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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 19 Oct 2017

Vol. 253 No. 14

Broadcasting Act 2009 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2017: Motion

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is very welcome, as ever.

We are here to discuss the motion regarding the Broadcasting Act 2009 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2017, which is back from committee. I call on Senator Lombard to move the motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann approves the following Order in draft:

Broadcasting Act 2009 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2017, copies of which Order in draft were laid before Seanad Éireann on 22nd June, 2017.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to address the House today and I thank the Seanad for the invitation. This is the last step on a long but worthwhile process and I welcome this opportunity to have the final stage in Seanad Éireann.

The motion put forward for approval relates to the designation of major events or the designation of events of major importance to society. The Broadcasting Act 2009 provides that I may designate certain sporting and cultural events of major importance to society in order to make them freely available on national television. In accordance with this legislation, a review of the list of designated events is conducted every three years after the conclusion of the previous review. My Department began the current review in June 2014, receiving a number of submissions from the public and relevant sporting organisations and broadcasters. Following an initial consultation, the Cabinet approved the launch of a further public consultation seeking submissions from interested parties on the current list and the possible designation of additional events.

A total of 493 submissions were received as a result of the public consultation. The consultants, Indecon, were hired to conduct a full review of the current designated events, the proposed events and the submissions received during the public consultation. Having considered this report, and consulted the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I decided to retain the events on the current list since 2003 and to add the All-Ireland Ladies Football and Camogie finals. The ladies' senior finals deserve this special recognition that is already afforded to the men's senior finals. The designation of these events is an acknowledgment of the valuable contribution that the representative associations make to women's sport throughout Ireland. Ladies football and camogie players are hugely valuable role models for girls around the country who they inspire to get involved in their local clubs. The quality of both football and camogie would teach many a young player, male and female, the skills of the game. In fact, in some cases but definitely in hurling, the camogie and ladies football championships have been far more entertaining than the men's championships. As a result, both attendance and viewing figures continue to increase for these events. This year alone as many as 46,286 people attended the senior and intermediate ladies football finals in Croke Park. This is an increase of approximately 13,000 on the 2016 final and makes it the best attended female sporting event in Europe this year. Not only that, attendance at the event was on a par with a number of other top sporting occasions this year such as the Munster senior hurling final, which had an attendance of over 45,000 or the PRO12 final between Munster and Scarlets that had an attendance of 44,000 people.

In accordance with the audiovisual media services directive, the proposed designation list was submitted for EU approval in February of this year. Following consideration by the EU Commission, approval was granted for the designation of the ladies football and camogie finals in May 2017.

The final stage in the process requires a resolution of both Houses. At the request of both Houses, the draft order designating these events was referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The committee has approved the draft order and fully supports the designation of these events. Earlier this week, Dáil Éireann passed this motion recognising the importance of the senior ladies finals. As one can see, this has been a comprehensive process with a thorough examination by a number of parties. It has provided the public, sporting bodies and broadcasters the opportunity to decide which events they would like to see designated free-to-air for the next three years. I am confident that all Senators will agree with the value of designating these events. I welcome any questions that members may have or clarifications required at this time.

I call Senator Terry Leyden and he has five minutes.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on the motion. It is a great news story. I commend him on the way he proceeded with the consultation. People had an opportunity to put forward their ideas. I presume that the rugby Six Nations Championship is included. Is that correct?

They are listed on the order.

Plus the other six, which are the All-Ireland finals. The list includes the All-Ireland Senior Ladies Football Final and All-Ireland Senior Camogie Final, which is a tremendous step forward.

As the Minister said in his statement, there has been a massive increase in attendance at these events. It is phenomenal to think that as many as 46,286 people attended the senior and intermediate ladies football finals in Croke Park, which is an increase of approximately 13,000 on the 2016 final. With the broadcasting unit, this is all going to act as a tremendous encouragement. My granddaughter has taken up camogie etc. and I believe that young people seeing their peers play in Croke Park and the matches being broadcast on national television will lead to a phenomenal increase in the number of women playing camogie and football. Funnily enough, I am not a great advocate of women's rugby. I am not over enthusiastic about it from a health point of view. Soccer and football are much different but I am not a medical expert. I would not totally encourage women to play rugby but the jury is out in that particular regard. Rugby is a very physical game. I think there are certain games more suited to women and I do not mean to be discriminatory. I mean from the point of view of the future health of women rugby players.

The Minister has done the State some service in this particular regard. I welcome his officials here today. The way that he went about this matter, the consultations that have taken place and the number of submissions that have been made certainly make it something on which we can unanimously agree is a good day's work. I presume the matches will be broadcast from 2018 onwards.

Wearing another hat, I must declare an interest in a certain establishment called Castlecoote Lodge, bar and replica Dáil and Seanad lounge. Broadcasting sports, from a rural point of view, helps rural businesses, which are under pressure from many areas. Live broadcasts of sports are phenomenally successful. These events attract people. One can see the interest in both camogie and football by the attendance figures. I know that the viewership would be very large, not only at home but abroad as well via the Internet, which is a wonderful phenomena. I was in Liverpool the other day to attend the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly like the Leas-Chathaoirleach. While I was away I could listen to Shannonside Radio, for instance. Last Monday I listened to the news and to a live radio broadcast by Anne Norris on Shannonside Radio. As the Minister can confirm, technology means that someone in San Francisco, for instance, can watch live broadcasts. Technology has created a global village and we are now all one. An event in any part of the world can now be broadcast on the web. That is why broadband is very important, which is the other portfolio under the remit of the Minister.

Last night, I met the head of Eircom at a reception. He pointed out the number of connections through eir. I hope that he will attend a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I say that to outline and support what the Minister has said about the whole area of broadband and its development.

Without further ado, I want to say, "Well done" to the Minister and congratulate him. He has many portfolios and this one is being handled extremely well. Future generations of camogie and football players will benefit from this legislation. This day, 19 October 2017, is a very important day for sporting events and the recognition of women in sport, which is vitally important.

Men's senior football finals have been broadcast on television for the past 50 years but this is the first time this is guaranteed to be free-to-air, which is a great success story. Well done and congratulations.

I compliment the Minister on piloting this important order through both Houses. It is positive and groundbreaking to have these important finals designated as free-to-air. They are overseen by two different organisations. In my part of the world, both sports have great following. This year, in particular, we had great success in camogie but traditionally, the ladies football final would be a great source of pride in Cork.

This order is an acknowledgement of the progress these sports have made and of where the recognition of female sports has to go. This is an important step and we have to push the boundaries in other parts of the country and the world. Elsewhere there is a women's sports week where women's sports are proactively promoted. I hope the Minister of State with responsibility for sport will take this into account in his review of sporting codes in Ireland.

It is also important when it comes to our national broadcaster that there is balanced commentary on these sports. It is important to have women participating in the commentary panels on both sports to give their views. Traditionally, the commentary teams for ladies football and camogie have been male. The female voice has to be heard. That boat must be pushed in broadcasting, which is an important part of the Minister's remit.

This is a good news story. Participation in women's sports has to be a priority for the Government. The Minister of State has to prioritise that whether it is through the sports capital grants that will be announced in the next few months or other initiatives he brings forward because, unfortunately, they do not get the recognition they require. More than 50% of our population is female and, therefore, we need to cater for them through sports promotion and role models. The camogie and ladies football players in my part of the world are role models and they carry weight in the community. We learn from people like Briege Corkery who is a fantastic ambassador for both codes. These are the people my young girls and every young girl in the parish looks up to. This is a major step forward but work has to be done in broadcasting when it comes to the panels that commentate on the sport and the initiatives to be introduced by the Minister of State with responsibility for sport to promote participation in women's sports. If we can tie all those bows together, hopefully we will have a strong community going forward.

I acknowledge the Minister's input into this order and it is important that both codes are covered by it. Support for them will go from strength to strength. More than 46,000 attended the All-Ireland Ladies Football Final, which was a fantastic event. I am sure if Cork had been in the final, the attendance would have been higher. Next year, the numbers will hopefully be higher because both sports have gone from strength to strength.

The designation of the ladies football and camogie finals as major events is welcome. The attendance at this year's All-Ireland Ladies Football Final was fantastic.

While it is not the Minister's direct responsibility, I would like to raise the issue of access to the broadcasts of games involving our international soccer team in the North of Ireland. If Sky Sports has the rights to the games, it denies access to them to free-to-air viewers. There is a sense of grievance about this. The man of the match and goalscorer in the Republic's most recent game was James McClean from Derry while the manager is Martin O'Neill, another Derryman. There is a strong contingent from the North of Ireland.

Unfortunately, the nationalist community in the North of Ireland follows the Irish football team. They do not connect to the football team in the North of Ireland for reasons that are well documented historically. There is a grievance and this issue needs to be addressed.

Parity of esteem is provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. There is a wider issue. Ryan Tubridy recently visited Belfast and Enniskillen. He said that by design in the North people are pushed towards BBC and UTV and, therefore, they are connecting to news that keeps them disconnected from the rest of the island of Ireland. Nationalists, in particular, have no desire to be disconnected. They want to be more connected to the rest of the island culturally and in every other way. Is there a way to resolve this issue to make sure Irish citizens in the North of Ireland who want to watch their football team the same as everybody else free-to-air can do so and not have to pay through Sky Sports? It is an important issue and I appreciate it is not the Minister's direct responsibility. It is part of the collective challenge we face and it would be very much appreciated. The issue has been brought to our attention repeatedly. My colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, has championed this. He is a native of Belfast and a former mayor of the city. He is a passionate supporter of our football team.

This order is positive news on a positive day.

I join in the welcome to the Minister. I also welcome the positivity of the designation of these new events. I commend the Minister not only on the order he has brought to the House but on the process that led to it. It is positive to have that level of public engagement and discussion around what we value as a society, what we want broadcast free-to-air and what we feel is part of our national culture and sporting heritage that we should share together. It was a commendable process with a positive outcome.

It is significant for Gaelic football and hurling. I am particularly pleased, because my cousin played in nine all-Ireland ladies football finals, that these events are being recognised. I commend all the women in sport in Ireland who have in recent years pushed strongly to demand parity of recognition like women in so many other areas. As Senator Lombard said, this should be reflected in commentary panels and management teams, and other aspects of sport. It is not just about playing. Women have extraordinary physical and mental abilities and there is excellence in all sports played by women in Ireland. I hope more women's sports will be added to this list in future.

As previous speakers said, 46,000 people attended the All-Ireland Ladies Football Final this year and that number will increase. The signal from the State of improved parity of esteem and parity of recognition is important. I hope that the semi-finals in both codes will make the list following the next three-year review. The semi-finals and finals of the men's football and hurling competitions are free-to-air.

This is a positive moment for women in sport and free-to-air broadcasting.

The reason we get to make this decision and can have a list to which we add events that should be publicly available to view - the reason we have a national broadcaster at all - goes back to 1993 and the exception culturelle. I refer to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT, talks. Jacques Delors and other Ministers, including our own culture Minister at the time, took a stand and insisted that, in these trade agreements, culture had to be treated differently. The translation of the exception culturelle states that we need to recognise that cultural goods and services encompass value, identity and meanings that go beyond their strictly commercial value. That was an important marker that was laid down back in the 1990s. At the time, it was said that only Europe was in a position to demand that culture be treated rightly in those trade agreements. It is notable that one year later, in 1994, Canada copied the exception. It became a standard and, within the World Trade Organization now, we see much stronger rights for nations in areas like broadcasting and the right to shape cultural identity. It has become a principle in trade.

I am raising this now because I have been urging Ireland and Europe to take a stand again in trade negotiations and to demand higher standards. When we do put down a marker, as I have urged this House, the Government and the European Commission negotiators to do, when we demand better standards and ensure that we protect the public interests of citizens across Europe, we get a better outcome and contribute to a better kind of trade. This wonderful moment today, when we can discuss what matters outside the commercial context, was won by bravery in the 1990s. I ask the Minister to feed this point back to the Government. Are there other areas which encompass values and meaning that go beyond strictly commercial value? How are we working to protect them in trade today? I commend the Minister, the process and the outcome and I look forward to watching all these matches further via our national broadcaster.

In response to Senator Leyden, I am looking forward to next year's under 12s camogie championship. The Senator will be shouting for Athleague but I will definitely be shouting for Roscommon Gaels. There will be skin and hair flying I am sure.

The Minister might be shouting for Roscommon Gaels but I have more right to Roscommon town. He should never forget that.

Senator Leyden pointed out that Irish people right across the globe can now listen in to matches in their home parishes through local radio. I urge colleagues to encourage the Irish people they meet abroad to utilise the Irish radio app. It is a great way to find out what is going on in one's own community. While I have the chance, I also wish to acknowledge the role that all the national broadcasters and local radio stations played in providing clear information to the public last Monday during the terrible storms.

Several Senators have touched on the numbers that attended the all-Ireland football final. There were mixed emotions, whether one was shouting for Dublin or Mayo but it was a great achievement to see Dublin win on this occasion. Even though there were smaller viewership and attendance numbers, the all-Ireland camogie finals were really entertaining this year. It was a cracking game between Meath and Cork. There was debate as to whether Meath should have won on the first day, but we will not go into that. Meath went on to win on the second occasion. The performance of Rena Buckley, in becoming the first person ever to lift both all-Ireland senior hurling and football trophies, really needs to be acknowledged. She is a sportsperson with 18 all-Ireland medals. Not even the best in Kerry have ever come anywhere near that. Even the former Deputy, Jimmy Deenihan, never came within an ass's roar of it. She is a phenomenal athlete and it was great to see the match.

Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of broadcasting rights in Northern Ireland. That is a matter for the sporting organisations and how they allocate those rights, although I have no doubt that RTÉ would be quite willing to facilitate it.

Senator Higgins made reference to her cousin. My own cousin also has an all-Ireland camogie medal with Galway. The Senator is right on the issue of trade. Far greater debate could be had in both Houses on the broader issues of trade, not just in respect of the benefit for us in this country but also in respect of the developing world. Rather than overseas development aid, ODA, I think there are huge opportunities for trade such as assisting countries to build up capacity in order that they can directly import into high-value areas such as the European Union. I made my views strongly known in the sugar debate that took place here. I was a very lone voice in the Lower House at that time but I have been proven right.

I want to raise one issue about which I feel very strongly, namely, women's participation not just in sport but on State boards. There are quite a number of State boards under my control. I am very anxious to put more women on State boards. On some occasions, I have been very limited in respect of the lists that have come to me through the Public Appointments Service, PAS, system. I ask colleagues in the Upper House to actively encourage women to register with the PAS system and apply for positions on boards and as chairpersons of boards, particularly those under my own aegis but also right across Government. I especially encourage women from outside the Dublin area to do so. It is important that we have a good mix of people, not just from Dublin but from throughout the country, who can bring different perspectives to bear. In one instance, where I had two positions to appoint, three names came up to me and all three were men. I know there are very capable women out there who are willing to participate on boards. I actively encourage colleagues in this respect. We all know very good, competent, capable women who would add to many of our State boards.

I thank the Minister.

No, it is over.

It is not over.

It is over. The Senator got his five minutes.

I just want two seconds for a supplementary question. All I want to ask the Minister is whether TV3 can apply for this free-to-air as well as RTÉ.

Anyone can broadcast.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 1.40 p.m.