Replacing TV licence with ‘direct Exchequer funding model’ should be considered, Dáil hears

Minister for Media says existing model ‘clearly outdated’ but abolishing it with immediate effect was ‘reckless and irresponsible’

Serious consideration needs to be given to the option of a “direct Exchequer funding model” to replace the current TV licence fee system, the Minister for Media Catherine Martin has said.

She told the Dáil on Tuesday that a taxation based system is “fairer, more effective, more stable and better future-proofed”.

Ms Martin said the TV licence model was “clearly outdated” but that abolishing it with immediate effect was “both reckless and irresponsible”. The Green Party TD also said that bringing RTÉ under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General was “certainly worthy of serious consideration”.

Ms Martin was speaking as Sinn Féin put forward a motion calling for the “unfair” TV licence to be scrapped with immediate effect and the introduction of a legal amnesty from prosecution for those who have not paid the fee.


Sinn Féin wants the TV licence to be replaced with direct Exchequer funding to support public service media and broadcasting.

The Government has put forward a countermotion, with a vote due to take place on Wednesday night.

Ms Martin said a decision on the reform of the TV licence would be made by the Government once two final expert committee reports were received which was the “sensible and wise course of action”.

She said that an amnesty for those who had not paid the licence fee was “deeply unfair” to those who had paid, including the 825,000 people who did so last year.

The minister said in terms of any future funding option, the safeguarding of public service media from political interference and ensuring its independence was of “paramount importance” and a separate independent regulatory body was key to this.

“It would oversee and assess funding arrangements, which would also be set on multiannual basis to avoid the budgetary process,” she said.

“In the Irish context, our new regulator, Coimisiún na Meán, would be well placed to carry out this function.”

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould said one of the key recommendations of the Future of Media Commission report was to move away from the TV licence and towards direct Exchequer funding.

Mr Gould said last year 13,000 people were brought to court for failure to pay the licence fee, just less than €2.1 million, the same amount lost by Toy Show The Musical.

His party colleague, Imelda Munster, said there seemed to be “much friction” in Government on the issue with arguments and disagreements between ministers within their own parties.

Ms Munster said the Government needed to “stop fighting like ferrets in a sack”.

Labour TD Alan Kelly said his party would not be supporting Sinn Féin’s “crazy” motion, but added there wasn’t a “united front” from Government on the issue which wasn’t sustainable or acceptable.

Speaking in the Dáil earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the Sinn Féin’s policy as “comical”. Mr Varadkar said while the TV licence was “outmoded”, it remained the law.

“Sinn Féin’s proposal to introduce an amnesty for people who did not pay is deeply insulting to people who comply with the law and do pay,” he said.

“Just think about all those people who collect the stamps or who pay their bills and have done so for years. It is an insult and a kick in the teeth for them.

“The oddest thing in the policy is the proposal that we continue to pay €12.5 million a year to An Post for not collecting the charge when it is abolished. I am all for supporting An Post but giving it €12 million a year to collect a charge that does not exist any more really is comical.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said earlier this month that full Exchequer funding for public service broadcasting meant that any Government in the future would have a level of control over Irish media that “would not be a healthy one”.

Mr Martin said the public should pay the TV licence and that replacing it with Exchequer funding could potentially have a negative impact on media in Ireland “into the future and on its independence and on its freedom”.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times