Guaranteed: the six nations is part of Eamon Ryan's plan

A public consultation process set up to examine controversial government plans to make competitions such as the Six Nations and Heineken Cup freely available on terrestrial TV has attracted hundreds of submissions from interested parties.

Under proposals put forward by communications minister Eamon Ryan, the two competitions, as well as other key sporting events such as the Cheltenham Festival and certain All Ireland GAA matches, would be guaranteed as free-to-air events.

However, the plans have provoked significant criticism from the Irish Rugby Football Union, which, it argued, would limit its ability to negotiate broadcasting rights causing a negative impact on the sport.

Announcing details of the plans earlier this year, Minister Ryan said he intended to appoint an independent consultant to examine the issue, adding that a public consultation process would continue until 4 July.

A spokeswoman for Ryan confirmed it received a total of 427 submissions.

She added that the closing date for receipt of tenders in relation to the external consultant role was last Friday week, and an appointment will be made "in the weeks ahead".

"It is expected that the consultant will examine the issue for six to eight weeks before reporting to Minister Ryan," she added.

Ryan has faced strong opposition to his free-to-air plans from within Fianna Fáil. Last month, three members of the party, including former sports minister John O'Donoghue, backed a motion at an Oireachtas committee supporting the IRFU's stance against the minister's plans.

The motion, proposed by Fine Gael's Olivia Mitchell at the joint committee on sport, called for the IRFU to continue to have the independence to deal with broad­- casters in the way it felt best served the game.

However, others within Fianna Fáil, including Limerick West TD Niall Collins have indicated their support for Ryan's proposals.

A final decision is now thought unlikely to be presented to cabinet before September.