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wage drop Loss of stars helps RTÉ cut €480,000 from ‘talent’ payroll

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RTÉ director general Dee Forbes said €60m in savings would be made over three years. Photo: Peter Cavanagh Photography

RTÉ director general Dee Forbes said €60m in savings would be made over three years. Photo: Peter Cavanagh Photography

RTÉ director general Dee Forbes said €60m in savings would be made over three years. Photo: Peter Cavanagh Photography

RTÉ’S claim that its overall bill for ‘top talent’ fell by around €480,000 last year includes the pay of the late Marian Finucane and retired Sean O’Rourke.

The two broadcasters had combined payments of €686,000 in 2019.

Ms Finucane died in January 2020, while Mr O’Rourke left his prime morning slot in May.

The national broadcaster confirmed a 15pc reduction in total fees paid to its 10 highest-paid presenters in 2020. It did not indicate if all presenters received a pay cut.

Some of its biggest stars were also promoted last year.

Claire Byrne who earned €250,000 and was seventh on the list for 2019 took over Mr O’Rourke’s weekday slot with the Today with Claire Byrne show on RTÉ Radio 1, while continuing to present Claire Byrne Live.

Brendan O’Connor, who presented TV programme Cutting Edge, was paid €220,000 in 2019 and last year took over presenting the weekend mid-morning programme following the death of Ms Finucane.

Asked if the pair received pay increases, a RTÉ spokesperson said: “Figures relating to RTÉ’s highest-paid presenters in 2020 will be published in due course, and not before the publication of RTÉ’s annual report for 2020.”

The spokesperson said the broadcaster will continue to keep the fees of its top earners “under constant review” when asked if further cuts would be introduced this year.

Meanwhile, RTÉ’s former group commercial director Willie O’Reilly said the stars are worth the money, describing them as “box office”.

“What these presenters bring to people’s lives has to be categorised as well,” he said.

“They’re very well respected, they’re trusted by the public and they’re very experienced in the role.

"More importantly, it’s what the advertisers want.

“A 30-second commercial in The Late Late Toy Show is €30,000, so one hour of advertising in that show pays for Ryan Tubridy’s entire annual show.”

Ryan Tubridy remains the highest-paid presenter at RTÉ, earning €495,000 a year. However, it is understood he is among those to have since taken a pay cut.

Mr O’Reilly said “RTÉ has come some way” since the Celtic Tiger years when presenters earned more money.

“Let me take you back to 2008, when the presenter of The Late Late Show was almost on one million a year,” he told Newstalk Breakfast. “They were heady times and that was the pay in the day.

“You need to cut your cloth to your measure, of course, but those people who bring you the commercial audiences are even more important in the difficult times”.

The 10 highest-paid stars at the broadcaster shared almost €9.5m between 2017 and 2019.

RTÉ Radio 1 presenters Tubridy, Ray D’Arcy and Joe Duffy have remained the top three highest-earning presenters for the period covered. From 2017-2019, D’Arcy’s annual earnings for presenting his radio and TV show came to €450,000.

Liveline host Duffy was paid fees of €392,494 in 2019.

RTÉ said fees paid to its top 10 presenters represent less than 1pc of its overall operating costs.

Director general Dee Forbes said audiences had turned to national public media “in record numbers” throughout the pandemic.

“They continue to make a significant contribution to public media in Ireland and enable RTÉ to optimise important commercial revenue, which is essential to support our public services,” Ms Forbes said.

“RTÉ has reduced overall annual operating costs by over €100m since 2008 and last year targeted additional savings of €60m over three years, which we are on course to deliver.

"In that context, we continue to keep the fees of our highest-paid presenters under constant review.”

In its 2019 annual report, published last week, RTÉ recorded a deficit of €7.2m.

Most of those named on its best-paid list are contractors – and the figure listed does not include VAT.

They must file their own tax returns and make their own pension contributions, while RTÉ employees are paid salaries and related benefits.

Ms Forbes received €338,000 in 2019, which included a car allowance of €25,000, pension contributions of €63,000 and a salary of €250,000.

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