Thursday 20 June 2019

Lawyers brought into wrangle over Martina Fitzgerald's role at RTE

Martina Fitzgerald. Picture: Damien Eagers
Martina Fitzgerald. Picture: Damien Eagers
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Martina Fitzgerald's future at RTE is at the centre of legal talks after both sides sought legal advice to handle the fallout from the station's decision to replace her as political correspondent.

Solicitors representing Ms Fitzgerald and RTE have been in contact about the former political broadcaster's future at Montrose.

Ms Fitzgerald was left devastated when RTE chiefs decided not to renew her political correspondent contract and send her back to the newsroom to work as a reporter after spending five years in a senior position.

However, it is hoped an arrangement can be reached with RTE which would see her return to a senior on-air role.

Ms Fitzgerald consulted with solicitors after she was replaced and it is understood her legal team have made contact with RTE.

"Contact has been made between lawyers for RTE and Martina's legal team with a view to reaching an agreement on her future in RTE," a source said.

"To date RTE has said Martina would return to the newsroom which would be seen as a demotion but discussions are seen as a departure from that," the source said.

RTE correspondent positions are reviewed every five years which meant Ms Fitzgerald had to reapply for the job. Senior RTE political staff member Paul Cunningham also applied for the role which was advertised internally as an open competition.

RTE released a statement announcing Mr Cunningham's appointment as political correspondent. The statement did not mention Ms Fitzgerald. Mr Cunningham is a highly regarded and award-winning journalist who has worked at RTE for 25 years. He previously held the positions of environment and Europe correspondent.

Meanwhile, it emerged last week the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is seeking an urgent meeting with RTE management to discuss the contract arrangement at the centre of the decision to replace Ms Fitzgerald as a political correspondent.

RTE union members raised concern with management in February over the practice of offering five-year fixed term contracts to special correspondents. The demand for a meeting with management is not directly related to Ms Fitzgerald's situation.

RTE newsroom union members passed a motion instructing their representatives "to convey unhappiness with the [fixed term] arrangements and to enter into negotiations in order to reach an agreement that will address these concerns and will form the basis for the appointment of correspondent posts from now on."

In a statement, the union said its members have yet to receive a response from RTE management.

"The current arrangements were put in place in 2012. They were the outcome of discussions based on proposals which management believed would lead to enhanced career progression," said NUJ secretary Seamus Dooley.

An RTE spokesperson said: "RTE agreed to fixed term correspondency appointment changes originally proposed by its own staff members in 2012 which would allow for greater promotional opportunities and movement for staff."

Sunday Independent

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