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UTV Ireland to keep using staff in Belfast after channel's sale

By Margaret Canning

UTV staff in Belfast are to continue providing some services to UTV Ireland after the sale of the Dublin-based channel received regulatory approval in the Republic, it has emerged.

UTV Ireland was part of the TV assets sold by UTV in Belfast to ITV earlier this year in a £100m deal.

But ITV is now selling the channel on to Virgin Media, part of US giant Liberty Global, for €10m.

The launch of UTV Ireland in January last year led to crippling losses for UTV, and disappointing ratings for many of its programmes.

Virgin Media already owns commercial TV channel TV3 in the Republic - and the deal to buy UTV Ireland now gives it access to top-rating ITV programmes.

It's understood that seven Belfast staff employed in 'play-out' - the actual transmission of programmes for UTV Ireland - will continue to provide the service for at least three months after completion under a transition services agreement.

However, Virgin Media can terminate the agreement on one month's notice - and may also extend it to six months.

Play-out for UTV in Northern Ireland has been handled by ITV staff in Chiswick in England since October.

Tony Hanway, chief executive of Virgin Media in Ireland, said the deal to buy UTV Ireland followed its purchase of TV3 last year "and we look forward to playing an even bigger role in the Irish broadcasting sector".

ITV has made a number of cuts in Belfast since buying UTV, with 43 support jobs - around a third of the workforce - to be cut before the end of the year.

The seven jobs in play-out are among the 43 at-risk posts - though some redeployment opportunities are available.

ITV has also said that UTV will vacate its historic Havelock House headquarters on Belfast's Ormeau Road in 2018 to set up in new premises.

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