Redundancies at RTE should be avoided in cost cutting, says minister

RTE’s headquarters at Donnybrook in Dublin could be sold (Niall Carson/PA)
RTE’s headquarters at Donnybrook in Dublin could be sold (Niall Carson/PA)

The Minister for Media has said she does not want to see RTE making compulsory redundancies as the national broadcaster seeks budget cuts.

Catherine Martin described RTE staff as the “innocent victims” in the scandal that has rocked the national broadcaster.

RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst has already announced a number of measures to cut costs, including a recruitment freeze, a halt to discretionary spending and considering the sale of the broadcaster’s south Dublin headquarters.

The broadcaster was plunged into crisis in June when it revealed it had not correctly declared fees to its then-highest-paid earner Ryan Tubridy between 2017 and 2022.

RTE pay revelations
RTE director-general Kevin Bakhurst (Brian Lawless/PA)

The furore subsequently widened as a series of other financial and governance issues emerged.

A planned reform of the TV licence system has been paused during the various reviews of recent events.

Earlier this year, prior to the emergence of the controversies, RTE submitted a request for 34.5 million euro in additional interim funding for next year.

Since then, its revenues took a further major hit, with the broadcaster currently projecting a loss of 21 million euro by year end due to a fall in TV licence payments in the wake of the controversies.

That 21 million euro in revenue gap was on top of a deficit of seven million euro RTE had already budgeted for in 2023.

Appearing before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media on Wednesday, Ms Martin was questioned on future funding of RTE.

She said the 34.5 million euro request was examined by the state financial advisory body NewERA, adding she received that report last week and it will be discussed by the Cabinet in terms of the levels of necessary interim funding for RTE.

While she declined to give any detail from that report, she said even amid the current controversy government needs to ensure that RTE “can continue to meet its statutory obligations, and for this interim funding will be required”.

“However, this will not simply be a question of increasing public funding for RTE,” she told the committee.

“Already the director-general has announced a number of measures aimed at reducing costs this year. This is to be welcomed, however, I expect that in developing their new strategic plan a serious commitment to reducing costs and achieving value for money will need to be evident.

“This new strategy will also need to set out a vision for RTE’s future in light of all that has happened and in the context of the competitive and changed media landscape in which it operates.

RTE pay revelations
Media minister Catherine Martin said she expects to hear RTE’s strategic vision in October (Liam McBurney/PA)

“This vision needs to chart a positive way forward so that RTE can become the public service broadcaster which the Irish public expect and deserve.”

She said she expects to hear RTE’s strategic vision in October.

“By the end of the year they will have the definite timelines and implementation action, and that’s what I need to see before they get the rest of the amount,” she said.

“I think you will hear an announcement by the end of the year in relation to NewEra’s recommendation.”

Senator Marie Sherlock pressed the minister on cost-cutting at RTE, saying while there were “absolute excesses” in certain areas, in the “vast majority of the organisation, there isn’t much fat at all”.

She pointed to staff shortages in other areas, including of regional correspondents.

“That’s for them to present in their strategic vision,” Ms Martin responded.

“None of of us want to see redundancies because the staff are the innocent victims in this.”

Asked whether she thought redundancies at RTE were a possibility, Ms Martin said: “I’d much prefer that the future strategic direction can be brought forward without the need for compulsory redundancies, and I’ve made that clear to the director-general.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the director-general to bring his vision forward for cost efficiencies, but I’ve made it clear what we would not like to see.”

Ms Martin opened her statement to the committee by saying trust between the public and RTE has been “shattered”, describing “serious cultural, control and governance issues”.

She acknowledged a number of positive actions have been taken by Mr Bakhurst in recent weeks “to change the way in which RTE operates … to a more transparent and properly functioning public service broadcaster”.

But she told the committee there is “much yet to be done”.