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RTÉ accused of 'systematically downgrading' its orchestras

A combative Joan Burton was very critical of the government on the matter in the Dáil yesterday.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

LABOUR TD JOAN Burton has asked the government to apologise to musicians after she claimed in the Dáil that RTÉ is “working systematically to downgrade” its orchestras, with a view to axing one of them entirely.

RTÉ currently provides the National Symphony Orchestra and the Concert Orchestra, but funding pressures led Burton to conclude that they would be “killed by death by a thousand cuts”.

Burton started the debate by expressing her displeasure that she wouldn’t be given answers by Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys. In Humphreys place was Minister of State with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe.

She said: “I had not heard that the Minister was not going to appear in the Chamber. I am disappointed that she is not present as she is the Minister with responsibility for culture and this matter was very much directed at her.

Already RTÉ is 30 professional musicians short and by next year, it may be 40 short.

Keogh apologised on behalf of Humphreys who was unable to make it to the debate, but said that Humphreys actually had no role in interfering with what RTÉ does in regards to orchestras.

He said that legislation for RTÉ included the objective of establishing and maintaining orchestras, and said that the two RTÉ orchestras provide the only full-time salaried employment for orchestral musicians in Ireland.

Kehoe also pointed out that the Arts Council provided €916,000 to the Irish Chamber Orchestra this year.

Burton was less than impressed.

She said: “Having listened to the poor Minister of State who was asked to deliver that script, I know why the senior Minister did not come in. It is a disgrace.

We are proud of our culture in this country. It is an insult to the musicians who work in the two orchestras that the Minister responsible for culture was unable to grace this Chamber for the debate.

She asked if the government would apologise to musicians, particularly younger ones in training.

“Where is their employment going to be if we are working systematically to downgrade the number of people who work with the RTÉ orchestras, possibly with a view to axing one of them entirely?” she said.

We want to see a thriving culture of music learning and appreciation in schools and at degree level in universities.

Kehoe retorted that responsibility for RTÉ rests with the Department of Communications, but that the government did wish for the orchestras to be retained.

Earlier this month, RTÉ said it had commissioned an independent review of its provision of orchestral services.

Aodán Ó Dughhaill said in a statement: “RTÉ’s overall funding position is well known and it is incumbent on RTÉ to consider and assess its role in the provision of orchestral music as it plans for the future.”

Read: RTÉ is reviewing its €13 million orchestras but it could have a fight on its hands

Read: Meet the Galway woman behind the music for World of Warcraft

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Sean Murray

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