Irish government pushes forward with free-to-air plan for Six Nations

The Irish government has today (Friday) stepped up its plans to ring-fence Ireland’s games in the Six Nations rugby union championship for free-to-air television. website said Minister for Communications, Alex White, has launched a public consultation concerning the possible designation of Ireland’s Six Nations matches as one of three additional “events of major importance to society”.

Such a designation will ensure they remain available on a free-to-air basis for Irish television viewers under the Broadcasting Act 2009. This list currently includes events such as the summer Olympic Games, Gaelic sport’s All-Ireland senior hurling and football finals, the Irish national football team’s home and away qualifiers for the Uefa European Championships and the Fifa World Cup, and the Irish Grand National among other equestrian events.

The government has placed advertisements in the national press seeking submissions from interested parties on the current list and the possible designation of three additional events. Along with Ireland’s Six Nations games, these events include the All-Ireland senior ladies football final and senior camogie final.

The development comes after Irish Rugby Football Union chief executive Philip Browne last month warned against any move to change the listing of Six Nations matches in the country, stating such a decision could have a “significant impact” on the sport.

The Six Nations is currently listed as a ‘B’ event in Ireland, which means deferred coverage must be available for terrestrial television.

The current media deal with UK public-service broadcaster the BBC ends after 2017 and Six Nations chief executive John Feehan said in January that the championship may consider offers from pay-television broadcasters, given how critical the revenue generated by the tournament is to the ‘home unions’.

A decision by the Irish government to force international rugby onto terrestrial television would reportedly see the English, Scottish and Welsh unions exclude the IRFU from negotiations for a new broadcasting partnership.