Saturday 3 December 2016

RTE refuse to say if they paid Michaella fund as outrage over interview grows

RTÉ programme sparks viewer outrage in social media posts

Jane O'Faherty and Ryan Nugent

Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30

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

RTÉ will not say how much licence fee payers' money benefited drug trafficker Michaella McCollum or her family for her first interview since her release from prison.

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The State broadcaster has insisted it did not pay the convicted criminal, but refused to comment on whether the McCollum family received a fee or expenses or if money was paid to the Michaella McCollum fund.

RTÉ was forced to defend last night's soft-soap interview and tweeted that it had not paid McCollum after a backlash from the public.

Members of the public reacted angrily to an interview that focused more on her new blonde look than on the drug gangs she worked for.

Michaella McCollum Connolly walking in Lima after her release from prison in Peru.
Pic:Mark Condren
Michaella McCollum Connolly walking in Lima after her release from prison in Peru. Pic:Mark Condren

READ MORE: Michael O'Doherty: Michaella's drug smuggling looks like it's going to pay off for her after all  

Viewers took to Twitter to question why the broadcaster was giving a convicted criminal prime air time.

Tweeters hit out at the 23-year-old Co Tyrone woman, saying they did not believe a word she said and had zero sympathy for her.

Responding on Twitter, RTÉ said it had not paid McCollum for the interview and reiterated this stance to repeated media queries.

Michaella McCollum Connolly hiding in a back of taxi with her family after running down side streets from photographers.
Pic:Mark Condren
Michaella McCollum Connolly hiding in a back of taxi with her family after running down side streets from photographers. Pic:Mark Condren

"It's an RTÉ production and Michaela McCollum was not paid," it said.

"It's an RTÉ production - the guy doing the interview, Trevor Birney, is from Fine Point Films. He's working for us.

"Nobody paid for the interview. Categorically nobody paid for the interview. Trevor Birney is just a producer/director from that part of the world and has done a lot of that kind of work."

RTÉ further refused to say if it had paid money or provided benefit to McCollum's family, who are in Lima with her.

When asked if her family had benefited, an RTÉ spokesman replied: "I won't be adding to what I said earlier.

"Michaella McCollum did not get paid for the interview and any other production and staffing costs are commercially sensitive and won't be disclosed. We won't be disclosing any production costs around the documentary."

READ MORE: Exclusive: Drug trafficker flees from our reporter after begging for forgiveness in RTE interview

Pressed on whether the McCollum family received funds, expenses or if money was paid to the Michaella McCollum fund, the spokesman replied: "I can't disclose or discuss any of the production costs around the documentary apart from the fact that Michaella McCollum wasn't paid."

Sources told the Irish Independent that RTÉ, interviewer Trevor Birney and McCollum signed a number of confidentiality agreements prior to the interview being filmed.

RTÉ also refused to divulge what other costs were involved in the interview.

"Any other staffing/production costs would be commercially sensitive and not for disclosure," it said.

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".

"I was so young, very insecure," she said.

"A lot of times I didn't know how to say no to somebody. I kind of just followed along with it."

She said she now regretted her crime. "I made a decision in a moment of madness. I'm not a bad person," she said.

READ MORE: Michael O'Doherty: Michaella's drug smuggling looks like it's going to pay off for her after all

"I want to demonstrate that I'm a good person."

McCollum has been in jail for more than two years after she was found guilty of attempting to smuggle more than 5kg of cocaine to Spain.

Now aged 23, 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.

Irish Independent

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