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Monday 24 October 2016

RTÉ interview with criminal 'glamorised' cocaine trafficking

Martin Grant and Laura Larkin

Published 05/04/2016 | 02:30

Gemma Collins: manager of youth addiction project criticised RTÉ
Gemma Collins: manager of youth addiction project criticised RTÉ

Anti-drug campaigners have criticised the controversial RTÉ interview with cocaine smuggler Michaella McCollum saying it "glamorised" drug trafficking.

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And the State broadcaster is refusing to answer questions about whether it paid expenses to either the criminal or her family.

However, RTÉ has defended the programme and said it did not pay Ms McCollum for her "frank admissions". Montrose officials refused to answer questions on whether expenses had been paid for either the convicted criminal or her family, citing "commercial sensitivity".

Gemma Collins, who works with children addicted to drugs in Dublin's north-inner city, said she believed the interview "glamorised" drug smuggling.

The manager of the Crinan Youth Project warned the programme may encourage people to commit smuggling offences, saying: "I was left thinking that if I was a young person watching that - and she is after getting out after two-and-a-half years - a young person might be thinking that it's worth the risk.

"The whole thing felt staged and false, like a box that needed to be ticked. I think there would have been people that would have been better interviewing her. She could have been pressed on lots of other things."

RTÉ maintains neither Mr McCollum nor her family were paid for the interview, which was watched by an average of 550,000 viewers. However, it failed to reveal whether any expenses had been paid to either the drug mule or her family, saying: "Production costs are commercially sensitive."

The station also confirmed it had received 83 calls and emails on the programme. RTÉ admitted the programme was "controversial and divisive" but defended the broadcast.

"RTÉ has a strong track record in highlighting the harm caused to individuals and society by illegal drugs and its trade and we welcome the public discussion generated by this programme," it said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed it is still providing assistance to McCollum and her family. A spokeswoman said the Irish Embassy in Mexico and the Honorary Consul in Lima "continues to provide consular assistance to Ms McCollum and her family, as we have done since 2013".

Ms McCollum needs to be "brutally honest" and shun celebrity to deserve a second chance, a former senior PSNI officer said.

Jim Gamble, an online safety expert who used to head the Northern Ireland Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, dismissed the interview as "choreographed" saying she was not properly challenged.

"If she wants to get into the talk show circuit then my advice would be don't because you are going to antagonise as many people as you will get sympathy from," he argued.

"I really mean this for her family and for her, she'd be far better if she genuinely feels the remorse that she says she does by allowing the public, and people who are cynical like me, to judge her on the basis of what she does not what she says."

Irish Independent

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