Minister Eamon Ryan: rugby plans

COMMUNICATIONS minister Eamon Ryan has hit back at his critics in the latest episode of the ongoing controversy over his plans to make Irish rugby internationals available on free-to-air television.

Pointing to the FAI's sale of the rights to all of the Republic of Ireland's home internationals to Sky back in 2002, Ryan said his proposal to designate key rugby matches as free-to-air will prevent a scenario like this happening.

It has also emerged that some of the people who are publicly criticising Ryan were the most vocal opponents of the 2002 sale to Sky.

"I would ask people to recall what happened in 2002 and ask the simple question: is there any difference between our national rugby team and that of soccer? A repeat of 2002 is precisely what the legislation is designed to avoid," Ryan told the Sunday Tribune.

Ryan has come in for criticism from politicians across the spectrum who have claimed that allowing the IRFU to have the independence to deal with broadcasters will best serve the game of rugby.

Former sports minister John O'Donoghue claimed that Ryan's plan was "all about killing the golden goose". But this contradicts comments he made in 2002, when he claimed he was "disappointed" that Irish soccer internationals were going to Sky.

Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney, who has been one of Ryan's most ardent critics, had a very different reaction to the 2002 deal. He branded it a "short-sighted" commercial decision which would later be regretted.

In a letter to a daily newspaper in 2002, another Fine Gael TD, Damien English, wrote: "I feel completely cheated by this deal. The thought of my fellow Irish fans only being able to see their fellow countrymen playing on their native turf after playing a subscription to a foreign broadcaster is morally wrong... It is an actual failure of the government that has allowed Sky to begin preying on our most prized sporting events."

Labour's then communications spokesman said it appeared "greed had triumphed once again" in Irish soccer over the interests of the fans.