TV licence ‘amnesty’ motion by Sinn Fein a ‘stunt’ – Labour TD says

Aodhan O Riordain with Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik
No-fault terminations of tenancy Aodhan O Riordain with Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik (Cillian Sherlock/PA)

Sinn Fein’s motion proposing a TV licence fee “amnesty” and direct exchequer funding for RTE has been labelled as a “stunt” to distract from other issues.

Labour party TD Aodhan O Riordain said that he believed it was a “subtle nod” that indicated it was acceptable not to pay the TV licence fee.

Sinn Fein is to table 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.

“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.

RTE board members are due to appear before the media committee
RTE logo The RTÉ station is funded by TV license fees (Liam McBurney/PA)

“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-Solidarity TD Richard Boyd Barrett (Cillian Sherlock/PA)
People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Richard Boyd Barrett (Cillian Sherlock/PA) People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Richard Boyd Barrett (Cillian Sherlock/PA)

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.