TWO Government senators have urged the Minister for Communications to intervene in RTE’s plans to close down its studios in Limerick city and relocate Lyric FM to Cork and Dublin next year.
Senators Kieran O’Donnell and Maria Byrne called on Minister Richard Bruton in the Seanad, this Tuesday, to express their concerns to the RTE board when discussing their proposals.
Sen O’Donnell said that the “livelihoods of 23 people are at stake” and that there is a “strong argument for the decentralisation” of other RTE services, like 2FM, to the Limerick studio at Cornmarket Square in the city centre.
He said he was seeking clarification from the Minister in relation to RTE’s cost-cutting measures.
“When the Minister is reviewing this proposal, I request that he ask RTÉ to give careful consideration to the model operating in Limerick.
“Lyric FM is key to the Limerick operation, however, and it is one of the successes of decentralisation. The worry is that RTE is going for the low-hanging fruit when wider restructuring could take place,” he said.
The senators’ calls follow widespread outrage by the public, politicians and the arts sector to get rid of Lyric’s footprint in Limerick and split it between Cork and Dublin, as part of RTE’s master €60m over the next three years.
This week, the Limerick Leader exclusively revealed that UL president Dr Des Fitzgerald wrote to RTE director general, Dee Forbes, offering to house Lyric on-campus, two months ago.
A spokesperson for UL said that Dr Fitzgerald received no official response from RTE.
“However, a board member who was also sent the email replied with interest but nothing further emerged.”
Fine Gael senator Maria Byrne said her “biggest concern” was that UL has “not had the courtesy of a reply” to their correspondence.
She told the Seanad that RTE has a cultural director “yet that person has never even visited the Lyric FM studio”.
“The University of Limerick has offered space to RTE and other organisations are willing to offer space at knock-down rates to keep Lyric FM in Limerick,” she said.
Sen Byrne, who has had a number of meetings with Lyric staff, said the Limerick studio’s closure is “going against the grain of what the Government is trying to deliver.
“Under Project Ireland 2040, the Government has spoken about everything happening in the regions.
“For example, six in every ten jobs that have been created in recent years have all been outside the M50 and in the regions.”
She added that the relocation of staff to Cork and Dublin was a climate change issue also.
“Staff piling into cars to drive to Cork and Dublin will add to climate change issues.”
Minister Bruton told the two senators that RTE’s income in recent years has been “static” and that it is committed to discussing the impact of these changes with those affected via their unions.
“I will be working with the board to see how we can assist, but this repositioning of RTÉ is a really important element in meeting the challenge. While I understand the Senators' concerns, I am equally aware of the very difficult challenges with which the board is trying to cope,” he said.
This Wednesday, Cllr Conor Sheehan led a cross-party meeting at Lyric FM to discuss the issues ahead of an emergency council meeting, taking place at County Hall this Friday at 2pm.
Cllr Sheehan told the Leader that Lyric staff are “dumbstruck by this draconian proposal” and that he cannot understand why Dee Forbes did not accept Dr Fitzgerald’s offer “as RTE already have studios at several third level institutes around the country”.
He added that if RTE goes ahead with its decision, Lyric will be “turned into a zombie radio station before it is eventually shut down completely”.
Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan is to organise a briefing for all Mid-West TDs and senators with Lyric representatives.