'Big portion' of RTÉ job losses will come from Orchestra move and Limerick closure – RTÉ director general Dee Forbes

A large portion of 200 job losses at RTÉ will come from the transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra to the National Concert Hall and the closure of the Limerick production facility, according to RTÉ director general Dee Forbes.

As part of a financial restructuring plan to save €60 million over the next three years, RTÉ has announced 200 job losses and a 15 per cent reduction in fees for its top on-air presenters.

Speaking to Bryan Dobson on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1, Ms Forbes said that the job cuts will be as a result of “voluntary redundancies” and a “big portion will happen as a result of the transfer of the orchestra to the Concert Hall.”

The figure will be ‘more’ than 60 while there would also likely be job losses as a result of the move of Lyric FM from Limerick to Dublin and Cork and the closure of RTE’s digital radio network.

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A previous voluntary redundancy scheme at RTÉ aimed to draw 300 applicants but only 160 members of staff took up the offerr.  However, Ms Forbes argued that the situation is different this time.

“We’ve put a new structure in place. That has bedded in and also we are making some fundamentally tough decisions here, where services are being eliminated or changed and that in itself will free up some roles that people can take a package.”

Ms Forbes said it is a “very challenging time for the media industry and a challenging time for RTE” and it is “regrettable” that the organisation is now in this position, but given it is operating with €100m less income a year for the past ten years, the current model is unsustainable.

  • Read More: Samantha McCaughren: ‘RTÉ wants to reduce costs by €60m over three years, but just how radical is this plan?’

While the Limerick production facility will close, RTÉ will maintain an office in Limerick for the midwest correspondent.

Asked whether the closure of Lyric FM had been part of the discussion regarding the restructuring plan, Ms Forbes said “there were a lot of things under consideration”.

RTÉ’s plan includes a 15 per cent pay cut for their top-contracted presenters.  Among the highest paid presenters are Ryan Tubridy, Ray D’Arcy, Joe Duffy, Marian Finucane and Miriam O’Callaghan. 

“Many of these contracts were put in place at t time when RTÉ’s finances were in a very different place. The organisation is in a very, very challenging place right now and we can’t afford to pay people what we have been paying them,” said Ms Forbes.

The savings will total a relatively modest €450,000 (15 per cent of €3 million) but Ms Forbes said it is simply “one part of a series of cost reductions”.

Another aspect of the plan is the move of major sports events from RTÉ2 to RTÉ One, which is the biggest channel in the country.

“As we migrate to a place that is a more sort of on demand world, the RTÉ of the future is a mix of and a blend of what I would say ‘big broadcast’ and ‘on demand’,” said Ms Forbes.

“What you will see with RTÉ2 is RTÉ2 being used as a window to the player and a place as well where we’ve got a lot of great content at the moment, but I think what we will see is RTÉ television will be more closely aligned with the player to ensure audiences know where the content is.”

  • Read More: RTÉ to slash 200 jobs next year and cut top stars’ salaries by 15pc

Asked if the move is a prelude to “winding down RTÉ2 in some way or even closing it”, she said, “Absolutely not”.

Ms Forbes called for a reform of the licence fee system, which she described as “broken” but added that it is “fixable” and has been fixed in other territories facing similar challenges to RTÉ.

“RTÉ will not have a future unless the Government fix the licence fee.  therwise we’ll be here again in a year or two years time. It’s vitally important and I would call on the Minister to review his timeline,” she said, describing the timeline of five to seven years for reform as “too long in this horizon”.

The restructuring plan was leaked via the Irish Times on Wednesday night prompting the release of the information by RTE.  Speaking about the manner of the release, Ms Forbes said it was “regrettable”.

She said that the plan was ready to be announced this week, but was delayed by the news of the death of broadcaster Gay Byrne.

Responding to her comments, Dobson said, “It does occur to me that Gay Byrne would have been the last person perhaps who’d want staff kept in the dark. He used to say sometimes jokingly that he would find out more about what was going on in RTÉ from members of the public than he did from his own managers.”

“There was no plan to keep staff in the dark,” said Ms Forbes.

  • Read more: ‘There will be lots of emotions’ – RTE Gold presenter Will Leahy on closure of digital radio network 

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