Sorry Bryan Dobson apologises for RTÉ gathering on News at One
"I'm sorry to everyone who has sacrificed so much in recent months and lost loved ones"
RTÉ broadcaster Bryan Dobson has offered an unreserved apology for his involvement in an RTÉ gathering that has sparked controversy as many of the network's flagship presenters were seen posing for photographs without masks and not following social distancing guidelines.
Broadcasters such as Miriam O'Callaghan, David McCullagh and Dobson were pictured alongside a retiring colleague in what RTÉ called "unneccesarily risky" behaviour they say should not have taken place.
At the beginning of his News at One programme, Dobson accepted responsibility for his actions and apologised to the nation.
"I'm sorry to everyone who has sacrificed so much in recent months and lost loved ones. To those that are living with the after effects of the infection and to those who have lost their jobs, livelihoods or businesses, and to those who have been isolated from family and friends.
"On this programme we have vigorously debated Covid-19 measures, but what is not disputed is that each of us should make every effort to observe the restrictions in place.
"I'd be very concerned if any actions of mine undermined that vital lifesaving public health advice," Mr Dobson said.
The national broadcaster last night confirmed a “small number” of officials and on-screen talent attended a low-key party held on the Montrose site earlier this month.
All three presenters have apologised and an RTÉ spokesperson said that both 'RTÉ and those involved regret this occurred."
Dr Gabriel Scally, President of Epidemiology & Public Health at the Royal Society of Medicine said the photos left him “speechless.”
Speaking on Today with Claire Byrne, Dr Scally said the photos were astounding.
“People with their arms around each other. Amazingly, photos of people close together, standing on a mat which says keep at least two meters distance. They’re standing on the mat which says to keep their distance of two metres apart and there they are with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
“I understand the view will be it was a momentary lapse of caution but... I think it is astounding,” Dr Scally said.
Dr Scally said he was glad to hear those involved quickly apologised for the “irresponsible and terrible lapse by quite a number of people”.
The public health doctor said that this is a good opportunity for RTÉ to say sorry and “be part of this really clear message going out that we have got to be more responsible than ever”.
Political Correspondent Paul Cunningham, Nine O’Clock News presenter Eileen Dunne, RTÉ News Managing Director Jon Williams, RTÉ News Deputy MD Hilary McGouran and presenter Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh were also pictured at the “short impromptu gathering”.
In a note to newsroom staff today, RTÉ’s Head of News Jon Williams apologised to colleagues for the embarrassment caused by the photographs.
“It was only for a moment and it was done with the best of intentions – as indeed were the actions of other colleagues. But it was wrong. And I’m very sorry,” he wrote.
The internal mail, seen by Independent.ie, described the gathering as an “impromptu farewell for a colleague who was retiring after 40 years”.
“A small number of us who were in work on the day gathered to say goodbye. While social distancing was observed overall and it was in compliance with RTÉ’s site protocols, afterwards, some of us posed briefly for a photo with our retiring colleague.”
Mr Williams said he was “particularly sorry that, after so many people have worked so hard across News and Current Affairs – and throughout RTÉ – during the pandemic, we’re making the news for the wrong reasons”.
In a statement on the matter, RTÉ said: “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.”
The statement goes on to admit that the “brief, casual contacts” were “unnecessarily risky” and “should not have happened.”
“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,” the statement read.
RTÉ say they and those involved “regret” that the incident occurred and have reminded all staff of their obligations to keep both themselves and the site safe.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) "has requested an urgent review of all of the circumstances" surrounding the incident.
In a statement, Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary said: "The apology by RTÉ 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. 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. 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.
"Through the RTÉ Trade Union Group we will be seeking the urgent establishment of a Health and Safety Committee in RTÉ. We have previously pointed out that the lack of a Health and Safety committee is in breach of RTÉ’s statutory obligations. While the establishment of such a committee has been on hold, recent events demonstrate the urgent need for greater oversight and formal input by worker representatives, in accordance with Section 25 of the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act."
Health experts urged those in the public eye to set a “good example”.
Bryan Dobson, anchor of RTÉ News at One, “unreservedly apologised” for attending the get-together, adding: “I deeply regret what was a momentary but nonetheless serious lapse of judgement”.
Primetime’s Miriam O’Callaghan also expressed her remorse, saying: "I am so sorry and deeply regret and apologise for an error of judgement on my part," while Six One News presenter, David McCullagh said: “I apologise sincerely for an error of judgement which I deeply regret.”
Jon Williams, Managing Director News & Current Affairs said: "I deeply regret not thinking through the consequences of a momentary lapse of judgement. It was wrong and I'm very sorry.”
On Morning Ireland today presenter Mary Wilson said the RTÉ incident was “a good example” of the complacency Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan is trying to make the public aware of.
HSE boss Paul Reid said he always tries “to avoid demonizing people” but added that he knows of a separate example where eight people attended a meeting in recent days without masks and all eight later tested positive for Covid-19.
Mr Reid urged people to continue doing the basics such as practising social distancing and wearing face masks as he pointed out while the country has made “good progress” in the last four weeks, “there is still some way to go”.
Mr Reid said it was “imperative” rates of transmission of the virus are lowered before the country leaves Level 5 restrictions in December.
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