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Friday 28 October 2016

Over half a million tune in to watch controversial Michaella McCollum RTE interview

Published 04/04/2016 | 18:08

(Back seat on left) An exclusive picture of Michaella McCollum Connolly hiding in a back of taxi with her family after running down side streets from photographers. Pic:Mark Condren
McCollum is interviewed on RTÉ. Photo: RTÉ
Michaella McCollum and Scotswoman Melissa Reid stand as they are questioned by police in Lima airport in 2013

RTÉ has revealed that 550,000 people watched a controversial interview with drug trafficker Michaella McCollum last night.

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The state broadcaster has repeated that they did not pay McCollum for the scoop and also claimed that they did not make any contribution to “any fund” relating to the convicted drug smuggler.

In a statement, released this evening, an RTÉ spokesman said: “Michaella McCollum spoke to RTÉ. As she felt doing so would deter other people from engaging in criminal activity.”

The broadcaster was forced to defend last night's soft-soap interview after members of the public reacted angrily.

Viewers complained that the interview focused more on the 23-year-old’s new blonde look than on the drug gangs she worked for.

This evening RTÉ revealed that it has received 83 calls and emails offering feedback on the programme. However they did not confirm the nature of these communications.

The statement said: "RTÉ can confirm that neither Michaella McCollum nor any member of her family was paid for the interview screened on RTÉ One last night. Nor did RTÉ make any contribution to any fund relating to Michaella McCollum." 

The statement went on to defend the broadcaster's decision to air the interview.

“For the past two years Michaella McCollum’s story has been both controversial and divisive.

“It’s the story of a young Irish woman who committed a serious crime in a foreign country and her arrest, subsequent conviction and prison sentence have generated significant media coverage both nationally and internationally.

“Last night’s interview was watched by an average of 550,000 viewers with one in three people watching television last night watching the programme, reflecting the significant public interest in the story. “

McCollum sat down with Mr Birney, from Northern Ireland-based Fine Point Films. In her first broadcast interview since her conviction, she said she had been "very naive".

“If the drugs had of got back...I probably would have had a lot of blood on my hands.

The amount of families that would have ruined... I did that, I caused destruction to society and who am I to be able to do that?”

She continued: “ I could have potentially killed a lot of people, not directly but I could have caused a lot of harm to people.

“I don’t think that guilt is ever going to go away because how could I forgive myself for doing that?

“I thought I’m just picking up something and bringing it back, I never thought of the contents and what’s inside and what it could do to people.”

The broadcaster defended its “strong track record” in highlighting the harm caused to individuals and society by illegal drugs and its trade.

“We welcome the public discussion generated by this programme,” the statement added.

She was arrested two-and-a-half years ago for possession of almost €2m worth of the drug.

She and young Scottish woman Melissa Reid, from near Glasgow, who she met on the party island of Ibiza, were stopped in Lima airport with the cocaine hidden in their luggage.

Reid remains in prison in Peru and is seeking to serve the rest of her sentence in Scotland.

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