Monday 23 October 2017

Irish in Britain fear they will lose 'lifeline' to home if longwave radio is axed

The longwave 252 radio service was due to be closed in May, but campaigners are asking for commitment from RTÉ that the service will be retained. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
The longwave 252 radio service was due to be closed in May, but campaigners are asking for commitment from RTÉ that the service will be retained. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Gavin White

Many in the Irish community in Britain will lose their "last link with Ireland" if the longwave radio service to the UK is shut down, claim campaigners.

The longwave 252 radio service was due to be closed in May, but campaigners are asking for commitment from RTÉ that the service will be retained.

Many expats who will be affected by the closure are marching in protest in St Patrick's Day parades in the UK.

Enda O'Kane, a campaigner who has worked in radio since 1961, said elderly people who may not have access to smart phones will be particularly affected if the LW252 transmission comes to an end.

"People rely on the service, whether they are first generation, born in Ireland, or third generation," he said.

"A lot of these people are pensioners who can't afford the internet or new mobile phones."

Mr O'Kane said a series of meetings between RTÉ and various stakeholders were held in the Irish embassy last month.

Many of those present aired their frustrations at RTÉ's refusal to commit to retaining the longwave radio service.

"RTÉ has not stated categorically that it will continue the service," he said.

Marches

"Many people have become concerned about the possibility of the service closing in May and people will be marching in the St Patrick's Day parade in Manchester and Leeds," he said.

Mr O'Kane said the service was currently being interrupted by an African channel and that a "minimum cost solution" was available to RTÉ to move the mast slightly to a new open channel.

"When I lived just outside of London, I knew just how important the service is. I listened to the news every day and was able to keep up to date," he said.

"It is very important to retain that link.

"It's the invisible Irish who find it hard to make contact with back home, and can begin to feel lonely if they don't have the service, that are concerned."

Last year, the Social Policy Research Centre at Middlesex University surveyed 3,191 people to examine their listening habits.

The study was supported and funded by Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs and revealed 92pc of respondents listened every day or most days to longwave radio.

Some 44pc listened in the car or in another vehicle.

Speaking about the findings of the survey in the Seanad last month, Independent Senator Billy Lawless said longwave radio was "a lifeline" for many.

"For the majority of respondents, longwave was seen as a lifeline to Ireland, helping them to maintain a sense of Irishness and to keep up with events back home," he said.

He said that there were more then 600,000 Irish-born people living in Britain.

Another campaigner, Myra Butler, said: "Although the 'Irish Post' tells us that we will have the service for another two years, no statement has been forthcoming from RTÉ.

"However, two years is not sufficient; we demand a permanent broadcast.

"We all know that progress is inevitable. But another 10 years perhaps would most likely be acceptable when the generation of which I speak is no more."

Rena Cosgrove, secretary of the Leeds Irish Centre, said: "This wavelength keeps us in touch with events in Ireland, our homeland, and this is very important for the Irish community in Leeds and elsewhere."

A spokesperson for RTÉ said: "Positive progress has been made by the group and it is intended that an announcement will be forthcoming in the coming weeks."

Irish Independent

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