Alex White tells Cabinet Six Nations should be free-to-air

Minister also wants to add All-Ireland ladies’ football and camogie finals to list

Paul O’Connell scores a try against Scotland at Murrayfield during Ireland’s final game of this season’s Six Nations. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Paul O’Connell scores a try against Scotland at Murrayfield during Ireland’s final game of this season’s Six Nations. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Minister for Communications Alex White will open a consultation process on free-to-air sports after telling Cabinet colleagues on Tuesday he wants to ensure three additional sporting events are broadcast live to terrestrial TV viewers.

The Six Nations Rugby Championship, the All-Ireland Senior Ladies’ Football Final and the All-Ireland Senior Camogie Final would be designated free-to-air under Mr White’s plan, which was strongly backed by his Labour colleague Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin before the meeting.

“I understand there’s a submission coming to Government today in relation to that matter, but as a rugby fan I’m totally behind the Minister for Communications in relation to that matter,” Mr Howlin said.

It was expected Mr White’s move might be resisted by some Fine Gael Ministers, but it is understood no objections or reservations were expressed at Cabinet.

The Minister must now consult with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe as well as the relevant sporting bodies and broadcasters – TV3, RTÉ, TG4 and UTV Ireland.

He will also have to engage with the European Commission and invite comments on the matter from members of the public.

Should an event be designated free-to-air following the consultation process, the Broadcasting Act 2009 states that the relevant broadcaster is required to pay a “reasonable market rate” to the rights-holder for permission to broadcast the event.

“I think there is a strong case for designating these events, but there is no decision yet. The Act requires that I consult with sporting bodies, the broadcasters and the public, and I look forward to doing that,” Mr White said.

“Under the legislation, the primary question I have to ask is whether these events have a special resonance and distinct cultural significance or importance for the people of Ireland.”

The events currently listed for free-to-air broadcast are:

- The Summer Olympics

- The All-Ireland Senior Inter-County Football and Hurling Finals

- Ireland’s home and away qualifying games in the European Football Championship and the FIFA World Cup Tournament

- Ireland’s games in the European Football Championship Finals Tournament and the FIFA World Cup Tournament

- The opening games, the semi-finals and final of the European Football Championship Finals and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament

- Ireland’s games in the Rugby World Cup Finals Tournament

- The Irish Grand National and Irish Derby

- The Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show.

Ireland’s games in the Six Nations Rugby Football Championship are currently listed for free-to-air broadcast on a deferred basis.

There are currently no female-only sports included in the list of designated sporting events.

In a public consultation in 2014, the Ladies Gaelic Football Association said the Ladies Football Final was the largest women’s sporting event in Ireland and that designation would “ring fence the sport as occupying an important position in the sporting calendar and put it on par with its male counterparts.”

The Camogie Association said that the designation of the Camogie Final would be a timely opportunity to address the failure to include any uniquely female sporting event “in the context of women’s sporting and social equality.”