RTE maintains no payment made to Michaella McCollum amid public backlash over interview

NewsBy Sunday World
Family members try to block the drug mule from cameras (Pc: Mark Condren)
Family members try to block the drug mule from cameras (Pc: Mark Condren)

RTE has insisted that Michaella McCollum was not paid for her sit-down interview in Peru – but would not comment as to whether her family obtained any benefit.

The soft-focus interview with the convicted drug smuggler was widely panned by members of the public.

The interview, an RTE production, was carried out by journalist Trevor Birney from Fine Point Films working in Northern Ireland.

Sources told the Herald that RTE, Fine Point Films and Michaella all signed a number of confidentiality agreements prior to its production. 

RTE, funded by taxpayers' money, later moved to clarify that it did not pay the ex-lag for the interview.

However, when asked, a spokesman wouldn't confirm or deny whether any expenses were paid to friends or family.

"I can't disclose or discuss any of the production costs around the documentary apart from the fact that Michaella  McCollum wasn't paid," a spokesman told the Herald.

"Michaella McCollum did not get paid for the interview and any other production and staffing costs are commercially sensitive and won't be disclosed."

The interview centered on questions about her hairstyle and her future plans rather than probing her on the drug gangs she worked with.

In the interview, Michaella said she wanted to demonstrate that she is a "good person" after serving time for trying to smuggle drugs out of Peru.

Michaella (23) was arrested in 2013 for possession of almost €2m worth of smuggled cocaine. She and Scottish woman Melissa Reid were apprehended at Lima airport with the cocaine hidden in their luggage.

Michaella was holidaying in Ibiza when she disappeared before turning up a week-and-a-half later in Lima.

She added that she was strip-searched and handcuffed to a chair after being stopped by airport security.

"It didn't feel real. I didn't feel like that was really happening. I was scared. I wanted to curl up in a ball and die.

"I wanted to run away, but there was no running away."

She went on to say that the experience in the security's main office at the airport was the first of many "breakdowns" she would have over her two years in jail.

The Tyrone woman told RTE that her release last Friday "feels like it's not real", and said she "didn't know how to say no to somebody" when she was young.

During last night's interview, Ms McCollum said she now regretted the crime.

"I made a decision in a moment of madness… I'm not a bad person," she said. "I want to demonstrate that I'm a good person.

"If the drugs had gotten back [to Europe], what could have happened, I probably would have had a lot of blood on my hands."

She has been in jail for over two years after she was found guilty of attempting to bring more than 5kg of cocaine to Spain.

Last weekend was the Dungannon woman's first taste of freedom since 2013, but she is set to remain in Peru for the foreseeable future.

"It feels like a dream," she said. "It feels like I'm going to wake up at any moment and be back in a nightmare."

In her first interview since her conviction, she said she had been "very naive".

"I was so young, very insecure. A lot of times I didn't know how to say no to somebody. I kind of just followed along with it.

"I've forgotten the things that everybody takes for granted. Seeing the sun, seeing the darkness, seeing the moon and the stars."

The Twitter reaction to the TV interview heavily lent towards a view of scepticism, disbelief and mockery as the public outrage over the interview continues:

Adam Cullen, Jane O'Faherty and Ryan Nugent