I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
I wish to share my time with Deputies Deenihan and Perry.
Vol. 501 No. 3
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
I wish to share my time with Deputies Deenihan and Perry.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The purpose of the Bill is to make it a criminal offence to advertise for sale, offer for sale or sell a ticket for a musical, sporting or theatrical event above its face value. Ireland has a history of ticket touting or scalping. However, there is no law against touts selling tickets at hugely inflated prices. The problem has never been properly addressed by the authorities and they have turned a blind eye to this so-called form of free market commercialism.
Many sporting organisations have tried in a vain attempt to combat the practice by taking action against members who make tickets available to touts. The Gaelic Athletic Association requests that people who purchase tickets from a tout to inform the organisation of the ticket number. This can then be used to determine who received the ticket and how it ended up in his or her hands. The Football Association of Ireland tries to trace touted tickets back to the original recipients to ensure that they do not receive ticket allocations in future. However, these measures by sporting organisations and concert promoters have failed to stamp out ticket touting. Stronger legislation and the provision of resources to the Garda are needed to ensure a successful clampdown on this scourge.
The French Government made the sale of tickets above face value a criminal offence. During the World Cup, anyone caught selling tickets was deported and refused re-entry until the competition concluded – if only that could be done here for All-Ireland finals. The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers, STAR, in Great Britain guarantees to set out the face value, booking fee and any conditions attached to tickets when it sells them. This is an attempt to protect people from the scourge of touts.
The British Government introduced legislation to outlaw ticket touting at football matches and any other event which might be viewed as a public order risk in 1994. The British Criminal Justice Act makes it an offence to sell a match ticket even at face value. Those found breaking the law can be arrested or have their tickets confiscated. This legislation has reduced dramatically the proliferation of touting at football matches. The current Labour Government plans to extend this to other major events.
In Ireland touting currently comes under the Casual Trading Act, 1995. In practice this means that when a garda comes across a tout, the individual is usually moved on and nothing more is done. However, it is legal for touts to offer tickets at whatever price they wish. It is impossible for the Garda or any organisation, sporting or otherwise, which is trying to combat the problem to do so effectively without the support of proper legislation.
The objective of the Bill is to ensure that tickets for such events are available for purchase by genuine fans and are not purchased by third parties trying to exploit the event being held for their personal advantage. A ticket tout is liable on conviction under the Bill to a fine not exceeding £10,000 and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months. Moreover, when a garda has reasonable cause for believing that a person is committing an offence under the Bill, such a person is liable to arrest and the tickets he or she is seeking to sell for a specified event may be confiscated. Consequently, under the legislation it will be illegal for people to tout tickets for sale at excessive prices adjacent to the event's venue and anyone who does so may be arrested.
The Bill recognises that on occasions registered charities and voluntary and community organisations have tickets donated to them for such events or purchase tickets for such events which they sell at a price above face value to raise funds for charitable purposes, community organisations and voluntary activities. The Bill allows such organisations to sell tickets above face value where they have been authorised to do so in writing by the organiser or organisers of the specified event. This copperfastens the protection for charities and helps them to raise money.
Section 1 covers any sporting, musical or theatrical event at which it is reasonable to anticipate that more than 500 people will attend. Section 2(1) renders it an offence for a person to sell or offer, or expose, for sale a ticket in excess of the price designated on it by the organiser of the event. This provision does not prevent a third party from selling such a ticket at face value. For example, if a person acquires a ticket for an event but is unable to attend, he or she can lawfully sell the ticket for the price marked on it to any third party. Section 2(2) renders it an offence to publish any advertisement for sale of a ticket for a price in excess of that officially designated on it. The newspaper or magazine which publishes such an advertisement will commit an offence under the Bill. Section 2(3) exempts from the Bill's provisions the sale of tickets by registered charities or voluntary or community organisations.
Section 3 empowers members of the Garda who have reasonable cause for believing that a person is committing or has committed an offence to arrest the person without warrant and, for the purpose of making such an arrest, to enter by force and search for such a person in a place where there is reasonable cause to suspect he or she is and to confiscate any tickets in the possession of such persons.
The practice of touting has become so familiar in Ireland that touts advertise in newspapers and even set up agencies which will guarantee tickets for previously sold out events. The following are examples of this: two Oasis tickets for £250 each or nearest offer, up to 1000 per cent mark up; £100 for a Smashing Pumpkins ticket, a more than 400 per cent mark up and £75 each for two tickets to see The Verve, a more than 300 per cent mark up. I am sure the Minister did not attend these concerts but there are other examples of this. It has become so lucrative that touts have set up their own ticket agencies and openly advertise in newspapers and magazines guaranteeing best seats for a range of concerts and football matches.
There is a contradiction in Irish and UK legislation. While the resale of a ticket for an English football league game, even at face value, is illegal, touts can resell the same tickets in Ireland at any price. Irish supporters of Manchester United are scalped whereas their counterparts in England are protected; so much for the Common Market. It also gives a bad impression to those who visit Ireland for a concert or sporting event. Next Saturday's rugby international between Ireland and England is a prime example and I am sure the Minister is well aware that this creates a bad impression. France and the UK have legislation in place to try to combat the problem, yet we do not.
I am sure that Members can recall the clamour for tickets for last year's All-Ireland football final. The touts had a field day and both Galway and Kildare supporters were fleeced. Outside Croke Park and in Dublin city touts were demanding up to £200 each for tickets with a face value of £12, for the Hill 16 and Canal End terraces and Cusack and Hogan stand seats were selling for £300 and £400. Touts were everywhere in the city centre buying and selling tickets. The footpath in front of the Gresham Hotel on O'Connell Street looked like a fair day scene or a mart, as deals were discussed and tickets sold. There is probably more activity in Dublin city centre on All-Ireland final days than there is in many marts at present.
There are also more recent examples. Adverts placed inThe Irish Times in the past week indicate that fans will pay up to £600 for a stand ticket to watch Ireland's Five Nations tie against England. Stand tickets for the pivotal Triple Crown match between Ireland and England at Lansdowne Road next Saturday are fetching up to £1,200 a pair on the black market. While the IRFU is trying to combat this by having each ticket individually numbered so that they are traceable, it acknowledges that it allocates tickets in good faith and that it is somewhat tied if tickets change hands between two mutually agreeable parties.
In recent years there has been the spectacle of IRFU affiliated clubs selling their allocationen masse to provide funds. That raises another factor in the issue of funding. I hope the Minister ensures there is not a repeat of what we witnessed over the past week where clubs have had to sell tickets, thus supplying the touting market, because they cannot fund their activities. Many of them are in debt. While many of the clubs see it as an asset, if this legislation is enacted it will make it illegal.
Touting is now becoming acceptable and many people say "so what". However, if we cast our minds back to the Ireland-England soccer game in Lansdowne Road a few years ago, a game which was a disaster for the sport, what would have been the result of the riot had the supporters not been segregated? If the current situation, where Irish tickets are being sold in England for the rugby game, had prevailed on that occasion, we might have been talking of numbers of deaths akin to the Heysel disaster rather than the lucky escape that it was. It was fortunate that was the situation. Touting could have changed that by placing tickets in the hands of opposing supporters, thus undermining the importance of their segregation.
There is also the situation where touts buy tickets leading to a shortage for genuine fans. This leaves fans having to queue overnight to try to buy tickets at face value. This queuing nearly led to a tragedy during the sale of tickets for the Oasis concerts at HMV Grafton Street in November 1997. Gardaí and additional security staff had to be called in to control the crowd. Yet when these fans went to The Point to see the band, they were met by touts with plenty of tickets.
One event last February typifies touting. On that occasion touts sank to a new low by cashing in on the Childline charity concert by Boyzone in Dublin. Children are the most vulnerable people in society, and charity workers who give of their time to help them deserve our support and protection. However, the touts just viewed this as another opportunity to make a killing at the expense of others. How could anyone defend such greed?
Each year many thousands of sport and concert fans are disappointed when they are unable to obtain tickets for events. Yet when they arrive at the venue ticketless, they are confronted by ticket touts who have large numbers of tickets for sale at hugely inflated prices. Ticket touts can be found at almost every popular entertainment event. While they are more visible at bigger events such as All-Ireland finals, international matches and live concerts, they are even found at weekly events like "Midnight at the Olympia", smaller shows and other venues such as Whelans. These black marketeers line their pockets at the expense of young music fans and football supporters. Their sole purpose in life is to exploit others to the detriment of sport and entertainment. This is an issue of unadulterated greed and nothing else.
As well as enriching themselves at the expense of others, access to many events is denied to the less well off in society who are unable to afford the extortionate prices paid for tickets. This is racketeering and the Criminal Assets Bureau should clamp down on these leeches in our society. However, unless the practice is made illegal, it is very difficult for the CAB to investigate these people. Our sport, music and culture must be put before profiteering and greed. Otherwise, we run the risk of letting our unique culture be destroyed by touts. Is this patriotic? We need a new form of patriotism which stands up for the minority rather than the big business of the touting fraternity. Strong measures are needed against touting because it puts tickets out of the reach of the average fan. Touting flourishes within the criminal fraternity and that is clear. Many touts' sole income comes from touting.
I was interviewed on a local Dublin radio station and a tout came on the programme. He was blatant in saying that he claimed social welfare benefits and made money from touting. It was his sole income. He was about to go for a three week skiing holiday and was employing someone to go touting for him during the All-Ireland final. I thought that was the big event last year, but obviously it was not when this man could afford to take three weeks off during September and during the All-Ireland final season to go on holiday. He lived in an affluent area of Dublin and was not shy about saying it. In fact, he was quite open about it. This is what I am trying to address. Fans can also lose money by purchasing forged tickets and there are many incidents of this. Touting can also threaten segregation arrangements at high risk events such as international soccer games.
Despite this, the Government has failed to legislate for this issue and has no plans to do so. In a Dáil reply last June the Tánaiste stated:
There is no basis in consumer law for prohibiting the sale of tickets above their face value and, accordingly, no regulations or procedures exist for this purpose. I have no plans to introduce such regulations or procedures.
However, the Tánaiste is not the only one who is failing to act. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation pledged in November 1997 to examine demands for strict regulations governing the sale of concert tickets. That was in relation to the riots in Grafton Street among those waiting to buy tickets for the Oasis concerts, and also in relation to the sale of tickets for the third concert by credit card only, which discriminated against many young people and left the situation open for touts to exploit. The Minister gave a commitment to examine that, yet we still have not heard anything about it. Has he examined the matter? What is the situation? I hope the Minister addresses that point in his reply.
There is nothing in the Deputy's Bill either.
The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has been considering the licensing of outdoor concerts for the past 18 months. While many members of the Government are quick to give positive comments to the media, their inaction blatantly shows the priority they afford the issue. Their blind eye approach is allowing this parasitic practice to escalate to the extent that young people are resigned to paying over the odds for entry into major events.
Irish society should be a place where fair play for all is the Government's motto. Strong legislative measures are needed to tackle touting, to reintroduce the concept of fair play and place tickets within the reach of the average fan. This shady trading is seriously damaging the excellent reputation of many sports. The Minister is working trojanly to prevent this. He should introduce legislation to ensure proper regulation.
Commercialisation is the key word in the development of sport. While allowing the touts to flourish, pay-per-view television and corporate boxes will force the real punter out of the stands. Genuine music and sports fans should have the best possible opportunity to buy tickets for major events at a reasonable price. The scourge of ticket touts and the exploitation of young sports and concert enthusiasts in particular must be stamped out.
This Bill would combat the problem which affects more than 30 major sports and musical events each year. Tickets can be difficult to obtain because demand often exceeds supply. Touts increase demand by buying up tickets and only those who can afford to buy at the higher price can avail of them. Legislation should be based not on individualism but on the shared values of a modern country.
We have received the support of the major sporting organisations and concert promoters, including the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Irish Rugby Football Union, the Football Association of Ireland, the National Youth Council of Ireland, the Union of Students in Ireland, MCD concert promoters and the Ticket Master agency. We have also received the support of hundreds of supporters throughout the country who meet the touts each time they go to a major concert or match in Dublin. One such person is Ralph, an elderly man from Killarney, County Kerry – Deputy Deenihan's home county – who has been going to Lansdowne Road for the past 53 years. He has been a steward in the ground for 40 years. He still does not have a ticket for the match on Saturday. Irish clubs are selling tickets to persons in England. One can be certain that the touts will be there bright and early on Saturday morning waiting to make a killing like vultures. Is this morally right?
Growing up I had the great pleasure of going to Croke Park on a number of occasions with my father. Sadly, the results were disappointing. Roscommon did not win too often, unlike Donegal.
We will always be grateful for 1980.
It is the wish of many young people to go to Croke Park. Do we want to deny future generations this dream? For far too long politicians have failed to tackle this thorny issue. The Fine Gael Party is committed to stamping out the exploitation of genuine music fans and football supporters.
My colleagues on the Government benches should acknowledge the need for this legislation and support it. Should they fail to do so they will have to explain to parents and football supporters why the touts are forcing them away from supporting their county teams in Croke Park or the Irish rugby and soccer teams in Lansdowne Road. Will they be prepared to tell the truth, that they had the opportunity to stop this practice but voted against the Bill because of political point scoring? Are they prepared to ensure genuine music and sports fans have the best possible opportunity to buy tickets for major events at a reasonable price? Do we wish to continue to be the victims of ticket touts or the ones who finally put them out of business? Do we want the attendance at football matches and concerts confined to those who can afford to pay the touts? Do we want to bring this rip-off to an end?
These are the questions which have to be answered. It is crucially important that we combat this scourge which has continued for far too long. Other countries have tried to combat it, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but at least they have made an effort. If given a helping hand, sporting organisations would have an opportunity to initiate prosecutions against those who tout tickets, but they have been banging their heads off a brick wall. They need legislative support. Gardaí are frustrated when they see touts outside grounds. There is a gaping hole, although I accept the Minister is committed to regulating the sale of tickets. If the touts were eliminated, there would be more tickets available for those who want to see Donegal or Roscommon play in an All-Ireland final—
—or see Oasis or REM in concert. We may have to wait a long time to see Sligo play in an All-Ireland final.
He is talking about the FAI Cup final.
The Bill was published last June. It was my hope that the Government would take the initiative and publish its own legislation. It has not been forthcoming. I urge it to accept the Bill.
I compliment Deputy Naughten on his initiative. He should be lauded by all Members. It is heartening to see a young Deputy bring forward legislation within two years. Deputy Naughten has a great future in politics. He saw a gap and capitalised on it. He has introduced good legislation. Although I am not a legal person, I see nothing wrong with it. I doubt if it has constitutional flaws as it is being co-sponsored by Deputy Shatter. There is no reason the Government should not accept it. It makes common sense. There is nothing extraordinary or far-fetched about it. It is practical legislation which would combat the problem.
The House should have acted on the problem before now. It has been brought to its attention on numerous occasions. It arises each time there is a concert or match involving the Irish soccer and rugby teams or at All-Ireland finals. It is a source of concern for a week or two and then forgotten about. As a result of Deputy Naughten's initiative, the Government is being forced to act.
I am more familiar with what happens at All-Ireland hurling and football finals when supporters are ripped off. Before the last All-Ireland football final I saw a Kildare emigrant pay £500 for a Hogan Stand ticket. That is immoral. He was looking forward so much to seeing Kildare on the field in an All-Ireland final that he would have given anything to see the match, but that should not have happened. Over the years I have seen several Kerry immigrants, who had been working on building sites in England and who would not be wealthy by any means, forced to fork out large sums of money for a ticket. They did not want to have come all the way from London and be forced to watch the game in a pub. These are the people of whom we should think. This injustice is caused by the lack of regulation of ticket touting.
It is only right that we should look at the actions of the organisations and associations involved. The GAA, the IRFU and the FAI should look at their methods of ticket distribution. I am reasonably familiar with the GAA's system of ticket distribution. Irrespective of who is involved in an All-Ireland final, clubs throughout the country are allocated tickets. If the county or province is not involved, in normal circumstances members from those clubs may not be interested in travelling to Dublin. Those tickets become free and it is inevitable that they end up in the hands of a ticket tout. There should be a better method for recalling unused tickets. In fact, they should not be sent out in the first instance. In this age of technology, surely that is possible.
People come to matches with tickets to distribute to friends or they bring unused tickets from clubs, and they are left stuck with tickets in front of the barriers. Rather than keeping them in their pockets, they give them to touts at face value. In fact, at times they even give them away for nothing. Normally the GAA has a ticket depot in front of the Hogan Stand, but that is no good for the person who is stuck outside the barrier and cannot get in to buy those tickets. The GAA officials should be out in front collecting the tickets at well signposted points of sale and redistributing them to genuine GAA supporters. The ticket touts are well known to the Garda Síochána and GAA officials. It is easy to identify a ticket tout from a genuine supporter. There is no reason the IRFU and the FAI should not be able to do something similar.
There is no reason the Minister cannot accept this simple piece of legislation which would have the desired objective and would be effective. It is what all the organisations are looking for. Deputy Naughten conducted a good trawl of all of the organisations and he has massive support for this Bill. I appeal to the Minister, who is a pragmatic and practical individual, to carefully consider it.
I congratulate Deputy Naughten on this the first of many Bills to be introduced by him. It is innovative and thoughtful, as Deputy Deenihan correctly stated. He certainly has captured the market because ticket touting is big business and it is operating in the black economy. As a business person, I know about the regulations and consumer rights involved in the selling of a simple product in a hardware store or supermarket. The law in this area is outdated and there are major concerns.
Deputy Naughten stated that people are forced to pay £500 for an All-Ireland final ticket at a time when they are completely vulnerable. The seller knows the client has money in his or her back pocket and is willing to pay. I appeal to the Minister to support Deputy Naughten's Bill because the law needs to be changed rapidly.
The purpose of the Bill is to render it a criminal offence to advertise for sale or sell a ticket for a major musical, sporting or theatrical event at a price in excess of the price designated on the ticket. The objective of the Bill is to ensure as far as possible that tickets for such events are available for purchase by genuine fans and are not purchased by third parties exploiting the event for their personal advantage. The introduction to the Bill says it all. As Deputy Naughten correctly stated, the fact that a person availing of social welfare can go on a three week skiing holiday begs a question.
Deputy Deenihan advocated a new system for selling tickets. Controls on the sale of tickets needs to be looked at. The time has come to stop the touts and the Minister is well aware of the difficulties involved. There are people operating in the black economy who buy a ticket for £20 and put the £100 they receive from its sale in their back pockets. Legislation is necessary. The Minister, who understands the difficulties, is in a position to do something about it.
There is a huge body of law to protect the consumer and there are crowd control regulations. All the sporting organisations are working to ensure value for money for the genuine fan. Ireland has a history of ticket touting but there is no law against it. The problem has never been properly addressed by the authorities. As we approach the millennium, something must be done.
Some punishment has been imposed on touts but it has not stopped them operating because it is only a minor offence. The action of the GAA, for instance, in asking people to report if they bought a ticket from a tout quoting the ticket number, is ineffective. Such cases will never be processed through the courts.
The GAA, the FAI and the Garda do not have the powers. This weekend some people in Dublin will make a killing on tickets for the match at Lansdowne Road. People will come from abroad for the occasion and the touts know they are vulnerable and have the cash to buy tickets from them. Deputy Naughten's well thought out Bill is long overdue. Minister McDaid has the power to accept this Bill and put in place its provisions.
Pay to view television is turning people away from attending such events. Some say they will not go to major events because they cannot buy a ticket. As Deputy Deenihan stated, there should be a new system for selling tickets throughout the country because it is controlled by too few people. People should have an opportunity to buy tickets for major concerts, such as the Oasis concert, the theatre, etc.
What is the cost of touting to the Exchequer? All Departments impose controls to eliminate the black economy but there are people on welfare exploiting the system with total disregard for the law. My greatest concern relates to pay to view television. With the power of multi-channel television and Sky Television, not only will the consumer be unable to buy a ticket for an event but they will be unable to watch it on television. Where can the genuine fan go?
The Minister must give people the opportunity to attend the All-Ireland final. I guarantee that the touts will not operate at a heritage weekend because there will be no demand for tickets. They are shrewd operators. They go to the events where there is maximum return for the least effort.
I congratulate Deputy Naughten on bringing forward this Bill and appeal to the Minister to accept it.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Hanafin.
As Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation I welcome, in principle, the thrust of the Bill. However, there are some aspects of the Bill which are inadequate and which, at the very least, require further consideration, both from a legal and practical perspective.
Ticket touting is carried on openly in our streets prior to major public events. Exorbitant prices are extracted while genuine fans cannot get access to the sporting and cultural events they have voluntarily supported and followed all their lives. I am prepared, therefore, to support the Bill's advancement to Committee Stage on the understanding that certain issues can be satisfactorily resolved.
In accepting the Bill I must explain that ticket touting is only one of my concerns. My other concern is politics. Week after week in this House issues are discussed in an adversarial and politically unproductive manner. At times in recent months the atmosphere in Dáil Éireann has resembled that of a Punch and Judy show. As the heat was turned up enlightenment receded and at times all but disappeared.
Dáil Éireann is full of honourable people who came into politics to contribute ideas and to contribute to their communities. We are in politics to better the day to day lives of the people we represent. Ticket touting is only one example of the way many ordinary people do not get a fair crack of the whip. Politicians of every party genuinely care about the ordinary person being put down. Most of us came into politics to do something constructive about issues of fair play and decency.
Somewhere along the line politics has lost its way. We in this House frequently are not seen as being on the side of the ordinary person. Politicians are increasingly perceived as being a self-serving elite. The reasons for this are threefold. First, the recent revelations about payments to politicians have genuinely disturbed many people. The second and third reasons are an increasingly shrill and sensationalist style of politics being reported by an increasingly soundbite orientated media.
In accepting the Bill I want to demonstrate that politicians of all sides are prepared to work together to tackle the issues facing people in their day to day lives. I particularly want to send a message to young people, who are especially affected by ticket touts, that politics carried on in this manner can make a positive difference to them.
I warmly compliment Deputy Naughten on his initiative in bringing forward the Bill. As a Government Minister I am happy to accept the principle of the Bill.
Government office does not confer a monopoly of wisdom on its holder. I hope that a characteristic of my time in office will be an openness to ideas as well as a preparedness to work with people of good intentions from every background. That is what the people who sent us here expect from us. Let this debate tonight be an example of the Dáil serving the people and responding constructively to real issues. My own party, Fianna Fáil, fought the last election on the promise of putting people before politics. In accepting the principle of the Bill tonight, the Government is putting people before politics.
I am concerned about the manner in which politics has been conducted over the past months against a background of unprecedented alienation. Instead of taking stock and reflecting on the administration of our affairs, business has been conducted in an increasingly adversarial manner. Issues on which common cause should have been prevailed have been turned into political footballs. This is not what we came into politics to do and it is not how I intend to conduct my business.
The relative ease with which ticket touts seem to be able to get their hands on tickets for events is one issue which rears its head regularly throughout the year. Whether it is in the context of tickets for pop concerts, theatrical or sporting events, all of us at one time or another, when we have been unable to secure a ticket for a popular event, are irritated when we are offered a ticket for the event at prices in excess of the face value.
The distribution process for tickets varies from event to event. For example, in sporting events like the All-Ireland finals, soccer and rugby internationals or other major sporting events, the tickets are generally allocated through the club structure, yet at every event ticket touts operate a very lucrative business. One would imagine that all genuine followers of sport would be interested in ensuring that their fellow sports enthusiast is afforded an opportunity of attending a major sporting event without having to pay exorbitant prices for admission tickets.
Nevertheless, whether it is by accident or design, many tickets issued to individual units of the sporting organisations fall into the hands of ticket touts. I realise this is an issue which the major sporting organisations feel strongly about and they have taken steps to eliminate the potential for the touting of tickets. However, ticket touts continue to do business at major sporting events. It behoves each sporting organisation to review its ticketing policy on a regular basis.
It is important that the interests of the ordinary sportsperson be represented and borne in mind. The genuine sports fan is entitled to expect a fair and reasonable opportunity of obtaining a ticket and enjoying the game in safety and comfort.
Top competitive sport and major competitions can only exist with the support of the public and those people who support, through good times and bad, their club, county, province or country. The typical sports fan who has to struggle to get tickets – in some cases these tickets are already expensive – is a person who has been or still is involved in sport, often at grass roots level. These people have made an enormous contribution to the development of sport, enriching the quality of community life and providing positive experiences for young people and players through the years. It is crucial that sports organisations and event organisers bear in mind that the success and development of sport depends on the ordinary person for its support and sustenance.
The ever-increasing emphasis on the commercialisation of sport, and the growing professionalism on and off the pitch, should not be allowed to prevent the ordinary person – either player or spectator – from having a real and positive involvement in all aspects of sport. It will be a sad day for sport if the local volunteer, player and supporter involved in the everyday life of sport is cut off and excluded.
The distribution and availability of match tickets has been a bone of contention as far back as any of us can remember. It seems to have become an increasingly high profile problem in recent years. This is perhaps a result of the increasing popularity of sport, the improving standard of our players nationally and internationally and the excellent work being done by sports organisations.
As long as demand exceeds supply there will always be disappointed people. However, this does not remove the responsibility from the organisations and the promoters to continually check, streamline and improve the distribution system to ensure the genuine fan is treated fairly, openly and with proper consideration. It is essential that systems and safeguards are put in place that will inhibit and, hopefully, prevent the ticket tout from gaining the advantage.
There is something mean and despicable about these touts, these cheats, who cynically, year after year and event after event, continue to abuse all the tenets of fair play to make money by depriving ordinary, decent people of the opportunity to enjoy their sport.
There is another, perhaps more alarming aspect to the involvement of ticket touts, particularly at some international matches. Event organisers and stadium managers have a serious responsibility to help ensure that spectators can attend matches in safety and in comfort and that measures are put in place to avoid conflict and violence among spectators. A key, crucial element in this is the segregation of fans, as Deputy Naughten has mentioned, and the effective distribution of tickets to ensure this segregation. The unscrupulous activities of ticket touts can throw all of these plans into disarray and undermine the carefully planned segregation of rival supporters. Sports organisations, ground management and event promoters should have proper ticket circulation arrangements in place to minimise the possibility of tickets falling into the hands of ticket touts.
As Minister with responsibility for sport I have obviously concentrated on issues affecting sport. Equally, this will apply to musical, theatrical and other cultural events. The Government is committed to the promotion and development of sport in all its aspects and at all levels. I am concerned also that everyone should have a reasonable opportunity to take part in sport and to enjoy sport as a fan and as a supporter. The involvement of ticket touts sours and spoils the enjoyment and accessibility of our great sporting events. It is essential that every effort is made to remove, or at least curtail, these ticket cheats while not, in turn, destroying the atmosphere and excitement of these wonderful occasions.
I want to deal with some aspects of the Bill which I consider require further and serious consideration. Section 3 states:
If a member of the Garda Síochána has reasonable cause for believing that a person is committing or has committed an offence under section 2(1), that member may–
(a)arrest without warrant the person who has so behaved and
(b)for the purpose of making such arrest, enter, if need be by force, and search any place where the member with reasonable cause suspects such person to be and
(c)confiscate any ticket for a specified event in the possession of the person so arrested or found in any place in which the person is arrested.
A number of issues come to mind in connection with this section. The strategic management initiative on the Garda Síochána of June 1997 recommended that the gardaí should concentrate their energies on criminal offences and traffic and should not be sidetracked into what could be termed administrative issues. There is no doubt that the Bill, as currently drafted, will divert a disproportionate amount of Garda resources to this area. We should ask ourselves if the policing of ticket touts would be a legitimate and beneficial investment of its resources by the Garda authorities.
The Bill as currently drafted gives power to a member of the Garda Síochána to arrest a person where that member has reasonable cause for believing that a person is committing or has committed an offence. Could we have a situation where, for example, a person with five tickets for his friend or who is seen from a distance by a member of the Garda Síochána to be exchanging tickets for money, is arrested on suspicion of ticket touting? These are genuine issues which must be resolved. Clearly this could raise civil liberties issues and, once again, these need careful consideration and management.
Although it is acknowledged that some ticket touting could be prevented by a stronger physical Garda presence outside sports grounds or concert venues, heavy handed Garda actions such as moves to arrest touts or persons suspected of ticket touting may have a negative effect on what for many should be an enjoyable event.
The role being proposed for the gardaí could have the effect of reducing the responsibility which currently exists for the organisers of events for the policing of the distribution of tickets. This is another matter which would have to be seriously considered. If the Government were to take a proactive role in the policing of the distribution of tickets as envisaged in the Bill, it is likely that the event organisers who benefit financially from these events might be tempted to reduce their vigilance in the distribution of tickets.
Whatever about the principle of regulating the sale of tickets, the Government would have serious reservations about the aspects of the Bill which I have just mentioned. For example, if a person were seen passing tickets to friends, how could a garda deal with that? Section 2(1) provides that it is an offence for an unauthorised person to sell or offer or expose for sale in any place, a ticket for a specified event for a price in excess of the price officially designated on the ticket by the organiser or organisers of the event. These issues must be carefully considered.
Will this Bill make the sale of tickets for corporate entertainment a criminal offence? I am aware from newspaper reports that occasionally, financially hard pressed clubs have sold their ticket allocation for rugby internationals and so on, for prices considerably above their face value. Is this what Deputy Naughten proposes? What is the position of legitimate travel agents who obtain tickets for shows in London or sporting events abroad and want to make their usual mark up? Will this be illegal? What about the ordinary GAA supporter who is desperate to get to an All-Ireland final? If he or she offers above the odds for a ticket will that constitute a criminal offence?
Who is a ticket tout? The people we see on the street get their tickets from somewhere. There is no point in targeting the sellers if we are not prepared to pursue the master minds behind them. While I agree with the Bill in principle we must take all these matters into consideration. This Bill would transfer the burden of regulating the sale of tickets away from the organiser who is gaining a profit onto the State. However, these issues can be discussed at a later stage.
As I stated at the commencement of my address I support the thrust of this Bill. I compliment Deputy Naughten on bringing it forward but I have some concerns which I hope can be satisfactorily resolved as the Bill progresses through the House. However, let the message go out from this House and let us together put the ticket touts out of business.
Tréaslaím leis an Teachta Naughten. I congratulate Deputy Naughten for bringing forward this Bill and I commend the Minister for accepting the principle. It is a major achievement for a new Deputy, like myself, to have a Private Members' Bill accepted. I commend Deputy Naughten on his work in putting the Bill together.
We are all familiar with the dealings of touts at cultural and sporting events. It must be said that we can walk past them. We do not have to buy from them. I recall attending – or rather not attending – a concert with three friends. We went hoping to get tickets and when we failed to do so and refused to pay ticket touts the price they demanded, we went home and played the CD of the artist and imagined we were at the concert.
It is not always possible to avoid paying above the face value of a ticket when one deals with the real touts. The real touts are not referred to in the Bill although we may refer to them on Committee Stage. They are the official ticket selling companies who charge a compulsory booking fee on every ticket. An REM concert is scheduled for 16 July. The advertisements say "tickets from £25" but quite clearly state in brackets, "£2.50 booking fee". The ticket costs £27.50, not £25. If one rings up to book a ticket, that is the price quoted. If one decides to call to the agent to buy a ticket rather than book it by credit card, one would have to pay – like the 40,000 teenagers who want to book their tickets and who do not have credit cards – a £2.50 booking fee. One is compelled to pay more than the face value of the ticket when purchasing it from official touts.
If I were to book four tickets, I would have to pay a £2.50 booking fee per ticket. If three friends and I were to go to see REM on 16 July, the tickets, which should cost £100, would cost £110. That is blatant exploitation of young people and is totally unjustifiable. Members referred to people who sell tickets for more than their face value outside venues, but the payment of a booking charge is an example of touting in its extreme.
If I decided to buy a ticket for the Corrs concert at the Point Depot on 17 July from an agent other than Ticketmaster, I would discover that Ticketmaster is the sole agent for the Point Depot and other venues in this city. Therefore, one has to pay a £2.50 booking fee for tickets for those venues.
While the charging of a booking fee may be justified on the basis that it ensures a customer has a seat or standing space at a concert, I discovered that no exchange or refund is allowed in respect of such tickets. The is nothing in the payment of a booking fee for the customer. Like the tout who walks away when a customer pays more than the face value for a ticket, the booking agent, Ticketmaster, has no further responsibility for customers, despite their having paid an extra £2.50 per ticket.
I thought that the profits from the sale of tickets might come back to this country and Ticketmaster might employ Irish people, but on telephoning its freefone number I discovered it is based in London, has English employees and its profits remain in England. Its profits do not go to the performer, the promoter, the venue and certainly not to the supporter. That agent is a real tout.
The reason the Ticketmaster agent gave for charging a booking fee is that it provides a 24-hour booking line. Many people here could organise such a hotline, if they were to charge a booking fee of £2.50 per ticket on anything from 6,000 to 40,000 tickets per concert. Seldom a week passes that there is not at least one concert on here. That would ensure that some of the profits from the sale of such tickets would remain here.
Ticketmaster does not sell tickets at their face value and it does not offer customers a choice. That practice is even more exploitative and abusive than the activity of the man who stands outside an event trying to sell customers tickets at their face value. Customers do not have to buy tickets from him, but if they want to buy a legitimate ticket for an event they must pay a booking charge.
I commend Deputy Naughten for introducing legislation to deal with these touts. While one can walk past them, there is an element of greed involved in touting which takes from legitimate charities and functions. I was particularly appalled to see touts outside a recent Childline concert – the proceeds of which go towards helping children in need who may be at risk – pocketing money from the sale of those tickets. Greed is at the heart of touting, but one would imagine they would have a heart.
Another type of touting, with which the Minister, Deputy de Valera, may deal, is the practice whereby customers must pay over the odds to watch televised sporting events. Certain TV companies purchase the rights to televise all the major matches and customers must purchase the right to see those matches. Customers should be able to view events for a basic charge.
Our concerts and sporting and cultural events are often marred by the touts outside those events. The Minister referred to the role of the Garda in this regard. I once found it of benefit to know a garda who I brought back to a tout selling tickets outside a venue. The tout had to insist he was selling a ticket at face value otherwise he would have been caught out. There can be advantages in that regard, but that is the thin end of the wedge.
I commend the Minister for allowing this Bill to go to Committee Stage. I look forward to the changes that will be made to it. Some way should be found to avoid the payment of booking fees on tickets, which is an unjustifiable form of exploitation. There are different types of touts, but booking agents are the worst because customers cannot avoid them.
Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Tommy Broughan Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom an Teachta Naughten a mholadh as ucht an Bille seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála. Molaim an tAire freisin as ucht glacadh leis an mBille. Beidh seans againn go léir nuair a bheidh an Bille os comhair Choiste den Teach seo leasaithe oiriúnacha a mholadh.
I compliment Deputy Naughten on introducing this Bill, which is supported by the Labour Party. I compliment the Minister on accepting the Bill and I look forward to dealing with it when it comes before the relevant committee.
Ticket touts have been a feature of sporting events and pop concerts for many years. It would be a mistake to think such touts are small time casual traders seeking to make a few quid at each event. More onus should be put on sporting bodies to keep a record of the allocation of tickets. Tickets posted to me last year for a sporting event went astray. Another person's tickets also went astray in the post. The sporting body concerned did not keep a record of the numbers of those tickets which meant that whoever got them could use them. I could not identify the tickets or the seats allocated. The introduction of legislation to deal with touting is welcome, but we should not remove the onus from sporting organisations or the promoters of concerts or theatrical events to ensure they put their houses in order. Methods can be found through the use of modern technology to ensure that the numbers of tickets issued to various people are recorded. If the people who pass on tickets to touts are identified, they, as well as touts, should be dealt with under this legislation. There is, from what I can glean, a sophisticated ticket touting network operating across the country. These people seem to be able to access blocks of tickets for key sporting and cultural events and then sell them on at exorbitant prices to spectators who cannot access tickets at the point of sale.
I am of the opinion that there is too much money in sport at present. This is bad in the short to medium term, but it could also be very damaging in the long term. The strength of the popular field games here has always been that admission to matches has been within the relatively comfortable reach of everybody. There are supporters' clubs in Ireland for many of the British premier division football teams. The tickets for those games are exorbitantly priced. The controlling commercial interests will stay as long as there is money in it, but once that money dries up they will go. This will have a very detrimental effect on sport.
Football clubs also engage in merchandising, which involves the selling of goods far above their value because they carry the club's logo. Research was carried out on bullying among school children in a particular area in Dublin. The boys who were bullied felt the worst kind of bullying was when they were referred to as "Vinnies". Effectively, "Vinnies" were people who were not wearing designer runners, designer track suits and so on. It seemed those children would prefer to be physically beaten than mocked in this particular way. There is a social aspect to this merchandising. Many parents on limited incomes which do not stretch very far are under pressure to ensure their children feel as good as everyone else's child by having merchandised goods from the various football clubs. However, they become part of an exercise in which everything is overpriced.
It may appear to be a small issue but I would like an onus to be put on the relevant Department to make the terms of this Bill clearly known to all publications – and we have an increasing print media – so that they will not carry classified advertisements for overpriced tickets.
I agree with Deputy Hanafin that booking and other extra charges should be outlawed and that tickets should have a basic price. One would wonder if the approach to some of these concerts is to pick up the money and run, with no particular responsibilities. These events must be closely monitored, not just in terms of ticket touting but also in terms of the responsibility which rests with organisers to ensure large numbers of tickets do not fall into the wrong hands, resulting in people being exploited.
I marvel at the inconvenience and discomfort that young people will suffer to go to concerts. It may stretch their income greatly to go to these concerts and they may have to save for a period. If the selling of tickets way above their marked price is allowed to continue, young people, who do not have that kind of money, will be excluded.
The punishments for such offences under this Bill are sensible. The £1,000 maximum fine and the term of imprisonment not exceeding six months are sensible, while strict and stiff enough to get the message across to the ticket touts that the game is not worth a candle.
However, the Bill will not completely prevent ticket touting because, as is the case with every prohibition that is brought in, those who are breaking the law become more sophisticated and find other ways to sell their wares. It will be an ongoing problem, but it is welcome that all sides of the House are accepting this Bill which will do a very great service to sport, theatres and concerts and, more important, will remove an underhanded, sneaky and exploitative practice that has been going on for far too long and has reached a level of sophistication which will otherwise continue to grow.
It is also welcome that the Bill contains provisions whereby registered charities can raffle or auction tickets. I won my two tickets for the All-Ireland semi-final between Waterford and Kilkenny this year in a draw – I did not have to bid for them at an auction but got them for nothing, apart from the price of the raffle ticket. I would like to see that practice continue. However, to be serious about it, it is important that no restrictions are placed on bona fide charities which seek to raise money to serve the needs in our society.
I compliment Deputy Naughten and the Minister on this legislation. The Labour Party will examine the Bill between now and Committee Stage, as will the Government and Fine Gael. I am sure the Bill can be improved, in the same spirit as has been shown in the House tonight, with a view to attaining the objectives that are important for all of us.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I congratulate the movers of the Bill, Deputies Shatter and Naughten. I also congratulate the Minister for accepting the Bill and enabling us to move towards having it enacted.
I am glad the Minister is in the Chamber. A couple of weeks ago, on the day before the closure of the capital sports grants, I had an opportunity to raise some of the concerns in regard to those grants with the Minister's colleague, which were probably transmitted to him. The Minister needs great support from the Government, given the small fund of £10 million he received this year to cater for 42 constituencies, almost four million people and the huge number of voluntary sports organisations, which are doing incredible work promoting leisure activities for all age groups. This Bill serves to remind us that one of the particular problems in regard to sport is that much of the money generated does not go to those who need it most. Where rugby, association or Gaelic football is concerned, it seems to be a huge struggle to get the money to the mentors and players on the ground who work week in and week out for their communities. I hope the Minister will ask the Government to reconsider the funding allocation he has received to carry out crucial work. I believe the Minister should have at least five times the money he has – perhaps in the region of £50 million.
I am very happy to support this Bill. Ticket touts have been a regular feature at sporting events and pop concerts for too long. I support the Dubs but we have not been in a situation recently where there was a massive demand for tickets. Like the Taoiseach, I am a Manchester United supporter. In recent years, I have witnessed very sophisticated touting systems in operation at every home game at which there is usually a capacity crowd. We have witnessed the same thing here at provincial finals and other big matches, for example, the famous Meath-Dublin matches some years ago, All-Ireland finals, semi-finals, rugby internationals and some soccer internationals. This Bill will attack the sophisticated ticket touting network operating throughout the country – the people who access blocks of tickets to key sporting and cultural events and then sell them on at exorbitant prices to spectators.
I encountered some small street traders in my own local authority this morning who were seeking licences to trade on St. Patrick's Day. The city charges such traders £10 per day to trade in certain locations. Every city and town attempts to regulate street traders in an effort to protect rate-paying ones. It is irritating that no controls whatsoever have been implemented in this area.
There is an insidious trend that companies involved in hospitality and public relations purchase large numbers of tickets and, to some extent, create a different kind of market for them. We have seen that in high profile concerts, such as the Oasis performance. There is another phenomenon of tickets going astray in various organisations which the Bill may not be able to address directly. Recently, one particular associ ation expressed concern about tickets which had apparently been distributed through clubs but which actually ended up on the streets. The Garda and the courts also have responsibilities in this area, as have major associations and promoters of cultural and musical events who must ensure they do not contribute to the creation of a false market in which speculators thrive.
If we allow this kind of behaviour to go unchecked, more and more events may fall prey to touts whose operations will become even more sophisticated. We have witnessed the degree to which they have penetrated the market in recent years for key events such as the World Cup. It is the ordinary sports or music fan who loses out and ends up either paying through the nose for the privilege of attending the event or misses it altogether.
I welcome section 3 which deals with Garda powers but it requires further consideration on Committee Stage. If one considers sophisticated touting operations, it will often be the case that an individual tout may only have one ticket in his possession whereas others may have mobile phones and be part of an operation which employs ten or 12 people. Section 3 as it stands would place a tremendous onus on gardaí in the run-up to a major event to ensure they did not home in on someone who was merely trying to transfer a ticket. A sophisticated operation would be required to detect that.
I welcome the Bill's other measures and the fact that an exception has been made for charities and voluntary groups. We have all had the pleasure of contributing to voluntary activity in which a set of tickets for a big event is often the major prize. In regard to advertising, I would have some concerns about people seeking to dispose of tickets. It is important to ensure we do not seek to impose restrictions on local papers and the kind of urban free sheets on which Deputies rely heavily to inform their electorate of developments in the Dáil or at county or city council level. We should ensure that our colleagues in the newspaper industry are well informed about precisely what kind of advertisements we are seeking to stamp out.
I referred at the outset to the funding at the Minister's disposal and the manner in which sport is accessed here and elsewhere. We have seen how Rupert Murdoch's organisation – Sky Television – and others have sought to create a vertical organisation between sporting and theatrical events and the entire television network. At the moment, Mr. Murdoch seems to be attempting to buy two of the major football clubs in Europe, namely, Manchester United and Paris-St. Germain. That, allied to his control of the extra-terrestrial television network, will place certain restrictions on the accessibility of sport. I believe that the great sporting events such as All-Ireland finals, rugby internationals and so on should be accessible to everyone. From next year onwards, we will have the Six Nations Cup with perhaps two or three big games taking place in Dublin every year.