Many of RTÉ’s top stars have come under fire for their attendance at an “impromptu gathering” to mark the retirement of a colleague in their Montrose studios earlier this month, and the high-profile stars have been quick to accept responsibility and apologise.
Miriam O’Callaghan, David McCullagh, Bryan Dobson were among the well-known attendees of the event that has drawn criticism far and wide, including from Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
The images released yesterday appeared to not sit well with many as Joe Duffy’s switchboards were lit up with people voicing their anger.
Duffy yesterday said that the incident had sent “shockwaves” through the “organisation” itself.
A review is to be conducted next week into “all the circumstances” which led to the breach of regulations after an internal backlash.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also called the images of some of RTÉ top stars “disappointing” and said those in public life “need to be leading by example”.
One RTÉ journalist also vented their frustration at the incident, telling the Irish Independent: “We can’t talk to each other at our desks, we can’t go for coffee or share birthday cake, we’re in every day exposing ourselves and putting ourselves at risk and working to serve the public and then this goes and undoes it all.”
The Deputy Mayor of South County Dublin, Councillor David McManus has called for RTÉ to take stronger action following the "blatant breach" of social distancing.
The Fine Gael Councillor said RTÉ’s statement fails to mention if any lessons will be learned or "if any individuals will face any consequences” due the “fiasco”.
The Councillor continued: “Three RTÉ presenters that breached guidelines were at work on Friday and appeared on radio and television which signals that they will face no consequences. All they can offer is an apology, but it’s just words.
“The response from RTÉ has been bizarre and inadequate when they had three presenters appearing on radio and TV to question public officials and Government Ministers about lockdown measures. RTÉ is the state broadcaster in receipt of €189 million of state funding. Where is Dee Forbes, their Director-General?” the Deputy Mayor said.
Councillor McManus said Phil Hogan “was chased by these RTÉ presenters” to ensure accountability.
“Phil Hogan resigned but will RTÉ be held to account? If not, it’s double standards. Ordinary people cannot visit other households, they cannot attend mass - meanwhile RTÉ staff threw a party and posed for photos. It looks like the state broadcaster lives in another universe.
“There are great staff in RTÉ and unfortunately, they have been let down by some presenters and the inadequate response to this fiasco by RTÉ management. Ultimately, politicians are accountable to the people every five years at the ballot box. Who is RTÉ accountable to for the €189 million in state funding that they receive?” McManus said.
The organisers of the gathering could also face prosecution as gardai have begun an inquiry into the event.
In a statement to the Sunday World, a garda spokesperson said: ”An Garda Síochána is carrying out enquiries focused on the organisers into an alleged event as described and the advices of the Director of Public Prosecutions will be sought in respect of any further actions to be taken.
“Personal responsibility in attendance, social distancing, wearing of masks (other than on public transport and in commercial premises) and other such public health guidelines are not penal regulations.
“The Covid-19 pandemic remains a public health crisis and An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to all citizens to comply with Public Health Guidelines and Regulations in order to continue to save lives.”
Independent.ie has listed the RTÉ stars that were in attendance and their apologies after the photographs were revealed.
David McCullagh: “I am unfortunately one of the people who failed to properly observe social distancing here in RTÉ last week. It was an error of judgement which I deeply regret, for which I take full responsibility, and for which I unreservedly apologise to you, our audience,” he said.
“None of us can afford to let down our guard, even for a moment, and I am very, very sorry that I failed to do the right thing on this occasion
Bryan Dobson: RTÉ broadcaster Bryan Dobson also offered an unreserved apology for his involvement in the event on his News at One radio programme on Friday.
At the beginning of his News at One programme, Mr Dobson accepted responsibility for his actions and apologised to the nation.
"I'm sorry to everyone who has sacrificed so much in recent months and lost loved ones. To those that are living with the after effects of the infection and to those who have lost their jobs, livelihoods or businesses, and to those who have been isolated from family and friends.
"On this programme we have vigorously debated Covid-19 measures, but what is not disputed is that each of us should make every effort to observe the restrictions in place.
"I'd be very concerned if any actions of mine undermined that vital lifesaving public health advice," Mr Dobson said.
Miriam O’Callaghan: The Prime Time presenter issued a short apology accepting full responsibility saying she “deeply regrets” the incident.
"I am so sorry and deeply regret and apologise for an error of judgement on my part."
Eileen Dunne: The RTÉ News stalwart issued a full apology while on air on Friday’s Nine O’Clock News.
“Hands up, as you’ve seen, I too was photographed at the farewell for Phil and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise for my lack of judgement, particularly to RTÉ colleagues who have worked so hard to keep this campus Covid-free over the past eight months,” she said. “I’ve let you all down and I’m sorry.”
Paul Cunningham: Political correspondent Paul Cunningham said: “Everyone should make every effort to abide by the Covid-19 guidelines. I want to apologise unreservedly for not observing those measures fully when posing for a photograph with a colleague. It shouldn't have happened.”
Jon Williams: RTÉ’s Head of News Jon Williams apologised to colleagues for the embarrassment caused by the photographs.
“It was only for a moment and it was done with the best of intentions – as indeed were the actions of other colleagues. But it was wrong. And I’m very sorry,” he wrote.
The internal mail, seen by Independent.ie, described the gathering as an “impromptu farewell for a colleague who was retiring after 40 years”.
“A small number of us who were in work on the day gathered to say goodbye. While social distancing was observed overall and it was in compliance with RTÉ’s site protocols, afterwards, some of us posed briefly for a photo with our retiring colleague.”
Mr Williams said he was “particularly sorry that, after so many people have worked so hard across News and Current Affairs – and throughout RTÉ – during the pandemic, we’re making the news for the wrong reasons”.
Presenter Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh was also in attendance at the event.