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  • Writer's pictureBrian

Land Sale second act in RTÉ Drama

Updated: Oct 15, 2023

The Government is implementing a long-term plan to shrink the state broadcaster and to directly fund private media corporations

Part of newspaper front page
Front page of Evening Herald, 12 July 2023.

In July 2023, the media engaged in a weeks-long frenzy in response to the RTÉ hidden payments affair, this has continued relentlessly ever since. It was revealed that a secret account was established to pay extra funds to a star presenter, Ryan Tubridy. However, the response to the saga shows that the sale of the RTÉ Donnybrook campus itself, which has been in the planning stage since 2015, is one of the main policy goals behind this manufactured hysteria.

Much of the exultant reporting over the payment scandal was fronted by RTE media rivals, these would benefit from any action on the part of the Government to shrink the state broadcaster's predominant market base. In a radical policy change in 2016, Fine Gael stated that a share of the new broadcasting charge would be provided to private media outlets, not only the national broadcaster.

The new Director-General immediately raised a long-standing plan to offload part or all of the Donnybrook headquarters. This 'revival' of a moribund plan to sell the Montrose facility strongly suggests prior consultation with the Government on operational guidelines for divestment. In fact, the sale or “land-swap” of Montrose was Government policy from 2015 onwards, seemingly regardless of cost.

Woman being filmed by TV camera
RTÉ's media rivals stand to gain financially from the current crisis

The question also remains as to why another expensive headquarters should be provided for RTE at Donnybrook or elsewhere, rented or otherwise, when the alleged concern is RTE overspending. This issue was also noted by RTE management in 2021.

In 2013, a National Treasury Management Agency (NewEra) inventory of the broadcaster's assets asserted about the RTÉ headquarters that 40% of the Donnybrook site was either undeveloped was or used as a car park and recommended that "various options concerning the site should be developed with robust analysis of costs and benefits - all options should be considered, from no sale of the site, partial sale of the site, full sale/land swap." The NTMA stated that RTÉ could consider selling the site in its entirety to move to a new location as 'there is no imperative, in our view, that it need remain in Donnybrook."

The station recorded a small €1.1 million surplus in 2013, indicating some recovery from the 2008 recession. Nonetheless, an RTÉ working group began examining the possibility of selling a portion of the site and reported to the minister in 2015. The NewEra review failed to explain why the lands are not simply retained for future broadcasting use as the infrastructure exists on Montrose. Notably, the report refused to consider making Donnybrook a base for national film and media production more generally.

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