Government willing to extend more funding to RTÉ, says Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach insists broadcaster’s financial problems run deeper than issues pertaining to licence fee

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the media about the RTÉ cost cutting plan while   canvassing in Clondalkin  on Thursday afternoon.  Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the media about the RTÉ cost cutting plan while canvassing in Clondalkin on Thursday afternoon. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government is willing to extend more funding to RTÉ but insisted the broadcaster’s financial problems run deeper than issues pertaining to the licence fee.

“I think it’s worth reflecting on the fact that as recently as 2012 or 2013 RTÉ was breaking even, and even though the money from the licence fee and Government has increased since then, its deficit has actually grown,” he said.

“Reforms and restructures are needed, but also Government will come to the table too, and we will be happy to have discussion with the board about that because we do want to protect RTÉ and make sure it continues to be a public service broadcaster.

“This is about much more than the licence fee, but there won’t be a solution without RTÉ itself modernising and reforming, and in fairness to them they actually have made a lot of changes in recent years.”

He was commenting a day after it emerged RTÉ is planning substantial job cuts and a 15 per cent pay reduction for its highest-earning presenters as part of a financial restructuring to save €60 million over three years.

About 200 job cuts are envisaged by senior figures in the organisation, and the “staff headcount reduction” is needed by the end of 2020.

The plan also envisages the closure of RTÉ’s Limerick studio next year. Lyric FM will not be closed, but it will no longer be based in Limerick. It will operate instead from Cork and Dublin and will be “much reduced” in size, say sources. RTÉ says it will continue to provide “a mid-west news service” in Limerick.

An indefinite pay freeze will be introduced for all staff apart from senior management, who will take a 10 per cent pay cut. It is expected the role of all staff will be reviewed to ascertain if people can be better deployed. Staff benefits will be reviewed and work practices reformed.

In addition the RTÉ Guide is to be sold off.

Dee Forbes, the director general, will take a 10 per cent pay cut, along with the other members of the executive board and potentially other senior managers. Members of the RTÉ Authority will also waive their fees in future.

Collection

Specifically asked whether the Government would be willing to extend more funding to the broadcaster, Mr Varadkar, who was speaking at a byelection event in Clondalkin, Dublin, on Thursday afternoon said: “Yes, but obviously the amount and the timing is a matter for discussion.”

On the licence fee and whether the Revenue Commissioners could be tasked with its collection, Mr Varadkar said it would have to be made into a tax before that could happen.

“Revenue has a very clear position on this and I actually support them on this,” he said. “Revenue collects taxes. It doesn’t collect household charges, your ESB bill, or other charges. I wouldn’t like to see their role confused or diluted in any way.

“If revenue were to collect it, then we would have to make it a tax. It would have to become something like a household media tax. That’s the kind of thing we could do but it’s not going to be done for next year.

“We also have to consider the fact that there is more to public service broadcasting that just RTÉ and I think that would have to part of this debate as well.”