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Government backed off TV licence plan over fears of water charges-style protests, claims TD

Minister has dropped proposals to expand €160 fee to devices over 12 inches

Under measures to be agreed by Cabinet this week laptop and tablet owners will not be forced to pay the TV licence

The Government backed off plans to force owners of PCs, laptops and tablets to pay a TV licence because it was frightened of a water charges-style protest campaign, a leading campaigner has claimed.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has dropped proposals to expand the€160 fee to devices over 12 inches, which could have seen 30,000 homes facing bills.

Claiming victory, Cork North Central Solidarity TD, Mick Barry said: "The anti water charges movement sent out a powerful message to Government that attempts to impose unjust charges can be successfully resisted.  I

"I have more than a strong suspicion that the memory of the hiding handed out to the Government by the anti water charges movement played on the Minister's mind as he decided to strike down these proposals from his department."

However, the Cork North Central TD criticised Minister Naughton's plans to push ahead with plans to privatise the collection of the TV license, saying that this represented a step in the wrong direction - though RTE has long argued it would cut evasion.

Minister Naughton is understood to have rejected the laptop and phone licence proposals from his department, insisting it would be too costly and too difficult to enforce.

Mr Naughten had already signalled he would not introduce a broadcasting charge as indicated by his predecessor Alex White. However, he was prepared to examine an expansion of the TV licence to capture those who do not own a TV set.

The proposal put forward arose due to a similar mechanism recently adopted in the UK with the BBC iPlayer.

A spokeswoman for Mr Naughten said: “The [Oireachtas] committee’s view on whether a device larger than 12 inches should be included in the licence fee net due to the rapid changes in technology and people’s TV content viewing habits was to be sought.

“However Minister Naughten has decided not to ask the Oireachtas Communications Committee to examine the proposal as part of its current remit examining the future funding of public service broadcasting.

“The Minister has withdrawn the proposal in its entirety, and will not be bringing the matter before Cabinet as part of the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2017.”

The high rate of licence fee evasion in Ireland has been a source of concern for many years, and is estimated by Mr Naughten to cost the Irish broadcasting sector €40 million a year in lost funding.

Public tender

The Minister is proceeding with plans to appoint a television licence agent by way of public tender. Currently this work is carried out by An Post, but legislation is to be amended to allow for a public process to be carried out. It is expected An Post will seek to secure the tender.

Meanwhile, Mr Naughten will also reduce the sums paid by the broadcasting industry for the operation of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

The Broadcasting Act 2009 will be amended to allow for the BAI to be allocated public funding from the television licence fee. This is an attempt to reduce the burden on broadcasters, who are experiencing financial pressures as a result of lower advertising revenues.

The Minister will also ask the Cabinet to exempt community broadcasters from paying a levy in a move that is worth about €750 a year to each broadcaster.