Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am very pleased to introduce this Bill because it is timely that we have a serious debate around broadcasting. There are major changes in the broadcasting arena and none of us need to be told the pace of that change. It is having an impact on the way in which people receive their media. There has been a significant move away from traditional linear television and radio towards consuming material from online services, which has had an impact on many of those who are seeking to provide linear broadcasting and newspaper media. This is a tough change and the environment has become very difficult. All Deputies have recognised this and we have had useful debates on the value of local media and the need to recognise its contribution to public service broadcasting.

The Bill is also an occasion for us to be able to recognise the importance of the public service provided by broadcasting in our community. It is, of course, primarily provided by the two major public service broadcasters, RTÉ and TG4, but it is also important to recognise the significance of local radio across the country in providing a forum for informed debate on the issues of our time, access to information about what is happening in the community and offering education opportunities and entertainment, all of which are important. While growing institutions such at Netflix provide high-quality levels of production, these platforms will not be interested in delivering the distinctive Irish content that people deserve to receive. It is important that we create within our broadcasting environment opportunities for new talent to emerge, Irish content to be created and innovation in the sector to be delivered.

The proposals in the Bill are starting the process of making significant changes. Some are related to issues that have been of concern around the levy in respect of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI. The Bill provides that it will be part funded to a maximum of 50% from television licence receipts. It is intended that any consequent reductions in levy contributions would be applied across the board by the BAI in order that all broadcasters would benefit in equal proportion from the measure. It is proposed that doing this will provide scope to exempt smaller community radio stations from the levy altogether. The Bill allows the Minister to decide what percentage of the levy to fund from television licence receipts.

People will welcome other changes, such as the fact that the BAI will be able to accrue a level of working capital to meet its day-to-day expenses without the need to pursue costly and burdensome borrowing facilities. The BAI will be granted the authority to determine exemptions and deferrals from the levy depending on the qualifying income of individual broadcasters and the level of regulation they require. As the BAI is being given greater flexibility in regard to which broadcasters are covered by the levy and to what extent, there are significant improvements in that regard.

We are also introducing an important provision in the Bill, namely, granting bursaries to journalists in local or community radio stations. It is intended that approximately €500,000 will be made available by the BAI to support 20 bursaries each year, which will benefit emerging talent in rural communities seeking to support and maintain regional broadcasting services.

We have had a wider debate on the role of the sound and vision fund. At present, 7% of receipts are set aside by the BAI for the fund. There is a need to consider whether that should be changed and I would be open to legislation that would alter that. We need to provide scope for more creative content to become available regardless of where it comes from, and that is an important vehicle in terms of how we might proceed.

As the House knows, there has been considerable debate about the way in which the current licence fee is subject to considerable evasion. A cross-governmental working group was established by the previous Minister to assess this issue. Its report examined all of the various options, including collection. I accepted the recommendation of the working group on opening up the collection of television licence fees to public tender, and I will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage to give effect to this. Where that has been done in other jurisdictions it has considerably reduced the evasion level. The current evasion rate in Ireland is 12%, compared with 7% in other countries. That offers a considerable increase of 5% in collection rates, which would represent about €10 million in additional funding if executed effectively.

We also have committed to a new broadcasting charge that would be independent of the device used, but we need time, as recommended by the working group, to introduce that. A five-year period is proposed, during which time its workings will be developed. The working group identified a number of complexities in respect of introducing it immediately. While some people had suggested adding it to the local property tax, the base for that is different because the television licence fee is related to the occupier, rather than the owner of the premises.

We will need to keep this area under review. We can now start identifying how we can move to a broader definition than is the case for the current licence fee, because the system that has been in place for many years, which links it to the ownership of a television, as currently defined, is becoming out of date. It will take time to develop a new system and carry out the necessary consultation on that but I want to move much more rapidly and start to make changes in respect of the funds available to the BAI for onward distribution to RTÉ, TG4 and the sound and vision fund.

I am conscious that this is a challenging time for RTÉ in particular. We have seen the challenges it faces following a significant decline of, I understand, 33% in its commercial revenues since the mid-2000s. The situation has stabilised for a number of years but it is a challenge. It is hard to see how that trend could be reversed.

As the BAI has pointed out, the audience profile for many of our public service broadcasters is becoming challenging.

The age profile of the typical user is very high and usage of public service broadcast media declines as one moves down the age categories. RTÉ recognises the need to transform its service in order to access a greater audience share, particularly among the younger cohort. It is committed to developing its online presence, including its web player, and providing the services that allow the web player to be relevant and quickly consumed by younger users. That challenge will take time to overcome. RTÉ is working on a transformation plan which is of great importance if it is to continue to make the quality of contribution it has always made.

The BAI indicated that RTÉ required additional funding. In the budget last year and the previous year the Government was able to deliver improved funding to support RTÉ and TG4. The BAI set out proposals for the improvement of the latter organisation. It is important to recognise that the BAI has developed new metrics to evaluate the impact of public service broadcasters. They take account of a wider range of indicators of the broadcasters' impact and relevance, including penetration of key audiences, which is a very important test of the relevance of what is being produced.

Although the Bill is important in itself, it is also part of a continuing programme of reforms which we will need to introduce in the coming years to ensure the framework for the support of the public service broadcasting all Members recognise as being of significant importance is relevant and capable. I look forward to the debate on the Bill and considering proposals put forward by Oireachtas Members. We will seek to accommodate as much change as possible on Committee Stage.

I look forward to the passage of the Bill in due course. It will be supported by Fianna Fáil.

The Minister, rightly, identified the crisis in public service journalism which affects the broadcasting and print sectors. He identified the basis of the crisis, namely, the loss of commercial revenue to digital platforms and the way in which the younger demographic is consuming media. That is factual. The real crisis arises from the fact that, unfortunately, many of the organisations which support, preserve and protect public service journalism are struggling with the change necessary to meet the needs of those who consume information on digital platforms. It has taken time to get to this stage. It is a challenge to transform and migrate to these platforms.

The difficulty and source of the crisis are that the younger population is consuming data from sources that are not trusted. I categorise it as data, rather than properly curated information. The information is not researched and has the potential to undermine the democracy of the State. I refer only to this jurisdiction in that context because that is the extent of our responsibility in drafting legislation. That said, it is a worldwide problem. For evidence of it, one can look to our nearest neighbour where digital platforms were utilised by those who promoted and desired Brexit. We saw the dissemination of what could be termed questionable information, if one was being kind. It could also be called fake news if one wished to employ the language of certain others. It was certainly poorly researched information. In some cases, it had little basis in fact, while in many others it no basis in fact. It was presented in a manner that led some people to believe there was validity to it. This has happened on many occasions. It happened during the most recent US presidential election when certain facts were distorted and presented on digital platforms. For the younger generation, the branding of the platform gives credence and credibility to the message, even though, interestingly, the platforms accept no editorial responsibility and present themselves purely as facilitators. Obliging digital platforms to stand over the content on their sites or quickly remove it will be another battle.

There was an example of this type of misinformation in the House this evening. A Deputy who seeks to deny climate change read from a print-out of a story which I recently saw on Facebook. The story attempts to gain credibility by making reference to NASA. It has no basis in fact, but it is propagated throughout the Facebook environment among a certain group of people who have sought, for their own interests in some cases, to deny climate change.

A smiliar issue arose in respect of vaccines. A person presenting as a doctor wearing a white coat and with a stethoscope encouraged parents in this country and further afield to believe certain vaccines would harm their children. As public representatives, many Members of this House have been confronted by parents in a school yard or at a school gate who proclaim the veracity of the claims made by a doctor on Facebook and Youtube and ask whether we are aware of how damaging the vaccines would be for children. The only connection between the individual in a white coat and the stethoscope that gave him or her credibility was the fact that they were both on Youtube and Facebook. Youtube and Facebook do not accept any responsibility for the providence of their content. They are merely facilitators. In this great new world of connectedness, all they do is connect people. How wonderful of them to give us all the great opportunity to connect: free speech; let us talk to each other; a little magic dust and it is a great world. Facebook, Google and Youtube rack up approximately €1 billion per week in profits, but they are not required to check the facts presented on their sites.

A local radio station in County Kerry, Clare, Sligo or Leitrim cannot allow anyone on air to present unverified facts, even though the station's licence only covers a relatively small area. The station must exhibit solid journalistic principles and have trained staff who understand how to research a story, ensure there are at least two sources for it and that the facts are checked. That is what public service journalism is about. The challenge to public service journalism, even in relatively rural areas such as those I mentioned, comes from the global players. I know that the Taoiseach and certain others like to hang out with representatives of some of these companies. They are the places in which to be seen. What one says goes unchallenged. One can do this on these platforms.

That is where one starts, perhaps with all the right intent and for all good reasons but yet over time it has the capacity to erode our democracy. To take it to the next step, if we move away from the local and regional stations and bring it to the national station, the Minister rightly identified RTÉ is challenged for many reasons, but there is a challenge in trying to maintain that cost base at a time when there is other sometimes more salacious content, which is not sourced other than just somebody with an agenda who presents it.

The bulwark against misinformation in any democracy that holds all of us to account is an independent public service journalism, the Fourth Estate as it is often referred to. If one believes in that principle, one must accept it has to be paid for. It is no longer possible to support such a level of journalism from the commercial side of the house. From an advertising perspective, in terms of getting bang for one's buck and targeting, the digital platforms will provide a much better return for the advertiser. We must find a way to fund public service journalism properly. It will take much more than what is in this Bill. It is great to talk about 20 bursaries for young journalists. That is wonderful but it goes nowhere near what is required to protect, preserve and support public service journalism.

My party has produced clear policies on a number of occasions that, if implemented, would go some way in addressing the protection and preservation of public service journalism. I do not advance these cases for any particular medium. It is not about an individual newspaper or publisher. It is about how to protect the principle of public service journalism. When I talk to various journalists, be they in broadcasting, the print sector or some who have moved to digital platforms, the challenge is how they can develop their brand and transition it into a digital space. It is costly and takes time and there is a lot of catch-up. I recognise some of them are making an effort but they are not getting the return. It is costly to do it and they will need support.

Regarding the types of things that need to happen, we must address the evasion of the licence fee. It is estimated to be able to produce somewhere between €30 million and €40 million. Unfortunately, I disagree with the Minster's proposal. He is going to change the tender process, which will have an impact on An Post. That change will create a problem somewhere else. I am not sure how much it will deliver. We can look to what they have done in the UK. The Minister is telling the successful bidder who will be awarded the contract that they will have only five years to do this. I do not know if they will they invest enough to get a return. The right thing to do would not have been to kick this out but to step up to the plate, as we know what is happening. Quite a number of homes have a device that does not fall within the definition in the Bill. Therefore, we should change the definition and make it device agnostic. However, if one is consuming public service content, one should pay the licence fee and we should allow the Revenue Commissioners to collect it. That would give equity to the 75% or 80% of the population who are already paying it who would like to see everybody pay their fair share. I have heard the argument that this issue will be another saga like Irish Water. With respect, 75% or 80% of the public were not paying for water. That is a completely separate argument and it should not have frightened off anybody, and it needed to be addressed. Some people do not have a television. It comprises a handful of houses. As long as they satisfy the people who are collecting the licence fee, sign whatever waivers are required and do not have to pay, that will get the Minister out of that problem.

Some of the €35 million, €40 million, €50 million or whatever amount of revenue would accrue from the licence fee could go to RTÉ to fill the gap that exists. It has its own transformational change to make, which it needs to address quickly. We need to see the director-general present that. She has indicated she will and I am sure she has the capacity to do it. We must recognise there are legacy issues in RTÉ. It is not a flexible company. There are unions imbedded in the organisation for a very long time. While we would like to see the organisation make changes more quickly they will be hard fought. There has to be a move - the organisation will need the support of Government - to consider the introduction of compulsory redundancies. It has not been able to get its numbers reduced in line with expectations and tough decisions need to be made. That can be done in a way that supports the bright future of the organisation.

We produced a draft Bill which proposed ring-fencing 30% of the new money collected from those who were not paying the licence fee to go to a sound and vision style fund that would be used to support public service broadcasting in the independent sector in the local and regional stations. They provide such a phenomenal level of service to their areas and to the public. They are at the local matches, in the court room, at county council meetings and they cover local festivals. They provide a phenomenal return to their communities. I accept when they got their licence, there was a requirement for 10%, or whatever percentage, of public service content, news and current affairs. That was very doable in a different time when the advertising revenues were flowing. They are not there anymore. Unfortunately, many of the stations are struggling to employ good quality journalists who know what it is to verify a story, what a story is and understand what station audiences want and how one preserves and protects the stories from their individual areas. We must ensure we do not lose any more of that. They are operating on a shoe string. With the greatest of respect to the Minister, and I have considerable respect for his capacity to get on and take tough decisions and he has done it in other areas, I do not believe we can wait five years, having regard to the local and regional stations.

We depend on our public service media in times of crises. I am conscious that while we are debating this Bill there are people in every one of those local stations, and I am sure there is a team in RTÉ tonight and in all radio stations, wondering how they will address the storm that is approaching us, how they will be the stations to which the public will turn in a time of crisis. The real issue is whether in another three or four years they will have the capacity and the wherewithal to deliver in times of crises, not only in covering such a weather event but all the other issues that arise.

We have work to do in this House. It is somewhat difficult when one is talking about the introduction of levies and taxes and use of the Revenue Commissioners as a method of collection. They are measures not necessarily always put forward from the Opposition's point of view. It normally throws the Minister the problem and suggests he sorts it out. We have gone a step further on more than one occasion in suggesting things that do not always find favour with the electorate but they are the right things to do. If one believes in public service broadcasting and public service journalism and that they have a value, then in my view I have a responsibility to put forward the proposals that I believe have the capacity to deliver, protect and preserve them.

It would be wrong not to talk about the role of public service journalism or journalism generally within the print sector because it is also struggling. We have seen what has happened in recent years. I put forward a proposal previously, which I may have mentioned to the Minister, to examine the advertising streams that go on to the digital platforms, which do not see themselves as publishers. It is time to introduce a levy on advertising on these platforms and for it to be used to fund another stream of income to the State that would again be ring-fenced for supporting journalism within the print sector.

None of these funds should be administered by politicians. I suggested in the past the role and remit of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland be broadened to address media in its entirety through the administration of the various streams of funding so we can in a real way support journalism.

It would be the citizens supporting journalism and not seen as some sort of a hand-out from the Minister or political party of the day. That would be embedded in the system and very much seen as citizens supporting the principle of an independent and free public service journalism with no encumbrance, other than to meet the standards as set down by the BAI. At the time, I suggested that the BAI, in its support of the print sector, would broaden its remit and involve personnel from the Press Council of Ireland. I also believe it is time for the Ministry to take on a role of media generally which overarches and embraces the print sector as well. One will find a level of favour and acceptance from that.

I reserve the right to bring forward some amendments. I am prepared to work with the Department on these. I hope the Minister will not use the money message on them, however, as this has become a way of knocking back certain Bills. We do not have five years. This side of the House will work with the Minister, even if it is not overly popular in certain quarters, to bring forward a method of ensuring a source of funding to support a sector important to the State and show the way in this regard. Other countries have done it. There are other supports for the print sector in other countries. We would not be out of sync in this area. I can share some of the research I have in that area with the Minister. RTÉ needs the Minister’s support and assistance soon. From the people I have spoken to in the organisation, it is clear there is a crisis. I know the Minister will be having meetings with representatives from RTÉ.

We must bring forward some amendments. The Bill is a start but goes nowhere towards meeting the crisis. To some extent, it assists the Government to live up to a commitment given by a former Taoiseach which was to reduce the BAI levy for local radio stations. It has taken some time to come to fruition. There is an issue with some of the local community radio stations. By getting LEADER funding, they go over the €250,000 threshold. This funding is to support staffing at these radio stations. Will the Minister's officials re-examine this provision again? If they are not in a position, I can bring forward an amendment to exclude all community radio stations because they are not-for-profit. Some of the larger ones support educational programmes for journalists through LEADER, which is like what the Minister is trying to do with the bursaries. This could technically put them over the threshold limit. Will the Minister examine it?

I welcome the Bill for its content but also because it provides an opportunity to have a wider discussion on public broadcasting. The Minister has taken the opportunity, as has Deputy Dooley, to set out many of the challenges we face. There is no secret that we have to face what some would describe as a "crisis" and others a "challenge" in public broadcasting. This plays out in many ways in funding, production and broadcasting itself. So many reports, analyses and policy documents have been done on public broadcasting, that they could be used to wallpaper my and the Minister’s living room. What is really needed is action and a political consensus on how we fund public broadcasting. The starting point must be what constitutes public broadcasting. Once we agree what that is, the discussion should be on how we pay for it.

There are different views as to what constitutes public broadcasting. Both the Minister and Deputy Dooley spoke of the changing face of the media and communications. People interact with television productions in a way they did not five, ten, 20 or 30 years ago. People have much more choice. It is not just TV stations. They have Netflix, Amazon and other streaming content providers which are competing with public broadcasting.

In many countries, including Ireland, we have difficulties and challenges around the ownership of the media. We have issues with billionaire owners of private radio stations who do not like hard questions being asked of them. They draw up blacklists of journalists who are to be banned from the airwaves. I do not believe that is a healthy situation for any country. We have to be conscious of perceptions - some positive, some negative - that people have of our State broadcaster. However, I would not want to see a situation like in the United States with channels like Fox News which are anything but fair and balanced. Public broadcasting and the responsibility that RTÉ has in terms of impartiality is central to underpinning the essence of public broadcasting.

Local radio stations do likewise. Hand on heart, most of the coverage that I get to communicate with the people I represent is through my local radio station. Those of us outside Dublin are privileged to have local radio stations which provide a forum for political discussion. Local radio stations provide a significant public service in broadcasting but do not get paid for it. They do not get any subsidy in the way that RTÉ does. It certainly provides what many of us would see as a core public service. Many local and community radio stations provide that service but are struggling to survive, as is much of the print media. Local newspapers are equally struggling to survive. There are ways and means to help them.

Sinn Féin gives qualified support to this Bill but on Committee Stage we will table several amendments. The Bill amends and extends the power of the BAI to impose a levy on certain broadcasters. It allows the BAI to amend provisions concerning exemptions, deferrals and refunds. It provides for payment to the BAI of a portion of fees from television licences. It amends provisions concerning content provision contracts. It provides for schemes of grants for the promotion of professional journalistic practices in certain sound broadcasters. It amends the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000.

The BAI levy on broadcasters, as with any levy or taxation, should be progressive and equitable. While the Bill gives the BAI extra scope to impose different levies on different types of broadcasters, it seems from the Bill’s wording that the BAI may not be compelled to do this. The Minister said that this will be the case but the wording, as it stands, suggests otherwise. The Bill states, "the authority may make separate levy orders for public service broadcasters, community broadcasters." It gives the BAI the potential to charge differently and then sets out the criteria for that regime. Basically, the BAI will calculate the levy in accordance with income from public and commercial streams. While the BAI is compelled to calculate levies based on income, it is not compelled to make separate levy orders for public community or for private operators. This appears to be a loophole through which community broadcasters may fall.

While the Bill gives the BAI the freedom to grant exemptions to the levy, it is not compelled to do so. Neither does it explicitly demand that community and non-profit broadcasters are exempt from the levy. It really is left to the hand of the BAI. A community broadcaster may apply for an exemption and the BAI may grant it, but nothing is guaranteed. As we have exemptions from income tax for low-paid workers, Sinn Féin believes we should have the same for low-income broadcasters.

It is counterproductive, in my party's view, to do otherwise. The same applies for local radio broadcasters who operate on a different scale and playing field to RTÉ, Virgin Media, Newstalk or Today FM. Local radio brings a different angle to public broadcasting, one that complements rather than opposes RTÉ. This is merely a concern that I have with the way the Bill is drafted, and I look forward to Committee Stage where it is hoped we can tease this out further.

Of course the BAI must be funded, but I cannot understand why its funds must come from the television licence. Given the crisis in funding for public broadcasting, why is this the case? The crisis is not only in RTÉ, although it is the national broadcaster that grabs all of the headlines when it comes to the challenges of funding for public broadcasting. The crisis is also for Irish independent producers, who have seen funding slashed over the past ten years by up to 50%.

On that, when we are looking at how we fund public broadcasting, we must look also at the principles that should underpin it. We should have greater enforcement because it is unfair that between 15% and 20% who do not pay are being subsidised by the 80% or 85% who do. Nobody accepts that is fair. There needs to be better enforcement and changes in that area. There are different views on how that is done, but we all accept that principle.

One of the principles that should underpin any change in how we fund public broadcasting, if we are to increase the pot, is that there should be more independent production. I met representatives from RTÉ recently and they accepted that is a considerable challenge. They accept that the amount they have spent on independent production has dropped from €80 million to €40 million over the course of the past ten years. That has a real impact in local communities where many of these independent production companies are based. A number of them are in my constituency and I have seen at first hand the work they do. There are many of them throughout the country that do splendid work. That is where the increased investment needs to be. We need to support independent producers in a much greater way than we have done.

A principle that should underpin reform of public broadcasting and funding to RTÉ is better accountability and transparency. While I recognise that we must protect the impartiality of RTÉ and its separation from political interference, which everyone wants to see, there is greater scope for accountability. The director general of the HSE is accountable to the Oireachtas in a way that the director general of RTÉ is not. I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts and, last year, the committee had the Secretary General of the relevant Department come before it to explain the amount of money that transfers from the Department to RTÉ. The Secretary General was not in a position to answer any questions in terms of any transparency regarding that transfer of money. There was not what could be understood as constituting a proper service level agreement. There was a service level agreement of sorts, but different from what would be understood as a service level agreement. RTÉ is not compelled to be held in any way accountable for the money that it spends. My point is when the ask from RTÉ is that it needs more taxpayers' money, surely the quid pro quo must be better accountability and better transparency because everybody who spends taxpayers' money must be fully accountable for it. I refer not only to publishing reports, but full public accountability in a way that we do not have at present.

I spoke earlier of the positive impact of independent production. It has a knock-on effect in terms of jobs. It also has an effect in terms of exports. We should not forget that well-produced radio and television programmes are sold around the world. The content made by many indigenous radio and television producers should be one of our greatest exports given the wealth of talent on this island. The fact that it is not is as much an issue of resources as anything else. Only last week, the Taoiseach was in Los Angeles trying to drum up business for the film tax breaks we offer for international companies. As far as my party can see, this is merely the application of our tax haven model to film production. The real investment needs to be in talent at home. We need to increase the funding to independent production.

I asked earlier whether we should have a discussion on what constitutes public broadcasting. Because of the challenges that RTÉ faces with its finances, there has been an increased amount of syndicated content coming from the United States and Britain that might be cheaper to broadcast at certain hours and that has essentially replaced many of the independent production programmes that were made in the past. That is not public broadcasting or the best way for a public broadcaster to provide a service and to spend taxpayers' money. There are questions that need to be asked. There are greater challenges for RTÉ that it needs to face up to as well. Sometimes when this is raised, people raise the issue of the salaries at the top, and that is one of the issues. If one were to change the salaries, the amount of money that would be generated would not solve all the problems, nor would not solve the significant challenge that the organisation has. For many people, however, perception is reality. When people look at the six-figure sums that some of these presenters are on and them availing then of companies that are set up to ensure that they do not pay proper income tax and a portion of their money is allowable for corporation tax, that rankles with people. They ask if they as taxpayers are paying for this. It is not conducive to an appetite among the public for paying more. We must look at this, and not just from the point of view of doing the right thing, which we should.

I value public services. I value public broadcasting. I do not think a person who believes in public services cannot support public broadcasting. I genuinely support it. I genuinely believe it has to be funded. I genuinely believe that citizens and taxpayers have to make that contribution. The opposite of that is it in the hands of the private sector only and us not having the plurality and impartiality that we need in public broadcasting. I also accept that there are perceptions that people have that need to be addressed. Some are not real. Some are perceived but some are real. It is up to the organisation to deal with many of these challenges.

There is much more that I can say about the State broadcaster. An all-party report published by the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment last year set out a broad agreement on what should be done. It is a frustration, not only for RTÉ but also for other radio and television stations, when they do not see those recommendations being implemented. They ask why. What is the difficulty that is holding us back, including the Government, from doing the right thing to make sure that the basis of public broadcasting is sustainable? I would like the Minister to articulate some of that.

I want to deal with grants for journalists. One element of the Bill that is easily welcomed is the provision to allow the BAI to approve a number of schemes for the provision of funds towards annual grants to be awarded to local or community sound broadcasters for the purposes of supporting good professional journalistic practices and standards. The use of academia as the main route into journalism these days is a double-edged sword. This, coupled with the use of unpaid internships, has tended to privilege those who can afford to become journalists rather than those who want to become journalists. We need more working-class voices providing content. The one place where this happens is in local and community radio, and these grants will aid that process. I look forward to this scheme being rolled out across the State, including in my county of Waterford. Such schemes matter. Not everyone can afford to work and not get paid. The professional sectors are now cursed with this practice. Indeed, if I can make the point about the practice of employing people on if-and-when contracts that has become more evident in this sector as well, that is not good practice either. There was an independent report carried out into RTÉ that showed that a large volume of staff who should have been directly employed were on such if-and-when contracts.

That also causes unease. These are the things to which I am referring when I talk about the quid pro quo and accountability. When a large amount of taxpayers' money is being given to organisations, we should be able to set standards and at least have an accepted base for how they treat employees and the types of contract put in place.

Although we will be supporting the Bill, it can be improved. It is deeper than a technical Bill and could go further in many ways. We will, therefore, be tabling amendments. We need to ensure the BAI, as regulator, has real teeth. Unfortunately, the Bill does not touch on that issue. For example, as I said, in the past week we have seen that there is a blacklist in operation among certain radio stations. There should be universal condemnation across the House, including by the Government, of the fact that there are a number of radio stations and print media publications owned by a billionaire who can take a decision to blacklist journalists because he does not like what they say about him or his company. It is not acceptable for radio stations to do this as they have obligations to maintain impartiality. It makes it all the more difficult for those who do not engage in such practices and rightly say to us, whether it be a national or local radio station or even a private television company, that they also provide an element of public service and should be rewarded for it. It makes it very difficult for us to be able to say that is the case if we have companies like Newstalk and others that can blacklist journalists. That is not going to cut it when it comes to changes that would be of benefit to all of the others.

This is a welcome opportunity for us to have a wider debate. Because I am new to this brief, as the Minister knows, I would welcome an opportunity to meet him specifically to discuss the issue of public broadcasting. I have met Virgin Media, RTÉ and independent producers and want this issue to be addressed in the best possible way. I do not think there is acceptance by all parties of what all of the solutions are. I genuinely request a meeting with the Minister in order that we can discuss some of these issues. This is a useful debate. I will be supporting the Bill in principle but with the caveat that we will be putting forward amendments in a number of areas.

I do not propose to detain the House at this hour of the night with the three T's or a typical Second Stage speech on everything I know about broadcasting on the island of Ireland. I will endeavour to stick to the legislative proposal before us.

I have a question about the proposal for the broadcasting funding scheme to be administered by the BAI to provide a bursary grants scheme for professional journalists working in certain sound broadcasters at local or community level. Will the Minister give some consideration to broadening the scheme to include print journalism? Does he have a view on whether it should be expanded to include print journalism? As we all know, historically, many journalists cut their teeth in the back street offices of local newspapers. There are many great journalists who come out of that stable and moved into the broadcasting or print journalism sphere. It would be a worthwhile proposal if it could be considered.

While the legislation is silent on the household charge, the Minister did make an announcement on it. However, he is telling us that it will be five years before it is introduced. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we have to wait for five years. I surmise that there may be political sensitivities surrounding the very idea of introducing a household charge based on experiences in the past with certain other proposals for charges. However, I do not think we should be afraid to move in that direction sooner than the Minister is proposing to do. If we are really serious about content creation, particularly from a cultural and indigenous point of view when we know that there is such creativity on this island, and if we know that we are not realising the full potential of the television licence fee and that it has a bearing on public service broadcasting, I do not understand why we cannot be more radical and imaginative in moving with greater haste and urgency. I do not understand why ensuring there is the requisite funding to support the creative content that is so vital and that sustains us could not be done in way less than five years. I share Deputy Dooley's point. I think the Minister would find agreement across the House on how we could reach that point, if the message of a household charge is articulated in the right way to the people such they understand, as citizens, what they get for their money, namely, greater content and home-grown and indigenous content, displacing some of the dross being imported by RTÉ, much of which can be watched on most other platforms. If we are not creating indigenous content, we are going down the slippery slope towards greater homogenisation. We badly need to ensure we protect and encourage home-grown content producers. It is self-evident that the content produced is of the highest order. It receives global recognition. We need to be braver in how we approach issues such as the household charge. I reiterate that the Minister would find favour across the House if there was dialogue with Opposition Members on how it could be achieved.

My last point is not pertinent to the legislation but relates to the recent announcement made by RTÉ on Lyric FM and the potential closure of the Cork studios. If RTÉ was looking to Members of this House to advocate for it on the basis of flying kites of this nature, it was going about it in a very bad way. Suggesting, for instance, in such an announcement that Lyric FM or the station in Cork which is a major regional component of RTÉ's output be closed down was not the way to go if RTÉ was seeking to find friends in political circles. We all see it as the move that it was. If it was seeking to leverage from us, as politicians representing these areas, a degree of sympathy to approach the Government to increase its funding stream, or using us as leverage to increase its funding stream in order that it could go back to the Government for a greater share of the pot, I suggest to RTÉ that it was not the way to go. It needs to engage in dialogue a little more with local public representatives on its future plans. At the same time, if we do not have RTÉ, if we do not have a public service broadcasting model, or if it is not on a sound financial footing and not future-proofed because it cannot drive new content owing to a lack of revenue, five years is too far into the future for a household charge.

As I said, there would be a willingness to engage on what broadcasting would look like in the future, and Members of this House would co-operate with the Government in that regard.

I want to ask the Minister about the EU's "Television Without Frontiers" directive. While I am asking the Minister to look into the crystal ball, it would be very useful to have the Minister's perspective on where the "Television Without Frontiers" directive stands if UK stations leave the EU and what arrangements, if any, would need to be put in place, particularly where UK channels are advertising within the Irish market. I do not know if that question is pertinent but it would be useful to have a perspective in regard to where stands the "Television Without Frontiers" directive in the event a no-deal Brexit. We have not heard of how the broadcasting component of Brexit will play out, given we consume so much content from the United Kingdom. It could be that it has no effect whatsoever but it would be useful to hear the Minister's perspective on that.

I am happy to speak on the Bill, which has several key provisions, as follows: to enable the industry regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, to impose and-or reduce the, and in some cases exempt from, payment of the broadcasting levy by certain broadcasters for new services; to provide for part-funding of the BAI from television licence receipts to a maximum of 50% of its funding, with the intention of reducing the existing broadcasting levy burden on all broadcasters; to allow the BAI to accrue a level of working capital to meet its operational requirements, which is a very interesting statement; to provide flexibility to the BAI in how it charges the broadcasting levy; and to introduce a new broadcasting funding scheme, administered by the BAI, to provide a bursary grant scheme for professional journalists working in certain sound broadcasters at local or community level.

This last item is one I am most intrigued by and most inclined to support. This is as it should be. We have to inspire and promote creative young journalists and people in the colleges who study journalism, and we must have some kind of incentives for them to be able to sustain themselves and to enhance and promote what goes on in community life. It is all about community, as far as I am concerned. Community has been forgotten about by successive Governments and the institutions of the State. Everything has been removed from the communities but without those communities, we would be a much poorer place, in particular without the people who make those communities tick. They are not waiting for handouts from the State. They are the enablers and the enthusiasts, and they nurture and support all things local. It is not all about Dublin 4 and stopping at the M50, and there is a lot of Ireland and many good people beyond that. The Minister himself came to Cluain Meala, the vale of honey, for his bean chéile. Although it was a long time ago, he should know more about rural Ireland than others.

The last point was critical. I fully support the work of local and community radio as an important voice in our national debate. A hurricane is supposed to be coming in over us tonight. I welcome the new-found engagement of the national emergency group in warning people, which is very welcome, as they have the expertise and all the scientific measurements and information from Met Éireann advising them. Supposing it does arrive and it has catastrophic effects, who will be the conveyor of communications about the damage for local people? It will not be RTÉ or any national broadcaster; it will be community radio and local radio, in my case, Tipp FM, Tipp Mid West Radio and WLR across the border. They will be on the ground, providing the service. If Dublin gets hit hard, we will not get a look-in on the news, either in Tipperary or anywhere else, because it is all about Dublin. We have seen that time and time again. When the River Dodder flooded 30 years ago, it was banner headlines from morning to night. We could be washed away or and blown away in Tipperary and RTÉ would not even know about it.

I want to salute the retired Damien Tiernan and his camera crews. Damien Tiernan was a reporter who did sterling work over the years. He struggled and he fought, and the studio was closed and merged into Waterford Institute of Technology, and we put up with that as well. We now have Conor Kane, who has replaced him. Damien Tiernan found it harder and harder to get stories and input broadcast after he had gone out and diligently reported the news. He met the people and looked after them, and was embraced and engaged by the people. He filed stories and reports but they fell off the conveyor belt in RTÉ, for whatever reason. The local news is important to the people - ní neart go cur le chéile. The people of An Roinn, Caisleain Nua and Tiobraid Árann Theas are as important as the people of Dublin 4 and the Minister should never forget that. It is at his peril that he would forget it but he has forgotten it and the Government has forgotten it. They do not support the people in rural Ireland. We do not want that much support. We want to be left alone to live in freedom, with a modicum of free press, free reporting and impartial journalism, not the organs of State and public service broadcasters out there attacking and demonising the people of rural Ireland, and making a mockery and a skit of them. That is what has happened so many times.

We see this in the context of how media ownership in this country is organised and supported. To take the most recent incident, beef farmers were driven to distraction and the beef plan was set up because monopolies in the beef industry have been mushrooming, growing and expanding for the last 40 years, and the industry has been getting away with it while successive Governments stood idly by. This time, farmers were driven to distraction. It is not that they wanted to be on pickets or wanted to upset workers in the factories but they wanted to expose this. I am still waiting for "RTÉ Investigates" to do a proper exposé on the price of a bullock or heifer when it goes into the factory, and what the farmer gets, what the factory gets and what the supermarket gets.

The Deputy did not want to hear what they said about greyhounds.

I am getting side messages from a pirate station. Fianna Fáil had enough of a say and I do not know what Deputy Dooley is saying to me. They are cut from the same cloth as the Minister.

I said the Deputy did not want to hear what they said about the greyhounds. That was a fine programme.

They are joined at the hip with confidence and supply. I would like to speak without interruption, if I can. The Deputy had plenty of time to talk.

Deputy McGrath should not invite interruptions.

I am not inviting interruptions and there is nobody else interrupting me. I am pointing out that Deputy Micheál Martin has said he fully supports the broadcasting charge, so they both know that before they even change places, before confidence and supply goes this way or that way. Tweedledum or Tweedledee, they are all the one.

I certainly telephoned RTÉ a number of times to cover this and to talk to the women, the children, the husbands and the grandparents who were making their point outside the factory gates. No, it was not interested. It was said that Fran McNulty covers that. Fran McNulty got to Cahir one day - Cathair Dún Iascaigh - but it was not covered properly and I know why.

It was on television every night and it was on radio all day, every day.

Can I continue without commentary?

There should be no comments from other Members.

Thank you. He is distracting me. If he wants to debate with me, I will debate with him any day but I am talking to the Minister about this legislation.

The Deputy should speak through the Chair.

I am speaking through the Chair. I respect the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, of course I do, but I am just saying, without interruption, if he does not mind, that we all know why that was not covered. It is the same with the national print media, which we are not talking about tonight because they are not included in the Bill.

He who pays the piper calls the tune, unfortunately. We open the Sunday newspapers and read the acres of ads for big businesses, whether Tesco, Dunnes, Aldi, Lidl or whatever you are having yourself and indeed the Marketing Institute of Ireland, MII. We have allowed these people to get too powerful and too close to political parties and the political parties are too close to them. We know that the story goes on and around and around. It is a case of, "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours".

As I said, it is timely that this legislation should come forward but, like Deputy Sherlock, I am a little distracted and confused as to why. Even though the Government had Deputy Micheál Martin supporting this new household charge, as I read in a statement, the Minister has not addressed it at all in this new Bill. He says it will take five years to implement. That is for one reason, which is that the Government with its confidence-and-supply arrangement has probably decided a date - any day soon - for the next general election and wants to get over the fact, even though Deputy Martin was in favour of it, as he is in favour of most other things the Government has done. He stands up here shadowboxing all right, saying he is not in favour of this and not in favour of that. We had that last week with the removal of our Garda headquarters in Tipperary. Deputy Cahill opposed it, and rightly so. He would because he is from Thurles. However, Deputy Martin said he was in favour of the policy, as was Deputy O'Callaghan, the justice spokesperson. We are playing a game here, a trick o' the loop, but our educated electorate see what is going on.

Going back to my local radio-----

Deputy, listen-----

I am addressing the Chair.

The Deputy is having a conversation on the side with Deputy Dooley-----

Only when he comments. I do not know what he is saying.

I was clearing my throat.

Even if Deputy Dooley coughs, Deputy McGrath thinks he is interrupting him. I ask him to continue.

I would say Deputy Dooley got the flu vaccine. He is all right. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should not worry.

Let us act like adults and parliamentarians-----

-----and concentrate on the actual debate-----

-----which is on the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019.

I appeal to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and he is always fair, to allow me-----

That is my problem: I am too fair.

-----to continue without interruption. I do not know. Comments are being made. Deputy Dooley is only four feet away from me. I want to continue.

Go raibh maith agat.

We had the snowstorm last year and there were other storms. I salute Tipp FM. Trudy Waters is a Clare woman, so my colleague on the right might know her. She is now retired.

She is outstanding.

She is still working freelance. She did an excellent job reporting the news, the views and, above all, the feelings, hindrances, accessibility problems and food and service problems people had. They are the people - of the people, by the people. Tipp FM reports from 6 a.m. until 12 midnight. Then there is Tipp Mid West radio with Joe Pryce, Pat Murphy and so on and the many backroom staff. It now has a new head of news, Ms Angela Doyle Stuart, whom I wish well. She is from Carlow. They go out and look into communities and what is going on in them. They cover community events across a broad spectrum, whether iománaíocht, cluichí peile, rince nó amhránaíocht. There is "Down Your Way with Eamon O'Dwyer" every week without fail in the paróiste of Tiobraid Árann, thuaidh agus theas. He listens to and gives exposure to the people in those areas, what they do, the culture they want to create and stimulate, how they have existed and an stair freisin - the history, as well as the culture and heritage. It is so important; if this was not done, we would lose these things. These stations do such tremendous work, and I want money ring-fenced for them from the licence fee or whatever this legislation provides for. I do not see enough of it. There are options here to support those local and regional stations. They come up here once a year, we all have a big hoo-hah, we meet them in the audiovisual room, we listen to them and we have a photo shoot. They were here only a few weeks ago. However, we need to support them and put our money where our mouth is. They are the lifeblood of the community. Ní neart go cur le chéile. They are the people who listen and give a voice to those people out there in the communities, the villages, the townlands, up in the mountains and down in the lowlands, and when there are flooding crises.

Last week in my town of Cluain Meala, we had a march about mental health. Tipp Mid West were the only people who covered it. RTÉ was not interested in the mental health problems in Tipperary or in covering them - not at all. It has more - I will not use the word "sexy", but it has different things it wants to produce and talk about. I am calling out RTÉ tonight - and Deputy Bruton is the Minister on watch - for its failures and failings and for ending up in such debt problems. Many good people worked in RTÉ. I have mentioned Damien Tiernan and Conor Kane and I also wish to mention Martina Fitzgerald, who was here with us for years and went so quickly from our sights. I wish her well, wherever she is. There are programmes on RTÉ that do nothing but make a mockery of rural Ireland from morning to night. We have journalists there on six-figure sums and more who only treat with disdain the people of rural Ireland. When Deputies Danny and Michael Healy-Rae, Michael Collins, I and others speak here, they are only ag gáire at us - laughing at us, mocking us. However, I remind the Minister and RTÉ, if its reporters are watching, that we are elected by the people of our constituencies for the time being, and only the time being, because we must face election. Whether or not we are returned, we will accept the voice of the ballot box. RTÉ has disdain for the people of rural Ireland and demonises them. It is doing so at the moment in the context of coursing and greyhound racing. It did it last week with the beef industry. However, they would have big long faces and noses and ocras on them if they did not have beef to eat or if there was no steak on the menu. Then there might be a different story.

RTÉ is very shortsighted and neglectful of people in rural Ireland. All the people of rural Ireland want is to be left alone, to do what we want to do and to express our feelings, whether in religion - as Christians - or in the Gaelic language as Gaeilgeoirs, agus rince, céilithe, set, seanscéalta agus rudaí mar sin. That is all we want to do, not to be demonised by people who are on savage pay. Some of them went off to other stations abroad and were encouraged back with incomes of more than €500,000 and inducements and so on. As other Deputies said, they are then on C2s that allow them to be self-employed to evade taxes. This all needs to be exposed. Why will RTÉ not come out and expose what is going on in big business, the cartels and the beef industry? It should expose that. I am calling now on the record of this House, as I have done already, for RTÉ to come out and do a proper "RTÉ Investigates" programme on this. It has done some tremendous "RTÉ Investigates" programme, and I salute it on that. The most recent one concerned the carry-on on the Border around Cavan with the employees in the former Quinn industries. That is savagery and nothing else, and I salute RTÉ on what it did in exposing that and the many other exposés it has done.

I criticise RTÉ, however, on the exposé it did on the greyhound industry. It did not have to go back 16 years to an old Chinese film to come up with a contorted, contrived attack on the industry. That is what it was: a contrived and totally biased attack on a sporting industry. If there are some who abuse dogs, and there is a minority, I have no truck with them, I do not support them, and it is a scandal. I do not believe, however, that any dogs from Ireland were ever put into boiling water here. It was a disgusting programme. The footage was ten or 12 years old. Then we find out that researchers on the programme are related to other people. That is not fair journalism. That is an attack on rural Ireland and the pride we have in greyhound racing. There are thousands of jobs in the industry and the spin-off industries. The Minister should remember that every man, woman, boy or girl who has a dog must have a kennel, a trailer, a box, a veterinarian, tackle and every other kind of treatment. They love their animals and want to be able to pursue their sports. We do not need the national broadcaster to do a sabotage job, a hit job, on them at the behest of a small minority, who are faceless in the main, and many of whom are not even from this country. They have an issue with the barbarity of greyhounds following a dummy hare around a track. My goodness, it is so sad, and there being so many other issues, such as the homeless in Dublin and the figures that came out today for homeless children. An exposé needs to be done on that.

RTÉ must be held to account if it produces untruths, but how can it be tackled? I myself was set up on "Prime Time" one night. I came up to meet the Minister, Deputy Ross, and Conor Faughnan and then found out RTÉ had some other person on who made an uninterrupted attack on me because of my views on rural Ireland. The way in which RTÉ behaved regarding the repeal of the eighth amendment was nothing short of scurrilous, biased and disgusting. Honest people who had a certain view and are entitled to hold that view in a democracy were demonised, undermined and caricatured in a disgraceful way by RTÉ. It was nothing short of disgraceful. Morning to night we had "repeal the eighth" on every other programme. We were talking about balance. Where was the balance?

There was no balance whatsoever, only its agenda. It is the liberal agenda that seeks change, with funding from George Soros from abroad and attacks on anything Christian. As regards mentioning the word "Christian", we saw what happened recently in a County Galway town when one of our colleagues mentioned the word "Christian". He was demonised as if he had come from outer space. What is wrong with our Christian values? They stood us well over the decades and now they are demonised by the national broadcaster.

We must have fair play. We need a Minister, and I do not expect it of this Minister, to hold it accountable for giving fair play to the ordinary people of Ireland who pay their way and pay their taxes. Certainly, go after the spongers who will not pay for their licences, but do not threaten every household with a tax that the Government cannot collect. I never advocated that people should not pay for water, but I would advocate that people not pay the RTÉ licence fee while the station is so distorted and so disdainful of anything to do with Christians. It will not investigate the persecution of Christians in the Middle East by ISIS, as well as the persecution of minority Muslim religions and other sects. There must be balance, not wall-to-wall television attacking the respectable people of rural Ireland or rural pursuits and, indeed, anything that is bad about it.

I seek support for local radio stations. They are answerable and accountable to the people. They cover the people and have nurtured many good journalists. They have supported many politicians and other groups and let them have freedom of expression. We are supposed to be a democracy, and not one that is pulled and dragged aside by the moguls in the media industry and the press, the Tescos and all the other moguls, and to hell with the ordinary people who pay the piper. It is time to have meaningful legislation, respect for ordinary citizens and to give power back to the people.

I do not have to apologise to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. I could not interrupt the leader of his group. It is a matter for yourselves to decide.

Can I speak now?

You cannot. I must call Deputy Connolly.

He can come back in.

Later on, Deputy, perhaps next week or next month.

I came too soon.

It is just an internal matter.

That can be a problem, Deputy.

We have 20 minute slots. Deputy Michael Collins and I had a 20 minute slot each.

Yes, but it will be at a later stage. I call Deputy Connolly.

Public service broadcasting is an essential ingredient of a functioning democracy and we should do anything we can to support it. That said, this Bill is quite specific. I wish to raise two issues. One relates to the Irish language and the other relates to community radio. Deputy Dooley already referred to the matter regarding community radio stations. I am not sure why the Broadcasting Authority has been left with discretion regarding the imposition of a levy on a community radio station. More importantly, a community radio station with an income of over €250,000 will be subject to the levy. As was pointed out, that income comes from the State, so one arm of the State is giving the money and another arm is imposing a levy. It does not make sense. I would appreciate if the Minister would examine that.

The second matter relates to the Broadcasting Act 2009, which the Minister is amending in certain respects. There is no mention of the Irish language. I am not sure if the Minister gave consideration to that or if there is still time to do it. I refer the Minister to the "Tuarascáil ar na Dúshláin a Bhaineann le Craoltóireacht na Gaeilge". Sin tuarascáil a d'fhoilsigh muid i mBealtaine 2019, cúpla mí ó shin. It deals with the challenges facing broadcasting in Ireland. The Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands produced the report last May and made a number of recommendations, two of which are very basic, maidir le reachtaíocht agus rialú:

1. Go dtreiseofaí le práinn na míreanna faoin nGaeilge san Acht Craolacháin 2009 chun cur ar chumas Údarás Craolacháin na hÉireann...polasaithe Gaeilge gníomhacha a fhorbairt i bpáirt le craoltóirí an Stáit.

2. Go n-aithneofaí 'Craoltóireacht na Gaeilge' mar phríomhdhualgais in aon sainmhíniú nua de 'craoltóireacht sheirbhísí poiblí' in aon reachtaíocht chumarsáide leasaithe nó nuadhréachtaithe.

To go back to that in English, we asked that the Broadcasting Act 2009 be amended. A number of specific provisions in the Act are not strong enough with regard to when a commercial radio station is granted a licence. There is an obligation in respect of the Irish language but it is extremely weak, as is the monitoring of it. Having listened to a number of presentations to the committee, we asked that it be examined with a view to increasing the power of the Broadcasting Authority, in the first place, and increasing the duty on the radio stations to comply with the obligation to broadcast in Irish.

That arose from a number of presentations, but I refer the Minister to one in particular. It is the research from Dr. John Walsh, University College Galway, and Dr. Rosemary Day, Coláiste Mhuire Gan Smál, Ollscoil Luimnigh. The research is very interesting. They pointed out that in 30 of years of broadcasting by local radio stations no research had been carried out on whether they were complying with their duty, however weak it is, under the 2009 Act. They appeared before the committee twice. In their research they contacted 59 stations. Some 53 responded, which was quite a good response. The 53 that responded said, in a collaborative way, that they were not broadcasting, or broadcasting very little, in Irish and gave their reasons. The two researchers went back to them a second time and then appeared before the committee.

The findings were that the number of weekly hours broadcast in Irish or bilingually is very low compared to the stations' overall outputs. The average weekly output is 3.23 hours, including repeats. For the most part, programmes in Irish are broadcast outside peak hours, which is after 7 p.m., overnight or early on Sunday morning. Of the commercial stations, by far the highest weekly Irish language output is from youth stations such as iRadio. They have a much higher output, but the majority of these hours are broadcast overnight when listenership is negligible. Removing iRadio, which is the youth radio, would decrease the average output to less than two hours per week per station. The next highest output of any station is on the Spin youth station. Six hours on both SpinSouthWest and the 103.8 stations are 3.6% of their output. I could give more figures, but the message from this research, interestingly, is that the stations directed to the youth had a higher content of Irish programmes and the other stations had minimal content or nothing.

The research revealed that four commercial stations - Galway Bay FM, which has since improved, KCLR FM, Midwest Radio and Today FM - and one community station broadcast no Irish in their schedules. Four commercial radio stations have no dedicated Irish language or bilingual programme and only broadcast Irish language or bilingual inserts three or four times a week. It is quite astounding with regard to Gaeltacht communities. Raidió na Gaeltachta is not involved as the research only deals with commercial and community radio stations. There are Gaeltacht districts in seven counties and they are listed in the research. None of the local Cork stations broadcasts full programmes in Irish. It also deals with Kerry and Galway. Despite a large Gaeltacht area in Galway, no Irish language material is broadcast on the local radio station, although it has improved minimally since then. MidWest Radio in Mayo broadcasts nothing in Irish although there are Gaeltacht areas in its area. Highland Radio in Donegal has 3.37 hours per week.

The absence of Irish language programming in local stations is significant due to their high listenership within their franchise area, as successive pieces of research have shown.

There is a serious problem here in the shape of the weakness of the Broadcasting Act 2009. The conclusions are that, 30 years after the legislation for independent radio in Ireland, the Irish language has only a marginal role on radio stations other than those broadcasting in Irish. This is in spite of the statutory provisions under the 2009 Act regarding Irish in the licensing process that obliges all stations to include it in their programming. However, with a small number of exceptions, stations broadcast only minimal amounts of Irish, almost invariably outside of peak hours. The legislation is weak and imprecise regarding the Irish language. A specific section states that the contracts awards committee under the broadcasting authority is obliged only to have regard to Irish when making a decision on awarding a licence. What that means is not even spelt out.

There are many other recommendations relating to the broadcasting authority. A very specific recommendation for Government was chun an reachtaíocht a threisiú, that is, to strengthen the 2009 Act. I hope the Minister will look at it as it is very specific and it is not a huge amount of work. It suggests looking at the Broadcasting Act in two or three sections to strengthen the ability of the broadcasting authority to insist on a certain level of Irish programmes being broadcast on commercial and community radio stations. It is difficult for me to stand here mar Theachta Dála as cathair dhátheangach atá ar thairseach na Gaeltachta is mó sa tír agus a bheith ar an eolas anois, 30 bliain tar éis na stáisiúin a theacht ar an aer, nach bhfuil Gaeilge ar bith ar fhormhór na stáisiúin raidió.

I hope the Government will consider my suggestions. If it does not do so, I will be forced to bring in amendments. I would prefer to work with the Minister, given our obligations under the Constitution relating to the Irish language and the fact that this legislation could be suitable with the addition of just a few sections.

This Bill focuses on a number of things. It would enable the broadcasting authority to impose, reduce, and in some cases eliminate or exempt the payment of the broadcasting levy by certain broadcasters. I am worried because we do not know what charge will be imposed. It refers to providing flexibility to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in dealing with the application of the broadcasting levy and introducing a new broadcasting funding scheme administered by the authority. It is very broad and we are not sure what it will constitute or how it will be meted out to the people who will be asked to pay. I am repeating what has been said to me all around my constituency. People are very dissatisfied with what RTÉ 1 and RTÉ 2 are producing for the fee they have to pay. TG4 appears to be the only station that satisfies a lot of people's requirements. People can watch matches and see the Fleadh Cheoil and other things of interest to people in rural Ireland. Current affairs and news on RTÉ 1 and RTÉ 2 are very good but many of the lighter programmes are very repetitive and viewers are sick of them, having seen them hundreds of times, so they turn off the television.

I am worried how the local radio stations in Kerry and around the country will fare under the new levies. They have to be supported because if it were not for Radio Kerry in the morning, people would not know if their neighbours were dead. The Road Traffic Act was imposed here by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and his supporters as well as by those who abstained. Many people are isolated in their homes and cannot even go to the pub for one pint so they stay at home. Everyone listens to Radio Kerry attentively to see who is on the list of people who pass away. People like to go to funerals but they will miss these too, and there is no going to the creamery now and there are no local shops. Most of the post offices are closed as well as the Garda stations, and there is no interaction in rural Ireland any more.

Radio Kerry has a great current affairs programme from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. five days per week, with Treasa and Jerry who keep abreast of everything that happens locally and nationally. The service is invaluable. We have entertainment programmes such as Dermot Moriarty's country music show and there is a fairly full schedule from early in the morning to late at night, which provides entertainment for people of all ages. We have Danny O'Mahony with Irish music. It has been a revelation since its inception. We had a great sports commentator, Weeshie Fogarty, who was known countywide, nationally and internationally. He was a famous man who did great work for Kerry and the GAA and all sports in the country. He will be remembered forever even though he has gone now. We have new people like Timmy Moynihan, Ambrose O'Donovan and Billy O'Shea, who are doing great work in the GAA.

If not for that great radio station, many people would be very lonely in rural parts of Kerry. It is getting better and better and deserves credit and any support that we can give it. It is not getting money from licences, as I understand it, but it needs support because it is in competition with RTÉ. Even then, it is keeping the flag flying in Kerry and is doing a great job which we are all very proud of. I am concerned that this Bill is like writing a blank cheque for this regulator. My experience of regulators has not been good. Any of the regulators we know of that were supposed to do a job did not do it right. In one case, they left the country to go down the Swanee with what happened with financial institutions in our country.

This Bill is very broad. I cannot see that I can support this Bill until we get clarification and detail as to what people will be asked to pay. Will it be an addendum to the current television licence? Will it be instead of the television licence? That is what we were told for a while. We do not know what the charge will be. As I said already, people have a problem with what they are paying for at present. People pay when they are getting value for money but if they are not getting value for money, they are slow to pay. People I represent tell me that a good deal of what is shown on RTÉ at present is not up to much. They are not happy and there is not enough modern, current content on it which would interest most people. The current affairs and the news are very good and have to be supported. We thank it for the great job it is doing on those.

What about "The Late Late Show"? The Healy-Raes are regulars on that. The Deputy has to thank it too.

I did not rule out everyone.

He does not have to speak for his brother.

Ryan Tubridy is a good operator, as was Gay Byrne before him. If it was not a good programme, it would not have lasted for this long. It has survived the test of time and I have no doubt that it will carry on for a long time to come.

The greyhound programme that depicted the greyhound industry in such a bad light was not fair on people who love their dogs, would do nothing wrong to their dogs and have fortunes invested in their dogs. I met a man the other day who said he had €22,500 invested in his dogs. They would not have those dogs if they were going to hurt them or did not feel-----

I have to interrupt Deputy Healy-Rae going round the track and ask him to-----

Just one second. The programme stated that more than 6,000 greyhounds were unaccounted for, that they had been put down and were treated badly. I can assure the House that I met one dog that was ten years old and one would not know that he was not a six month old pup.

The Deputy will have an opportunity to speak again the next time the Bill is debated.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 3 October 2019.