IRFU victory on TV rights

Green Party plans to designate Six Nations and Heineken Cup rugby matches as free to air are effectively "dead in the water" and are unlikely to go ahead under a new government, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

In a development which will be seen as a victory for the IRFU – which lobbied intensively against the move – Sky and other subscription-only channels retain the right to buy up the television rights to show the matches.

Although an independent re­port examining the pros and cons of the plan was sent to government last December, it did not make it to cabinet in the lifetime of the outgoing Fianna Fáil/ Green coalition.

This means it will be up to the next government to examine the report and approve the designation of Six Nations and Heineken Cup rugby matches as free to air.

While a spokeswoman for the Department of Communications confirmed it intended to bring the issue to government "as soon as possible", she could not say when this would happen.

However, Fine Gael spokes­man on communications Leo Varadkar confirmed the party did not intend to proceed with the proposals, put forward by communications minister Eamon Ryan last year.

"Our position on this has been very clear. We won't be proceeding with it. Our view is if it ain't broke don't fix it," he told the Sunday Tribune last week.

The Indecon report, which was compiled at a cost of €73,000, was ordered by Ryan last year after he met strong opposition to his proposals from the IRFU and some of his Fianna Fáil colleagues.

Under his plans, the RBS Six Nations and Heineken Cup rugby games, as well as other key sporting events such as the Cheltenham Festival, would be guaranteed as free-to-air events.

The IRFU reacted angrily to the plans, and claimed it would lose €12m, 18% of its annual income, with damaging long-term effects on the game in Ireland.

Although some industry insiders questioned the accuracy of the sums involved, the IRFU appears to have won its battle.

The Six Nations, which starts next weekend, is currently available for free only as a deferred broadcast. But because RTÉ bought the television rights, the matches are shown live. The earliest a pay channel such as Sky could win the rights is 2013.

However, Sky has held the rights for the Heineken Cup in Ireland since 2007 and live television broadcasts are available only to subscribers.