WATCH: 'Our aim is to stay where we are' — Limerick councillors show support to Lyric FM staff

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

A SENIOR staff member at Lyric FM has said that he and over 20 workers at the Limerick station have received “no details” on RTE’s plan to split the service between Cork and Dublin. 

Producer Eoin O’Kelly was speaking to the Leader after Limerick City and County councillors convened an emergency meeting to discuss RTE’s cost-saving plans to shut down the Cornmarket Square studio at the end of 2020. 

Mr O’Kelly said the staff is seeking to understand RTE’s proposal to relocate Lyric “because we don’t understand it. 

“We have no detail on it, no financial detail on it, so the more and more we look at it, the more we feel it doesn’t seem to stack up. As well as that reaction, there has been a lot of anger, and we have met it on the streets of Limerick. 

“People feel this is a terrible snub to Limerick city and county, and they don’t like it. It’s as simple as that,” he said this Friday afternoon. 

Twenty-three councillors across the city and county attended the emergency meeting, which was tabled by Labour councillor Conor Sheehan and chaired by Mayor Michael Sheahan at 2pm. 

Cllr Sheehan said that Lyric FM is “more than just a radio station” and that it has “touched the lives of many people” since it was set up in Limerick in 1999. 

He proposed a number of motions at the meeting, including that the council reject RTE’s proposal to close the Limerick studio and relocate Lyric to Cork and Dublin; that the council writes to Minister for Communication Richard Bruton to intervene; that the council writes to the mayors of Clare and Tipperary to oppose the closure; and that the council write to RTE director general Dee Forbes and ask her to publish a report outlining the rationale for their proposal and publish the minutes of the meeting when this decision was made. 

Cllr Sheehan said that the ideology behind the proposal was “Thatcherite” and that if it is moved to Cork and Dublin it would turn Lyric into a “jukebox zombie radio station”. 

Calling for the minutes of the meeting to be made public, Cllr Sheehan expressed concern over the “lack of transparency”. 

Addressing the council chamber, Cllr Liam Galvin pointed to the staff who were in attendance in the public gallery, saying: “There are staff here with family and mortgages.” 

“It’s shame, shame and shame the way they are running their business.”

Fine Gael councillor Daniel Butler said: “There’s a human story behind all this — there are jobs at risk.” 

He said that “there is a lot we are not being told” and that decentralisation of services “is the only way we can sustain ourselves”. 

Cllr Richard O’Donoghue said: “If they have made a mess of their accounts, tell them to come down to Limerick so we can show them how to balance their books.”

Cllr James Collins accused RTE of treating Lyric FM like “low-hanging fruit” and proposed that UL accommodate Lyric at its new city centre campus. 

“A Dublin-based organisation is removing jobs from the city centre. It’s counter to everything that we stand for as a council,” he told the chamber. 

He is calling for the establishment of a cross-party sub-committee to meet with RTE and UL “so that we can play our part in formulating a rescue strategy”. 

Fine Gael councillor Jerome Scanlan suggested that the council offer RTE Lyric FM a site, and that the Granary library on Michael Street or Project Opera would be ideal locations. 

Social Democrats’ councillor Elisa O’Donovan said that she thinks Minister Bruton has the power to save Lyric FM, adding that the closure of the studio is “part of Fine Gael’s constant erosion of public services”. 

However, Fianna Fail councillor Kevin Sheehan, sitting close to Cllr O’Donovan, said: “This has nothing to do with the Fine Gael party.” 

“We need to get into fighting mood, shoulder to shoulder, all of us together. We need to stand together on us,” he added. 

Cllr Sarah Kiely, of Fine Gael, said she was “disappointed” with Cllr O’Donovan’s comments.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with party politics,” she said. 

Cllr Brian Leddin, Green Party, said that Lyric is an “exemplar of decentralisation of services” and described it as a “true success”, adding that when it arrived 20 years ago, “Lyric and Limerick embraced each other”. 

“We should be talking about decentralisation; not recentralisation,” he said. 

Independent councillor, Brigid Teefy said: “Let RTE find other means of sorting their finances — not some quick fix.” 

Cllr Olivia O’Sullivan said it was not just about Lyric FM, but about “all the arts and culture community” in Limerick and the wider region. 

Fianna Fail councillor Kieran O’Hanlon said that if they decide to remove Lyric in Limerick, it would be “another nail in the coffin for rural Ireland”, and urged Fine Gael councillors to “put pressure” on Minister Richard Bruton. 

Cllr O’Hanlon suggested that the full council “picket the next RTE board meeting”. 

Mayor Michael Sheahan said that he intends to meet with RTE Lyric manager Aodan O Dubhgaill on Monday to discuss the issue. 

Speaking after the meeting, Eoin O'Kelly commented on Thursday night's Roar for Lyric event at University of Limerick. 

"We had a really beautiful event in the University of Limerick last night where a number of arts organisations—local choirs, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, and people, ordinary members of the public, people who listen to the radio, the people who love Lyric FM—came out and gave a roar of support for us. They said they want the station to remain in Limerick."

“Our main stated aim is to stay where we are so that we can continue to work with the local community, bring their stories to the wide audience that we have around Ireland and throughout Europe, as well, because of the European Broadcasting Union. That’s our aim and that’s what we hope to do.