RTÉ licence-fee amnesty would be ‘slap in the face’ for bill payers – Taoiseach

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said a TV licence fee amnesty would be a “slap in the face” for people who pay the annual charge.

Mr Varadkar’s comments come after Sinn Féin called for the fee to be scrapped and an amnesty granted to those who did not pay it in the wake of the RTÉ pay scandal.

It comes amid a debate within Government over whether the licence fee should be scrapped in favour of direct exchequer funding for RTÉ.

A Sinn Féin Dáil motion calling for the licence fee to be abolished immediately followed by the introduction of an amnesty for those who have not paid has been tabled for this week.

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“We’ll be opposing an amnesty,” Mr Varadkar said. “It would be a slap in the face to law-abiding citizens who have paid their licence fee this year and for years. I think this policy will backfire on Sinn Féin.”

A source close to Media Minister Catherine Martin said she has “always been very clear that direct exchequer funding must be seriously considered” as an option for funding RTÉ and other public service media.

“However, Sinn Féin will be fully aware that Minister Martin has commissioned two root-and-branch reviews into how RTÉ operated in recent years, which are due to report in the coming weeks,” the source said.

“It would clearly be premature to make such a significant decision on the future funding of public broadcasting in Ireland without considering the recommendations from these expert advisory groups, and integrating these into the essential reform that is needed in RTÉ.”

Sinn Fein call to abolish the TV licence with immediate effect

Tánaiste Micheál Martin also believes the reports on RTÉ should be examined before a final decision on funding the broadcaster is taken.

Sinn Féin has promised to abolish the TV licence “with immediate effect” should they come to power after the next general election. The party said it would grant an amnesty to all those who have not paid their licence.

The party’s finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty, said full funding for RTÉ would in future come from the Exchequer. He said an amnesty had been brought in over prosecutions for non-payment when the battle was won over water charges.

He denied that Sinn Féin was unveiling its TV licence abolition promise now because of recent slippage in the polls.

Mr Doherty said Sinn Féin’s proposal – which will be debated through a motion in the Dáil today – would simply give effect to the Commission on the Future of Media recommendations given to the Government as far that back as 2021.

Mr Doherty said he estimated the cost of direct funding of RTÉ, with some funds for other media, at €240m in a full year.

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