Urgent review sought of “grave breaches” of Covid-19 guidelines at RTÉ retirement function
The secretary of the NUJ said the incident has the capacity to undermine trust in RTÉ staff who have held public figures to account for their actions.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has requested an urgent review of all of the circumstances surrounding a retirement function in RTÉ earlier this month, at which it said there were “grave breaches” of Covid-19 guidelines and regulations.
Photographs of the event - in which RTÉ staff were seen not wearing masks and not observing social distancing guidelines - appeared in the Irish Sun newspaper on Friday, prompting RTÉ to apologise for the incident.
Four high-profile members of RTÉ staff - RTÉ News Managing Director Jon Williams, as well as Bryan Dobson, Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullagh – have also all issued individual apologies, saying they “deeply regret” their attendance at the event.
In response, Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the NUJ, has asked the RTÉ Trade Union Group to seek an urgent meeting of the joint employer-employee Covid-19 group within the organisation, a request that was conveyed on Friday morning.
“The apology by RTÉ management is welcome but this incident should not have happened,” said Dooley.
“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. RTÉ needs to examine all aspects of its management of Covid-19.”
“RTÉ workers have worked extremely hard since March and have held public figures to account for their actions,” Dooley added.
“I have been contacted by a number of members who believe this incident has the capacity to undermine that hard earned trust and confidence.
“I acknowledge that throughout the organisation, RTÉ workers at every level have met the enormous challenges posed by Covid-19.
“It would be wrong if exceptional lapses of judgement were to detract from that work on the part of everyone at RTÉ including senior management. That is why we are seeking an urgent review, so that lessons can be learned.”
A statement released to JOE on Friday morning about the function read:
"RTÉ takes public health advice with the utmost seriousness and has implemented detailed workplace protocols which have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic. These have been essential in keeping staff and visitors /programme guests safe whilst on site. Because of the measures taken by RTÉ, no cases of Covid-19 have so far been transmitted on campus.
"A small number of RTÉ 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.
"While social distancing was observed overall and in compliance with RTÉ's site protocols, as photos in the press today show, 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 contacts which, while well intentioned, were unnecessarily risky and should not have happened.
"RTÉ 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."