FG ministers expected to oppose Six Nations free-to-air plan

Alex White to outline proposals to Cabinet on redesignating three sporting events

Proposals by Minister for Communications Alex White to designate the Six Nations rugby championship free-to-air on TV will be resisted by Fine Gael Ministers, according to party sources.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times.

Proposals by Minister for Communications Alex White to designate the Six Nations rugby championship free-to-air on TV will be resisted by Fine Gael Ministers, according to party sources. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times.

 

Proposals by Minister for Communications Alex White to designate the Six Nations rugby championship free-to-air on TV will be resisted by Fine Gael Ministers, according to party sources.

Mr White will outline his plans to Cabinet on Tuesday to add three new sporting events to those that must be available for live broadcast to terrestial TV viewers.

They are the home games of the Six Nations championship; the Ladies’ Football All Ireland Final and the Camogie All Ireland Final. Already major events such as the GAA All Ireland finals, FAI senior home internationals, the Olympic Games, and the soccer World Cup are designated free-to-air.

No decision will be made on Tuesday but Mr White will inform colleagues he is considering adding the three sporting events to the designated lists and also starting a process of consultation on the matter.

The Broadcasting Acts, as well as the designation of major events order, require the Minister to consult with the sporting bodies concerned; the four terrestrial broadcasters (RTÉ, TV3, TG4 and UTV Ireland); the Minister for Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe; and the general public. That process is expected to take several months.

Over the course of the weekend, Mr White said there was a strong argument for the Six Nations to be included on the list. Referring to the Irish team’s success in winning the championship, he told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics: “Anybody who could see the success, including the success on television as a television event, with access for so many people to be able to see this great game. There’s a strong case for it.”

However, sources on the Fine Gael side said that its minsters could be expected to be lobbied hard on this issue by the IRFU, which is understood to favour the status quo.

Five years ago, when then minister for communications Eamon Ryan tried to designate Heineken Cup games as free-to-air, there was a major campaign against the changes led by Simon Coveney, then a Fine Gael front bench spokesman, now the Minister for Agriculture.

Several Fine Gael ministers, it is understood, have strong views that the Six Nations should not be made the subject of a designation order.

The GAA and the two associations that run the codes are not expected to raise any objection to the camogie and ladies’ football All-Ireland redesignations.

At present the Six Nations is not designated free-to-air, rather as a deferred broadcast. However, as RTÉ has bought the rights, in practise they are broadcast free-to-air in the State.