Fine Gael in favour of Six Nations free-to-air plan
SENIOR Fine Gael figures have rowed in behind proposals to make Six Nations matches 'free to air' in a move that is likely to cause tensions with the IRFU.
In a memo brought to Cabinet yesterday, Communications Minister Alex White proposed that the Six Nations championship be added to the 'free to air list', along with the All Ireland senior ladies football final and the All Ireland senior camogie final.
Sources said Mr White's proposals were met with "no opposition", despite suggestions that Fine Gael is concerned over the plans.
Two separate Fine Gael ministers said they believed the plans have serious merit and that they will await further information from Mr White.
Last night, Sports Minister Michael Ring said bringing Six Nations matches 'free to air' illustrates the Government's commitment to "serving the punter".
"We need to be inclusive of everyone and realise this is a proposal that will serve sports fans up and down and the country," he told the Herald.
Mr White will now open a public consultation process which will involve him holding talks with broadcasters RTE, TV3, UTV Ireland and TG4.
The Dublin South TD is also obliged under broadcasting laws to consult the European Commission over the plans.
"I think there is a strong case for designating these events, but there is no decision yet. The act requires that I consult with sporting bodies, the broadcasters and the public, and I look forward to doing that," Mr White said.
"The primary question I have to ask is whether these events have a special resonance and distinct cultural significance or importance for the people of Ireland," he added.
The IRFU is understood to be examining Mr White's plans and is likely to lodge its observations.
Government sources said they anticipate the prospect of the body expressing opposition due to the potential loss of revenue.
But the sources said that making Six Nations matches available to as many rugby fans as possible "outweighs" revenue concerns.
Among the events currently listed for live free-to-air broadcast include: The Summer Olympics; the All-Ireland Senior football and hurling finals; Ireland's qualifying games in both the European Football Championship and World Cup, as well as matches from the championship finals themselves.