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

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra were founded in 1948.

RTÉ's National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall.
RTÉ's National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

UNIONS ARE TUNING up for a fight after RTÉ announced a review of its two orchestras amid what its says are “challenging” financial circumstances.

The national broadcaster is legally required to maintain orchestras and choirs and at present operates the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Last year the orchestras received 7.1% of RTÉ’s licence fee revenue, totalling €12.7 million. Accounts for last year showed that the orchestras costs were €15.6 million, resulting in a €2.9 million deficit for the segment.

Now, RTÉ has announced that it will be reviewing the operations of both orchestras to “look at the best way of providing high quality and sustainable orchestral services to the Irish public”.

The review will be carried out by former director of BBC Radio and BBC News Helen Boaden with the help of strategy consulting firm Mediatique.

Both orchestras were founded in 1948 and RTÉ says they are the biggest employers of musicians in the country.

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra is focused on classical music while the RTÉ Concert Orchestra has a wider musical scope.

In 2016, RTÉ’s orchestras, quartet and choirs performed to more than 184,000 people.

Despite the review, RTÉ says it wishes to “extend the reach of orchestral music”.

“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,” Aodán Ó Dubhghaill, head of RTÉ orchestras, said in a statement.

In this context, this review will look at what our current and future audiences want, how they will engage with us and how RTÉ’s orchestral music will be heard in venues, on screens and on radio right across the country.

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Despite RTÉ’s assurances, Siptu and the Musicians Union of Ireland has said that the broadcaster “could face significant opposition” to the review.

Siptu says that members of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra were told last week that 31 positions will be lost across the two orchestras by June next year.

90420080_90420080 Both RTÉ's orchestras were founded in 1948. Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

The union says that such proposals are “completely at variance” to promises made by Communications Minister Denis Naughten and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the funding of the arts.

Siptu organiser Graham Macken has also taken issue with what he claims was a lack of consultation with the union about this proposed review.

“Siptu representatives have written to RTÉ management outlining the frustration of our members at learning of this development third hand,” he said.

“We have also demanded details in relation to this proposed review and access to all relevant documentation.”

There are a number of vacancies within both orchestras that remain to be filled for quite a considerable time, at this stage. Our members expect these roles and any additional vacancies that may become available as a consequence of the current voluntary exit package to be advertised without delay. 
RTÉ’s total after tax deficit for 2016 was €19.65 million.

Read: RTÉ is going to be airing a three-day live television event …all about the weather >

Read: RTÉ emails about ‘fire trap’ house were not opened by Dublin City Council official >

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Rónán Duffy

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