‘Repeated legal actions’ taken by Sinn Féin having ‘significant impact’ on media independence, Dáil told

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was responding to Mary Lou McDonald, who said her party would abolish the TV licence and instead use Exchequer funding to support public service media

Sinn Féin’s position of taking “repeated legal actions” against various media organisations is having “a significant impact” on the independence and strength of Irish media, the Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan has told the Dáil.

Mr Ryan also said the Government will provide an alternative funding mechanism for public service broadcasting and he did not expect it to be “a continuation of the current [TV] licensing system”.

The Green Party leader was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald on Wednesday, who said her party would abolish the TV licence and instead use Exchequer funding to support public service media.

Ms McDonald said tens of thousands of people were now refusing to pay the TV licence fee of €160 following the recent financial scandals at RTÉ.


She said 60 people a day were facing prosecution for non-payment of the TV licence and while the funding for public service broadcasting drained away, “Government twiddles its thumbs”.

In response, Mr Ryan said the Government would deliver a new format of broadcasting support, which did not just include RTÉ.

He said there would be a report on Thursday, initiated by RTÉ, on severance payments with two final reports due in February on governance in the national broadcaster.

Mr Ryan said this would allow the Government to come to a conclusion and set out the future payments and supports for RTÉ and for other organisations through “whichever mechanism, be it through Exchequer payment or a household payment or whatever other arrangements that we will decide upon”.

He also said in a world where media was increasingly under threat with difficulties over funding models, “Sinn Féin’s position taking repeated legal actions against various media here, is similarly in my mind having a significant impact on the independence and strength of Irish media”.

Mr Ryan said through RTÉ and other organisations, Ireland was “by and large” well served by the media, which was “independent, fair and not biased, not deserving to be attacked by legal challenge or by other public commentary which does them down, which I’ve heard too much from our political system”.

Responding to the minister’s comments, Ms McDonald said while she had heard some “bluster in my time ... that really was now a bravura performance of absolute rubbish, sound and fury signifying nothing”.

“My God, it’s remarkable how one person can talk so much and say so very, very little,” she added.

Ms McDonald asked the minister again was he “for the TV licence or not” and that her party had stated their position, which was in line with the Future of Media Commission.

She said the State should not chase thousands of people through the courts for non-payment of the TV licence, and that it seemed it was the “ordinary Joe” who only faced the wrath or held accountable in the “midst of all of the scandal”.

The Dublin Central TD also said she had made “no suggestion” that people not pay their TV licence.

Mr Ryan added the Government would provide an alternative funding mechanism and he did not expect it to be a continuation of the current licensing system.

“The exact details will have to be agreed with Government,” he said.

He also said there was concern amongst the Government’s party leaders about a potential switch to just Exchequer-based funding because of fear in a future Government there could be political interference “that would fundamentally undermine the independence of Irish media”.

“There have been historic cases, if you look at the history of RTÉ and others when there was improper and undue political interference, it’s not rocket science to say that,” he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday the TV licence was “an outdated charge that belongs to a different time”.

Mr Varadkar said he was keen for the Government to agree on a new mechanism to fund public service broadcasting this year and to have that in place by 2025.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times