Varadkar expresses ‘concern’ that SF could decide RTÉ's funding as leader sues broadcaster

Taoiseach referred to Mary Lou McDonald’s High Court proceedings for alleged defamation


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would have a “genuine concern” about a future Government led by somebody who is “suing RTÉ” deciding how much Exchequer funding they would get.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar was referring to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald’s High Court proceedings against RTÉ for alleged defamation.

Ms McDonald’s claim is understood to relate to a discussion on Morning Ireland in February 2022 during which reference was made to the treatment of women who were sexually assaulted by members of Sinn Féin and the IRA.

The Taoiseach said the Government would make a decision on the TV licence in the coming weeks or months but that the fee would continue to apply for “at least for the entirety of this year”.


Mr Varadkar said he would personally favour an Exchequer funded model to finance public service broadcasting.

However, he added: “I would have a genuine concern about an Exchequer funded model that, not this Government, but perhaps a future Government, led by the Deputy opposite [Mary Lou McDonald] would have full control over the funding of RTÉ and public service broadcasting.

“There’s a gross conflict of interest from somebody who is suing RTÉ, deciding how much funding RTÉ would get. That would be a big problem, I think, for our democracy.”

Mr Varadkar said this was “the kind of thing” beginning to happen in the United States and other countries, adding “I definitely would not want that to be the case in our State”.

The Fine Gael leader also said it was “very clear” there are “significant problems” in RTÉ. Mr Varadkar said there had been a culture of poor governance “when decisions were not made or made properly”, as well as a culture of arrogance “from some of the senior people who were in charge of that organisation”.

“We also see a wider culture of entitlement,” he said. “The belief that the revenue from the licence fee should belong to RTÉ either entirely or for the greatest part.”

The Taoiseach said those who hadn’t yet come before the Oireachtas Media Committee “should” and wanted to make that “very clear”.

Mr Varadkar was responding to Ms McDonald and Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns during Leaders’ Questions.

Sinn Féin has 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.

The party 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 McDonald said people’s trust and support for RTÉ and the licence fee had “crumbled”.

“People see the fiasco of excess and waste at RTÉ, and they feel taken for fools. They see the lack of accountability too, and frankly, they’ve had enough,” she said.

“This collapse in public confidence isn’t helped by the revelation that Toy Show The Musical, which lost €2.2 million of taxpayers money, hadn’t received formal approval of the RTÉ board.

“Today, we have key figures behind that debacle still dodging accountability to the Oireachtas Media Committee, now there’s arrogance. No wonder hundreds of thousands of households haven’t paid the licence, people are voting with their feet.”

Ms Cairns said her party disagreed with Sinn Féin’s position and instead favoured a “three stranded funding model” comprised of some guaranteed multiannual Exchequer funding, a public charge, and a levy on social media companies.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times