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RTE hits crisis point as London office closes

INFORMAL representations have been made by staff at RTE to the Irish embassy in London for help to keep RTE's London bureau open.



London editor Brian O'Connell and colleagues are said to be "in shock" over the announcement about the proposed closure of the London bureau -- which they were told of an hour before the news went public.

An RTE source said: "Everyone is reeling at the news, including Brian O'Connell, who has been here since 1989. I don't think it's sunk in yet.

"It is an incredibly well-respected news office -- whenever the prime minister gives a private briefing to the media, it is the only foreign media invited in. Hopefully the Irish embassy will be able to campaign on their behalf to keep it open in some shape or form."

He added: "The team think it is hugely important that RTE has staff on the ground in London. The head of news and current affairs flew over to tell them and it came like a bolt from the blue. Before this they only heard a month ago that there would be some minor changes to the London bureau."

This weekend a spokesperson for the Irish Embassy in London stated: "We are not in a position to comment on the matter at present. We have yet to be informed about the manner in which the office was closed, the conditions that the staff have been offered and what RTE intends to do to cover any future developments that happen here. Obviously it is a great pity, but we have no comment to make at this time."

The London bureau is expected to close in September following the Olympics. Back in Dublin, sources say morale at the station is "horrendous" and over the coming weeks it is "expected to get a lot worse":

"There was a news conference on Friday where managing director of RTE news and current affairs Cillian de Paor addressed the staff. There were questions put to him about what is going to happen in the coming months. Everyone is worried for their jobs. They are working longer hours and harder than ever before," one source said.

"I spoke to one person yesterday who had worked a 14-hour day with no break and another girl was in tears with concern for her job. The feeling is that everything is up for grabs.

"As I understand it, management were told that if it doesn't save the station over €100,000, then don't cut it. So there will be big cuts for big savings."

Sources say regional offices are being looked at, including Dundalk, Sligo, Athlone, Waterford and Belfast.

"With the Fr Reynolds report coming over the next week or so it's not going to do much to help spirits in RTE and many feel these further cuts will lead to more editorial mistakes down the line. We're stretched to the limit as it is."

RTE will make cuts of €25m in total -- with €15m of savings to be sought from staffing costs -- which would be the equivalent of more than 200 redundancies. However, the numbers could be mitigated by savings in shift payments and overtime.

Director general Noel Curran said the station's operating deficit was set to hit €20m by the end of the year. He described the current situation as "not sustainable".

The 30 per cent salary cut previously taken by the top 10 stars will now be extended to the station's top 20 earners, including Sean O'Rourke, Kathryn Thomas, Grainne Seoige and Charlie Bird.

"We have made clear our plan for targeted reductions in top talent fees by the end of 2013," Mr Curran said. "I can confirm that we are on target for in excess of a 30 per cent reduction relative to the 2008 figures."

RTE has already lost 190 staff in a first round of redundancies completed last year.

Sunday Independent