By Adam Shaw
Plans are underway to replace RTÉ’s Longwave 252 service with a digital service upon its closure in June 2019.
A statement released by the consultative group tasked with addressing the issue confirmed that the new service modelled from RTÉ Radio 1 would be launched on DAB+ Digital Radio.
The broadcast will cover Britain’s main urban centres and will provide listeners with a conventional radio experience on sets costing as little as £30.
Details of the service are still being worked out but it is likely to include a limited amount of new targeted programming commissioned for audiences in Britain.
“I am delighted that there is now a way forward that takes into account as much as possible the views of older members of the Irish community in Britain,” said Irish Minister for the Diaspora, Joe McHugh.
“The research we funded on this issue has made clear that RTÉ Radio is a fantastic resource for Irish people in Britain.
“I’d like also to acknowledge the leadership the Irish community in Britain has shown on this.”
A study undertaken by Middlesex University in January last year found that the longwave service represented a “lifeline” to Ireland for many listeners in Britain.
The majority of listeners were over 60, born in Ireland and retired. And while nearly six in ten lived with a partner, more than a third lived alone.
On the whole, the research showed that listeners were reluctant or unable to switch to a digital service.
But members of the consultative group and the Irish community have agreed that introducing the DAB+ service is the best solution.
Dee Forbes, Director-General at RTÉ, said: “This is about listening, compromising and forging a way forward in partnership.
“Longwave as a technology is no longer viable in the long-term. It is crucial that we work with all partner bodies to evolve a replacement service and that RTÉ plays its part in supporting evolving technologies.
“I’m confident we have a meaningful solution and the goodwill to make a success of it for audiences in the UK.”
Patrick Morrison, Chair of Irish in Britain, called it a “happy medium” and added that he “looked forward to working in partnership” with RTÉ, while Tyneside Irish Centre Secretary, Tony Corcoran, was more than satisfied with the decision.
“Most people who have a service now will have an enhanced or better service. Those who have no service will have a new service. This is to be welcomed,” he said.
The Longwave 252 service has been transmitted by Ireland’s national broadcaster since 2004.
It was announced in September 2014 that it was to close but, following a response from the Irish community in Britain, a decision was taken to defer this until 2017.
A consultative group compromised of RTÉ, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Irish in Britain was then set up to discuss the future of the service.
It acknowledged that while the longwave service does not have a long term future, the extension of four-and-a-half years from the original closure date is a welcome result, as is the proposal of a replacement.
Sally Mulready, Founder of the Irish Elderly Advice Network and Member of the Council of State, praised the work of all sides in helping achieve this.
She said: “We have come a long way since this issue was first addressed, in communicating the Irish community’s strong links with home.
“The proposals going forward will succeed because RTÉ engaged with our community in a supportive and imaginative way.”
The longwave service will continue to be broadcast until June 2019, while the details of the new service are finalised.