State has opportunity now to ‘fix’ its attitude to Irish, says TG4 boss

Alan Esslemont tells Celtic Media Festival that Government eyes have stopped rolling and he is hopeful ‘things can change’

TG4 has an opportunity between now and the end of 2024 to push the State to improve its “lukewarm” attitude to the Irish language and increase funding for Irish language culture, its director general Alan Esslemont said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Celtic Media Festival in Dungloe, Co Donegal, the TG4 boss reiterated that the broadcaster’s public funding should be on a par with the level received by Welsh language broadcaster S4C, saying this should happen in the short term.

“Having a monolithic ecosystem based only on RTÉ will not work. It has to be broader than that,” he said, citing the “súil eile” (another perspective) provided by TG4.

“So, yeah, we’ll be pitching for money – this is what we do at this time of year. We’ll be in [the Oireachtas] in July shaking hands and knocking on doors.”


While TG4’s public funding has been on an upward trajectory in recent years – it received an increase of €7.3 million in Budget 2023 – it has now ramped up its commissioning “to a level that that’s all spent now”, Mr Esslemont said, meaning any further creative ambitions will require additional funding.

The broadcaster is working with Northern Ireland Screen and BBC Northern Ireland – with support from Coimisiún na Meán – on a murder mystery television drama set in Donegal that will go into production this autumn and air in autumn 2024 or later.

“It’s another step and it’s expensive for us and it’s the reason why we have to keep on growing TG4,” he said.

Mr Esslemont also spoke about Irish language feature film scheme Cine4, which was originally his idea and was first launched at the 2017 Celtic Media Festival held in the Isle of Man. Earlier this year, it achieved its goal of an Oscar nomination through the critical and commercial hit An Cailín Ciúin, which he said had already helped to change perceptions of TG4.

“For the first three years that I was in post here, I was just getting the rolling of eyes from the Government. But, now, it all seems to be coming together,” he said.

“For me, this is the time. There is an opportunity between now and next year to fix an awful lot of this. We have a wonderful template laid out by [Future of Media Commission chairman] Brian MacCraith. We now have Coimisiún na Meán in with lots of powers. This is a time for them to show that things can change.”

Coimisiún na Meán, a successor to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with a wider remit, is due to conduct a comprehensive review of Irish language media in the State, as recommended by the Future of Media Commission. Celene Craig, the Coimisiún’s broadcasting commissioner, told producers and other industry attendees at the Celtic Media Festival that it would be seeking their input.

TG4 could also be boosted if the Government goes ahead with a proposed content levy on streaming services and overseas broadcasters operating in the Irish market – sometimes known as the “Netflix levy” – as the legislation indicates that at least 25 per cent of the money raised would be used to make programmes in the Irish language. This would allow Cine4 to increase its budgets, which are currently limited to €1.2 million per feature film.

“I really think we just have to keep on pushing on,” said Mr Esslemont, who chairs the international media festival. “We have to keep on pushing the State because the State won’t push itself.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics