, people were “pulling together” to make “absolutely every effort” and then to “see this from RTÉ” was disappointing.

Part of the problem was that RTÉ had been very slow to give clarity and nobody was willing to come forward”, she said.

“We want answers and we expect a forthright statement from RTÉ. Who organised it? We are in Level 5 lockdown. This was an indoor social gathering. There are very strict guidelines to follow.

“I accept that we’re all human and can have lapses in judgement.”

Earlier, a Fianna Fáil senator said the Oireachtas Media and Culture committee was not “looking for heads on stakes ” over the controversy.

Senator Malcolm Byrne, a committee member, said an invitation was likely to be extended to the director general of RTÉ Dee Forbes, following a meeting of the committee on Wednesday.

It was important that RTÉ was committed to the public health guidelines and learned from their mistake, he told told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland. The public needed the reassurance that the same rules applied to the national broadcaster, he added.

The onus was on RTÉ management to provide clarity over what had happened, he said. “It was wrong, it shouldn’t have happened.”

While the apologies from the presenters who had been photographed had been sincere, he said, RTÉ needed to reassure people that the problem was being reviewed.

“Part of the problem is that RTÉ has not come out and explained what happened. If this had involved someone in politics and someone was not available to comment, RTÉ would be all over it,” he said, referring to the fact that Morning Ireland had sought an RTÉ spokesperson for comment, but that was told that none was available.