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Social distancing breaches at RTE farewell ‘very disappointing’ – Taoiseach

Images have emerged of some of the broadcaster’s leading presenters not observing social distancing as they posed for photos at a retirement event.

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RTE has apologised for the incident (PA)

RTE has apologised for the incident (PA)

RTE has apologised for the incident (PA)

The Taoiseach has described the images of RTE presenters disregarding social distancing guidance as “very disappointing”.

Micheal Martin’s comments come after the National Union of Journalists called for an urgent review of what it described as “grave breaches” of Covid-19 guidelines at RTE.

The controversy was sparked after pictures emerged of some of the national broadcaster’s top stars disregarding social distancing measures at a retirement party.

RTE has apologised for the incident, which involved news presenters including Bryan Dobson, David McCullagh and Miriam O’Callaghan.

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Micheal Martin said people in the public eye should lead by example (Brian Lawless/PA)

Micheal Martin said people in the public eye should lead by example (Brian Lawless/PA)

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Micheal Martin said people in the public eye should lead by example (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Taoiseach said the images were “not helpful”.

“They are disappointing,” he told Virgin Media News.

“I think it’s a reminder to us all about our individual and collective behaviour.”

Mr Martin said he hoped there would be learning following the apology.

Asked if the incident had parallels with the controversy around the hosting of an Oireachtas golf society dinner in variance with coronavirus guidance, Mr Martin said the concerns over the golf event were of a “higher order” because they involved “decision makers” on public policy.

“Nonetheless it doesn’t excuse the behaviour and I don’t excuse the behaviour, I think it’s very disappointing,” he added.

“I think particularly those in public life across the broadest sense need to be leading by example.”

Mr Martin stressed that the media in general had led by example during the pandemic and performed an important function in regard to public messaging.

The NUJ has called for action to be taken, with secretary Seamus Dooley warning the incident could undermine RTE’s ability to hold others to account.

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Prime Time presenter Miriam O’Callaghan was among those pictured by the event (Liam McBurney/PA)

Prime Time presenter Miriam O’Callaghan was among those pictured by the event (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Prime Time presenter Miriam O’Callaghan was among those pictured by the event (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Dooley said: “The apology by RTE management is welcome but this incident should not have happened.

“As a trade union representing workers in the building we believe that the Covid committee should examine all aspects of this gathering and put in place measures to ensure that such egregious breaches do not occur again.

“RTE needs to examine all aspects of its management of Covid-19.

“RTE workers have worked extremely hard since March and have held public figures to account for their actions.

“I have been contacted by a number of members who believe this incident has the capacity to undermine that hard-earned trust and confidence.”

RTE has confirmed that a small number of on-screen stars and officials attended what they described as an “impromptu” farewell party for a colleague.

Many of them posed for pictures, without wearing masks or adhering to social distancing guidelines.

I deeply regret not thinking through the consequences of a momentary lapse of judgment. It was wrong and I'm very sorry.Jon Williams, Director of RTE News

RTE said in a statement: “A small number of RTE personnel working on site recently attended a short impromptu gathering in a public area and in the place of work of a long-serving colleague to say farewell on her last day.”

The statement said that while social distancing was observed at last week’s gathering, “a number of those present briefly posed for a photo with their departing colleague, before returning to work.

“These contacts were not close contacts as defined by HSPC guidelines. They were brief casual contact which, while well intentioned, were unnecessarily risky and should not have happened.

“RTE and those involved regret this occurred. Over the last few days we have reminded all staff of their obligations to keep both themselves and the site safe, particularly over the very busy few weeks we are heading into.”

Others who attended include political correspondent Paul Cunningham, presenter Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh, newsreader Eileen Dunne and managing director of RTE News Jon Williams.

Mr Williams said: “I deeply regret not thinking through the consequences of a momentary lapse of judgment. It was wrong and I’m very sorry.”

Mr Dooley said it would be wrong if “exceptional lapses of judgment” were to undermine the work of RTE.

He added: “That is why we are seeking an urgent review, so that lessons can be learned.”

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