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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Brian Lawless/PA Images RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst appeared before the Oireachtas Media Committee yesterday

Montrose site: Taoiseach says RTÉ relocating would carry costs

Some politicians have called for RTÉ to consider selling the site amid ongoing financial woes at the State broadcaster.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 14th 2023, 4:05 PM

THE TAOISEACH HAS said that RTÉ relocating to a new site would come with its own costs amid debate around whether the broadcaster should sell its site in Montrose.

Some politicians have called for RTÉ to consider selling the Dublin 4 site amid ongoing financial woes at the State broadcaster.

However, speaking to reporters in Co Tipperary today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “I think before any more of the site is sold, it needs to be worked out.”

“It might make sense to sell part of it, it might make sense to sell all of it. But of course, if RTÉ is relocated, there’ll be costs associated with that too so it’s important that things are done that make sense to add up, not just for demonstration.”

He said that RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst had recently made “tough decisions” regarding the recruitment freeze and cut in allowances.

He said the government understands RTÉ will require additional funding due its current “financial troubles” and that it has requested a long-term plan “to make sure that the organisation is successful and healthy in the future”.

“We want our own accountants in NewEra to go through the books and make sure that any request for financial support actually adds up,” Varadkar said.

Bakhurst was yesterday asked during a hearing of the Oireachtas Media Committee if the broadcaster would consider selling the Montrose site.

In response, he said “all options” are on the table, including the full or partial sale of the site. He added that RTÉ is in the process of having the estimated price of the site evaluated.

When later pressed again on the potential sale on the site, Bakhurst said he was considering moving more staff out of Dublin.

“I would say that the location of everything is under consideration in terms of the strategy, but one of the things we are focusing on is about moving more staff and production out of Dublin,” he said.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said that if RTÉ sold the site, the money from the sale would not “deal with long-term sustainability”.

When asked about the possibility of RTÉ selling the site and relocating, Martin today said that selling land may create “a once-off capital revenue” but “doesn’t deal with long-term sustainability”.

He told reporters: “I’ve been in government a long time, you know, very often selling land is something you will regret later, but that may not be the case here.”

Martin called on Bakhurst and the RTÉ board to provide the government with “a detailed reform plan” about the future of the national broadcaster and “how it’s going to ensure sustainability financially”.

The Fianna Fáil leader noted that such a plan may indeed involve the sale of land but that some people were quick to give “sound bites” calling for the Montrose site to be sold, without taking relocation and other costs into consideration.

Trade union

Earlier today, a trade union representative said there is “tone of vengeance” in some calls for cutbacks to be made at RTÉ.

It was announced yesterday that RTÉ is introducing a recruitment freeze and spending cutbacks amid ongoing concerns about the State broadcaster’s financial situation.

Bakhurst, who assumed the role eight weeks ago, confirmed the news in an email to staff members. He said he is “stopping all discretionary spend to preserve cash whilst we get clarity on our financial position in going forward”.

Speaking today, RTÉ Trade Union Group Secretary Cearbhall Ó Síocháin described the announcement about a recruitment freeze as a “bolt from the blue”, saying the union was not given prior knowledge ahead of the email being sent to staff yesterday morning.

Ó Síocháin told Morning Ireland that RTÉ’s financial situation was a result of decisions made by management, but ordinary workers on lower salaries are the ones who will pay the price.

For years now staff positions have not been filled, and so everyone left on the floor is picking up the extra workload.

“I think management need to realise that staff have won a considerable amount of support in the public, that it was nothing to do with them and they have continued to do their day jobs to the same standard as before, while all this noise is flying around at their head,” he stated.

‘Tone of vengeance’

Ó Síocháin called on management “to work with staff to get RTÉ back to where it should be”.

The trade union representative also said there seems to be “a tone of almost vengeance, calling for the gutting of RTÉ, for the sale of Montrose, for staff to be fired, for budgets to be slashed” in the political sphere.

Ó Síocháin said workers “haven’t done anything to precipitate this, yet seem to be again picking up the pieces”, yet there are calls for them “to be punished collectively, despite it being really resting at the door of senior managers”.

At yesterday’s committee meeting, Bakhurst said voluntary redundancies may take place as “a last resort” to save money.

Ó Síocháin today asked: “At what point do we reach the last resort? That’s what staff are thinking, how, how far down the road is that?”

During his opening statement, Bakhurst told the committee that the recent payment controversy “precipitated the most devastating blows to the reputation of the organisation in its almost 100-year history”.

The new DG said he has “moved decisively and quickly” to address “clear procedural and oversight failings within the organisation”.

Bakhurst noted moves such as a review of exit packages for staff, a register of interests and activities as well as a new staff consultation body.

It was confirmed last week that the national broadcaster is seeking an additional €34.5 million from the government to plug a hole in its finances.

The refusal of people to pay for TV licences has hit the already cash-strapped organisation, with a deficit of around €21 million expected this year. The broadcaster has predicted an overall deficit of €28 million for 2023.

Additional reporting by Press Association and Lauren Boland

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