The programmes, the personalities, the politics – on and off-screen

The 1990s

The 1990s were a decade of Eurovision victory for the Irish. Following Linda Martin's win with ‘Why Me?’ in the 1992 song contest in Malmo, Sweden, Fionnuala Sweeney hosted the competition the following year from Millstreet, County Cork. There Niamh Kavanagh won with ‘In Your Eyes’, bringing the contest back to Ireland for the second year in a row. The Point was the venue in 1994; presenters were Gerry Ryan and Cynthia Ní Mhurchú; and Ireland won for a third time in as many years. 'Rock 'n' Roll Kids' by Brendan Graham, performed by Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan, was the victorious song but it was the interval act 'Riverdance' that stole the show. With music and lyrics written by Bill Whelan, it mixed the traditional and modern, choral singing and Irish dancing, and presented them in a totally new way, to over 300 million European viewers. From this interval act came 'Riverdance' the globally successful show. In 1996 Ireland won Eurovision once more, with 'The Voice' by Brendan Graham, performed by Eimear Quinn, at Oslo, Norway. The contest returned to The Point the following year, presented by Carrie Crowley and Ronan Keating.

Winning Streak began in 1990, presented originally by Marty Whelan. Contestants selected through The National Lottery scratch cards, competed for a chance to win holidays, cars, and big cash prizes, funded by The National Lottery, as is still the case.

RTÉ established the Independent Productions Unit (IPU) as part of its response to the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act 1993. It was created within the station's Television Programmes Division to enhance the service to viewers by expanding the range and diversity of Irish-made programmes on our screens and to foster new sources of creativity and energy within the independent television production sector. The IPU works by commissioning programmes from a wide range of independent producers and these programmes have become a key ingredient in the overall television schedule. Many continue to earn both popular and critical acclaim, and bear witness to the IPU's consolidation of independent sector talent.

In August 1994 the IRA ceasefire was announced when the RTÉ Newsroom received a cassette and a written message from the IRA confirming the details of the ceasefire.

RTÉ News appointed Mark Little as its first Washington Correspondent in 1995. The post has since been filled by Carol Coleman, Robert Shortt, Charlie Bird, and Richard Downes.

In 1996, Teilifís na Gaeilge, RTÉ's sister Irish language channel, was set up under the statutory umbrella of RTÉ. The station later changed its name to TG4. The channel's energy, vision and emphasis on innovation and emerging talent has won its programmes critical acclaim, numerous awards and commendations at prestigious national and international festivals. In 2007 TG4 became an independent statutory entity. RTÉ has commissioned and made many series for TG4, among them the big studio shows ‘Glas Vegas’, ‘An Jig Gig’, ‘Feis and Blood’ and many studio-based children’s shows.

The introduction of burnt-in subtitles on Irish Language programmes on RTÉ in 1996 had the effect of increasing audiences for those shows. Over 200,000 people now regularly watch the Monday evening Irish programme slot, featuring series such as Scannal, Cloch le Carn, Abhainn, Léargas and Oiléan.

Off The Rails was introduced to the viewing public in 1997, offering all the latest trends from catwalk to High Street for style lovers. It was the successor to ‘Head 2 Toe’, which had provided fashion news and tips for the first half of the nineties. A number of hugely successful lifestyle formats followed on RTÉ Television, including ‘Room to Improve’, ‘Operation Transformation’, ‘About the House’, and ‘At Your Service’.

In September 1997 the RTÉ Authority made proposals seeking Government approval to find a partner to fund digital terrestrial television (DTT).

After almost 37 years, Gay Byrne presented his final broadcast of 'The Late Late Show' on 21 May 1999. Over the five decades since it began in 1962, the world's longest-running chat show has brought many topics deemed taboo by elements of Irish society into a public forum for discussion. On Byrne’s last show U2 members Bono and Larry Mullen surprised him with the gift of a Harley Davidson.