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'Today could be our last': Breakfast presenter addresses widespread RTÉ service and job cuts at start of show

It was announced last night that RTÉ is to cut 200 jobs as part of a major restructuring plan.

Will Leahy
Will Leahy

LONG-SERVING RTÉ presenter Will Leahy, who currently helms the breakfast slot on RTÉ Gold, addressed the service cuts at the national broadcaster announced last night at the start of his programme this morning.

Leahy, who formerly presented the drive time show on 2FM, told his listeners: “In case you’re not aware RTÉ is making serious cutbacks.” He said that RTÉ Gold was one of the victims.

“The service you’re listening to now will cease to exist,” he said, adding that he didn’t know any more about the developments than his listeners.

“Today could be our last day,” he said.

“It could be tomorrow, it could be next week, it could be the 31st of December.

“All I know is what I read in the papers.”

He said he was presenting the show from Limerick, as usual, and that the studios this morning were “eerily quiet”.

Leahy also promised to address the issue further later in the programme, and that his comments would include “something juicy”.

Job cuts

Late last night, a lengthy statement detailing the extent of the cuts was sent to newsrooms across the country.

RTÉ is to cut 200 jobs as part of a major restructuring plan that will seek to reduce costs by €60 million over three years.

The plans will also see the pay of its top presenters cut by 15%.

Lyric FM is to be retained but its production moved from Limerick to Cork and Dublin.

The broadcaster confirmed in a statement last night that it will close its Digital Audio Broadcast network as well as RTÉ’s digital radio stations, including RTÉ Gold and stations like 2XM and RTÉ Pulse.

As part of cost-cutting efforts, RTÉ has pledged to “reduce the fees paid to our top contracted on-air presenters by 15%”, this is in addition to cuts of “over 30% agreed in previous years”.

RTÉ executives are to take a 10% reduction in pay and the board of RTÉ will “waive its fees”.

As well as a reduction in staff numbers of about 200 next year, other staff-related savings are to be found.

Later in the show Leahy said that in his opinion the ending of the service had “nothing to do with what we’re doing here”.

“It’s because we’re being broadcast on expensive technology that’s never really caught on,” Leahy said.

Most of RTÉ’s digital stations have been on air for around the last decade. Because the services are on Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB, they don’t feature in the JNLR listenership figures, and audience figures are unknown.

RTÉ Gold is the most high-profile of the digital stations, with a roster including veteran broadcaster Larry Gogan and former 2FM presenter Rick O’Shea alongside Leahy.

“I’m being very careful what I say because it will be a headline,” he said.

He said the station was run by a very small amount of people and had a full-time roster of around “four and a half people”.

‘Grave concerns’

The broadcaster also said RTÉ Aertel is to cease, the RTÉ Guide is to be sold and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra is to be transferred to the National Concert Hall.

Speculation that Lyric FM’s future was in jeopardy raised fears among listeners in September but RTÉ has not confirmed that the station will be retained.

“Production of RTÉ Lyric FM will move to Cork and Dublin. RTÉ will continue to provide a mid-west news service in Limerick,” the station said.

RTÉ has said it will work to reduce staff costs by consulting with staff and unions “on a number of initiatives, to include pay freeze, tiered pay reductions, review of benefits, work practice reforms”.

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it is “gravely concerned” over the news, which was first revealed in the Irish Times last night.

“This is a shocking way for staff to learn about plans for their future and the future of public service broadcasting in Ireland. This is the second such breach of trust in recent months,” NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said. 

“Staff at the RTÉ Guide learned of the proposed sale of the Guide through media reports and on that occasion we were assured that any future plans would be properly communicated,” Dooley said.

In relation to the plans, the NUJ and the RTÉ Group of Unions will be holding consultations with its members in the coming days.

The Dublin broadcasting branch will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow.

As Irish secretary of the NUJ, I believe that many of the proposals are ill conceived, would not serve the best interest of public service broadcasting and would be damaging to staff and RTÉ.

“In a week in which RTÉ and political leaders have celebrated the very best of public service broadcasting, the Minister for Communications and the government must provide leadership by providing funding for RTÉ, in line with the recommendations of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland,” Dooley said. said, adding that “if RTÉ is to survive government must also play its part”.

Licence evasion

In a statement last night, RTÉ said that licence fee evasion rates in Ireland are among the highest in Europe and is “costing jobs”.

The station says that between people who evade their TV licence fee and those who just watch RTÉ programming on the RTÉ player, “over €50 million is lost to public broadcasting every year”.

RTÉ Director-General Dee Forbes, who spoke on last night’s Late Late Show special, said the death of Gay Byrne caused this plan to be released this week. 

“Our intention was to brief staff in full this week. However, given the sad passing of our colleague Gay Byrne, a decision was taken to postpone until next week,” Forbes said.

“With so much detail now in the public domain, our first priority was to contact all staff immediately with an update on the revised strategy, and plans.”

With reporting by Daragh Brophy and Ronan Duffy

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