Hanafin seeks a deal in row over rugby TV rights
But Sports Minister says Government will make final decision
SPORTS Minister Mary Hanafin has called on Communications Minister Eamon Ryan and the IRFU to come to a compromise solution in the saga over rugby TV rights.
The minister, who has refused to publicly back either side, said the decision on free-to-air rugby matches would ultimately be made by the Government as a whole and not by any one minister.
She said there would have to be a "meeting of minds" between broadcasting policy and sporting policy when it came to deciding if Heineken Cup and Six Nations should be put on terrestrial TV.
Throughout the rugby broadcasting saga the Sports Minister has refused to publicly say whether she supported Mr Ryan's plans to wrestle Ireland's rugby matches from satellite sports channels such as Sky Sports and Setanta.
Mr Ryan has been facing major opposition from the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and some Fianna Fail backbenchers, who argue that moving both competitions to free TV will cause financial ruin and damage the sport for a generation.
Ms Hanafin will finally have to reveal her hand when she makes a formal submission to Mr Ryan ahead of next weekend's July 4 deadline.
Up to 400 written submissions have now been sent to Mr Ryan, an eight-fold increase on 12 months ago when members of the public were originally invited to make their case for free sport events.
The minister said a "meeting of minds" was necessary between two policies that shouldn't conflict. "There must be a way of the two complimenting each other," she told the Irish Independent.
Asked if she had a role to play in mediating between the two sides, Ms Hanafin said she simply wanted the arguments on both sides to be heard. "It will be a government decision at the end of the day. It won't just be a decision of one minister," she said.
Pressed on what concerns she had about Mr Ryan's controversial plans, Ms Hanafin said she wanted to make sure that nothing would hinder participation in the game of rugby.
The IRFU has repeatedly argued that if the rugby matches are made free to air, it will lose €12m and will therefore be unable to keep the country's star performers, who will be able to earn better wages abroad.
All four provincial sides will not survive and local clubs will also struggle, rugby chiefs claim.
The Green Party minister recently suffered the first major blow to his plans when the Oireachtas committee on sports agreed a motion stating that the IRFU should continue to be independent with regard to selling the broadcast rights to Irish rugby matches.
The fact the motion was supported by Fianna Fail TDs and senators, who are Mr Ryan's coalition partners, represents a significant setback to his proposals.
Former Sports Minister Martin Cullen previously advised Mr Ryan against making the rugby matches free-to-air, while his predecessor John O'Donoghue has also hit out at the proposals. He claimed they would be "disastrous" for the sector.
The Six Nations is available free of charge on RTE after it won the rights until 2013. The Heineken Cup, in contrast, is broadcast on pay television and is only available on RTE two hours after the final whistle.