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Gardaí meet RTÉ officials over social distancing controversy

Top presenters were among those to pose for photographs while not wearing masks.

McCullagh (L) and O'Callaghan (R) with the retiring employee.
McCullagh (L) and O'Callaghan (R) with the retiring employee.

Updated Nov 23rd 2020, 10:25 PM

GARDAÍ HAVE MET senior RTE officials as part of their inquiries into potential coronavirus rule breaches at a staff social gathering at the broadcaster.

Some of RTÉ’s most well-known presenters have apologised for breaching social distancing guidelines at a gathering for a retiring employee.

The broadcaster says the goodbye was a “short impromptu gathering” and that “social distancing was observed overall”. 

Garda inquiries are focusing on whether the gathering was in breach of coronavirus regulations prohibiting the organisation of indoor events involving more than two households.

Failing to socially distance or wear a mask at such an event is not an offence under the regulations.

Following the meeting, a garda spokesman said the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions would be sought on whether further action was required.

The chair of the the board of RTÉ said earlier today that the pictures pose a “serious concern”. 

Moya Doherty said that the national broadcaster must remain “above reproach” and that she and the board will be fully updated on the matter this week.

In a statement, Doherty said: “The failure to adhere to proper social distancing procedures at a recent gathering in RTÉ is a matter of serious concern.

“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.”

Earlier, it emerged that RTÉ may be required to answer questions before an Oireachtas Committee over the social distancing controversy at the broadcaster.

RTÉ has said it is prepared to appear before members of the Oireachtas Communications Committee to answer questions about the event.

The incident is now being looked at by politicians with the Oireachtas Media Committee set to meet on Wednesday. Chair of the Committee, Niamh Smyth TD, said she does not accept that this was an impromptu event.

Smyth told Today with Claire Byrne that the committee has a responsibility to seek answers from RTÉ management as “something like that had to be organised”. 

The Fianna Fáil TD said Dee Forbes and management within RTÉ could be asked to appear before the committee in the coming weeks after the matter is discussed during a private session this Wednesday.

She expects the committee will “all be on the same page” about asking bosses to appear to give an explanation as to how this event came about as management has been slow to come forward and offer clarity to the public. 

“People in the public eye have to come out, be forthright, in not only the apology but the explanation as to why something like this would happen. 

“This undermines collective efforts being made nationally, in terms of the sacrifices people have had to make the length and breadth of this country.”

Speaking to reporters at Dublin Port this morning, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that RTÉ has never been slow to appear before an Oireachtas committee, and an appearance there would be a “required follow-through”.

He noted that apologies issued so far have been genuine. 

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Committee member Senator Malcolm Byrne told TheJournal.ie this morning that part of the concern is that RTÉ management has not yet answered questions publicly on the incident. 

Numerous times in the past number of days the gathering has been spoken about on RTÉ airwaves but the audience was told that a spokesperson was not made available. 

“I don’t accept this thing that a spokesperson is not available,” Byrne says. 

“If it was Golfgate or the Bobby Story funeral there was an expectation that ministers or the Sinn Fein leadership would come out and give answers. Someone from RTÉ management should have come out. 

People make mistakes and the apologies that were given were sincere, so it’s not a case of getting heads to roll, it’s about coming out to give assurances that what happened won’t happen again. 

On Friday, secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Seamus Dooley welcomed RTÉ’s apology but said the incident should not have happened and it potentially damaged RTÉ’s ability to hold others to account.

Yesterday, presenter Miriam O’Callaghan apologised on air for “letting everyone down” and her apology followed similar that were made on Friday by David McCullagh, Eileen Dunne and Bryan Dobson.

- With reporting from Adam Daly and Press Association

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Rónán Duffy

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