Sinn Fein’s motion proposing a TV licence fee amnesty and direct exchequer funding for RTE has been criticised by Finance Minister Michael McGrath as “the height of irresponsible politics”.
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe criticised the main opposition party for not including the direct-funding model for media in its alternative budget, while Labour called the motion a “stunt”.
Sinn Fein is tabling a Dail motion on Tuesday that proposes reforming the TV licence fee model by scrapping the 160-euro-a-year charge and introducing an amnesty from prosecution for those who have not paid their licence fee.
The motion notes that around 13,000 people were summoned before the courts last year for not purchasing a TV licence.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Micheal Martin said in the way into Cabinet on Tuesday that they would oppose the motion, with Mr Varadkar stating that an amnesty would be a “slap in the face” to those who had paid the fee.
Finance Minister Michael McGrath said Sinn Fein’s proposal to immediately abolish the TV licence fee was an “act of irresponsible politics”.
“They are reacting to events. Last year when they brought forward their budget plans for 2024, they made no provision for such an abolition and, therefore, their budgetary approach lacks credibility.
“It doesn’t augur well, if that is going to be their approach if they’re elected to government at some point in the future.
“…Less than two months into the year to say that you can immediately abolish the licence fee and to in effect send out a signal that nobody should pay is the height of irresponsible politics on behalf of Sinn Fein and it doesn’t surprise me.”
Mr Donohoe questioned whether this is “really what change” the party was offering to Ireland.
“So what about everybody who has paid other taxes and the other charges to the state in the last few years?” he said.
“This wasn’t included in the Sinn Fein alternative budget. They are saying that they want to pay for this out of exchequer funding, but they’re not saying how, they’re not saying where the money will come from and they’re not saying what are the taxes they will change.
“So if Sinn Fein are making the case for change to the country, is this what they are offering? If it is, what are they going to say to everybody else who’s been paying taxes and charges fairly over the last few years – are they going to get an amnesty too?”
Labour party TD Aodhan O Riordain said that he believed the amnesty from TV licence fee prosecution was a “subtle nod” that indicated it was acceptable not to pay the fee.
“It feels like a stunt really, it doesn’t really feel like conviction politics,” Mr O Riordain said.
“It feels like ‘let’s stop talking about immigration’ politics. Sinn Fein are on the back foot on immigration, and they’re on the back foot on Gaza because they’re going to the White House.
“So they need to talk about something else and they’ve decided to talk about the TV licence. And I’m assuming they want this debate to turn into something similar in terms of other levies and charges that they were against down through the years.
“We need to have a discussion about how to fund RTE, RTE is extremely important. We believe in service broadcasting, it’s very important to us.
“You can’t run two television stations and a number of radio stations and have children’s television and Irish language television and an orchestra and investigative reporting and top quality sports coverage and not pay for it.
“A huge amount of RTE income is based on commercial revenue, is based on advertising, and that’s not sustainable.
“So we have to have a debate on the licence fee, but I don’t think this sort of subtle nod from Sinn Fein to people to not pay their TV licence, which I think is what they’re doing, is the way to do politics.
“I pay my TV licence. We all pay our TV licences in the Labour party, and we believe everybody should. So the idea of an amnesty is absolutely wrong.”
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said they would be supporting the Sinn Fein motion but adding an amendment to it.
“Yes, the TV licence, as we argued last year in the document we published, should be scrapped, but it needs to be replaced with significant extra public funding through a digital tax on the social media and IT companies.
“We put an amendment to the motion tonight to say that as well as scrapping the regressive TV licence, which is unfair on lower income households, it needs to be replaced with that digital tax so we actually have the funds to fund public service broadcasting.
“So we’ll be supporting the Sinn Fein motion but (adding an amendment) that there needs to be a clear commitment by the government to the funding mechanism through a digital tax and that there should be no privatisation and outsourcing of jobs and key services in RTE that would lead to a diminution of public service broadcasting quality, particularly in the areas of culture, arts, music.
“These things shouldn’t pay the price because a few people got paid too much and there wasn’t proper oversight in RTE.”
Sinn Fein is supporting a direct exchequer funding model for RTE, TG4 and other media.