'Slap in the face for Limerick': Calls for Dail debate on proposals to close RTE's Limerick studio

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Email:

fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

'Slap in the face for Limerick': Calls for Dail debate on proposals to close RTE's Limerick studio

A TD has called for an urgent Dail debate to discuss RTE's cost-saving proposals, including the shutting down of its studios in Limerick city next year. 

In a statement to the media on Wednesday night, RTE said that it is to shut its Limerick studio and split Lyric FM between Cork and Dubin, a move that has been met with widespread criticism. 

While Lyric FM has been saved, staff have been left "distraught" and it is expected that RTE's proposals are to be met with "massive resistance". 

RTE's proposals have been with widespread criticism from politicians in Limerick this Thursday morning. 

Labour TD Jan O'Sullivan said that she has asked for a debate in Dail on RTE's plans for "sweeping cuts", adding that they were "not inevitable and we need public debate on public broadcaster and response from Government". 

Minister of State Patrick O'Donovan said that RTE must consider all of its options and "not just look at its operations in Limerick". 

In 2018, Lyric cost €6.6m, which was 1.68% of its €391m budget.

According to the latest JNLR figures, Lyric increased its listenership by 15,000 people since July 2018. 

“Nobody is under the illusion that the situation at RTE can continue as is, but the State broadcaster has a responsibility to show that they have a commitment to all of the regions.

 “All avenues to achieving cost reductions must be exhausted before any studios are closed, particularly outside of Dublin," Minister O'Donovan said. 

He added that RTE is an important employer in Limerick, and adds to its cultural life with Lyric FM. 

“The location of Lyric here was a huge boost for Limerick and it is vital that we do all we can to protect its place here.

“RTÉ must outline its rationale for how it decided that Limerick was a location where services could be downgraded, with other locations apparently retaining their existing services.

“Have all options been explored including the possibility of relocating the main campus away from Donnybrook? What changes are being made to maximise the broadcaster’s income streams through advertising?"

Sinn Fein TD Maurice Quinlivan said it was a slap in the face for Limerick. 

“The closure of the Lyric FM studio in Limerick is not acceptable and abandons RTÉ commitment to the regions as it retreats to D4. What economist can tell me that it will be cheaper to produce material in Ballsbridge than at the Cornmarket in Limerick? Along with their middle class, D4-focussed output, this decision shows how D4-centric the organisation is in its productions and now in its proposed future.

He said that the "world-class facility" in Limerick city should be retained, adding that he is concerned about job cuts. 

"Any job cuts must be carried out in full consultation with the relevant unions. If RTÉ truly want to be a national broadcaster, it must retain its presence in the regions and Lyric FM must stay in Limerick.”

Fine Gael senator Kieran O'Donnell said that the decision to close the studios and to relocate Lyric FM was “grossly unacceptable and disproportionate. 

“This plan from RTE management to close it’s current studio here in Limerick in 2020 and for RTE Lyric FM to cease broadcasting from the Limerick studio is both unacceptable and disproportionate in terms of it’s negative impact on Limerick and the mid-west."

The news service is being preserved in Limerick, with a new studio expected to be set up. 

Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins is calling for RTE to provide an alternative news studio locally, adding that operating current affairs service "can’t simply be done from the booth of a car or the side of the road.

“Lyric FM is located in Limerick now for almost 20 years, it is a huge success. The staff of Lyric FM who live locally in Limerick will now be asked to relocate their jobs to Cork and Dublin. For them and their families this is the worst news possible. Lyric FM was the one part of the RTE organisation which was decentralised successfully and now is a victim of its own success. Again I would ask the RTE authority to reconsider this decision as the savings being generated don’t seem material in the scheme of the overall RTE cost base.”

Deputy Willie O'Dea, Fianna Fail, said that he will be questioning the Minister for Communications, Richard Bruton, on the matter. 

Speaking this Thursday, Jan O'Sullivan said: "We have to come together and fight this, RTE is a national public service broadcaster and not a Dublin public service broadcaster. The NUJ are meeting today and we need to fight back and keep the Limerick office and Lyric FM open.”

Speaking about its plans to save €60m over the next three years, RTE's director general, Dee Forbes, said the challenges "in front of us are real" but that it does have a plan. 

"However, Government needs to act to ensure there is a future for public service media in Ireland. I am clear about what role RTÉ should play in Irish life, but I am also clear that we cannot do it unless Government fixes the TV licence system. We shouldn’t be under any illusions; we are in a fight – a fight to sustain a viable public media in Ireland.

“We remain in discussions with Government. We are doing all we can to return RTÉ to a stable financial position, but we will not be able to reinvent public media for future generations, nor fulfil our remit, without immediate reform of the TV Licence system.”