She’s been one of the most familiar faces on our television screens for over 30 years – a reassuring, calm presence and voice bringing the big stories of the day into homes across Northern Ireland.
But after 33 years with BBC NI, Donna Traynor has announced she is leaving her job ‘with immediate effect’ and is unable to elaborate on her decision due to an ‘ongoing employment tribunal and legal proceedings’.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Monday, she said: “It is with deep sadness that, after almost 33 years, I am leaving the job that I love and resigning from BBC Northern Ireland with immediate effect.
“Because this is the subject of ongoing Employment Tribunal and other legal proceedings, I am not able to respond to any questions or comments about my reasons for leaving the organisation.”
News of Ms Traynor’s departure was greeted with disappointment and some surprise, with BBC NI viewers on social media saying they would miss her professionalism and impartiality.
The 56-year-old, who was born in Lisburn and brought up in Dublin, was best known for her role as the main anchor of BBC NI’s evening show Newsline. She also hosted Children in Need and a number of other factual broadcasts on both BBC NI radio and TV.
Such was her profile and popularity, Ms Traynor even made a cameo appearance in Lisa McGee’s hit Channel 4 show Derry Girls. She popped up in an episode in series two in 2019, playing herself in her BBC NI newsreader’s role.
The show’s creator later revealed that producers hadn’t used archive footage of the presenter but had shot it specifically for Derry Girls in the present day, saying that Ms Traynor hadn’t aged in 25 years.
Married to fellow broadcaster Ronan Kelly, Ms Traynor joined BBC NI in 1989, after relocating from RTE in Dublin. She began her career at Broadcasting House presenting news bulletins on Radio Ulster for several years before moving into TV.
Ms Traynor was the presenter at the station who delivered the news of the IRA’s first ceasefire in August 1994 and was at the helm of bringing many of Northern Ireland’s biggest stories into local living rooms since the mid 1990s.
In 2020 she was absent from our TV screens for three months while recovering from an operation. In December that year she announced she was ready to return to the early evening Newsline slot, saying she was delighted to be back.
A spokesperson for BBC NI said at the time: “We’re pleased to have Donna back on air.”
Her departure is the latest high-profile exit from the corporation in the last few years. In 2019, it was announced that Seamus McKee, Noel Thompson, Karen Patterson and Wendy Austin would all be stepping down from presenting some of Radio Ulster’s biggest shows.
At the time, the BBC said the presenters had taken the opportunity to stand down following a review into its schedules and programmes, and would be taking on new challenges and enjoying ‘a change of pace’.
In an interview about her decision to stand down, Ms Austin, considered a trailblazer for female broadcasters in Northern Ireland, said there had been positive developments within the BBC but that more could be done. Citing a report in 2017 that showed a pay disparity between men and women working at the BBC, she said: “There have been enormous changes, but there are definitely still more barricades for women in the workplace than there are for men.”
Last year four of the corporation’s best-known journalists announced they were leaving BBC NI after deciding to take voluntary redundancy. All four – political editor Mark Devenport, senior journalists Maggie Taggart and Mervyn Jess and investigations correspondent Kevin Magee – worked at the BBC for a number of decades.
In recent years the corporation has been rocked by several bullying and harassment cases, some of which have been settled. Una Carlin worked at BBC NI from 2001 to 2015 and was chief spokesperson during that time. She sued the BBC over bullying and harassment claims and reached a £100,000 settlement in February.
Ms Carlin had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) after leaving the organisation to prevent her from speaking publicly about her case. However, the BBC has said that it no longer uses NDAs, also known as ‘gagging clauses’.
And former BBC NI employees told the Sunday Independent that alleged workplace bullying cases were “just the tip of the iceberg”. One said his case was “continually dragged out” after lodging a bullying complaint.