Television licensing in the Republic of Ireland

Television licensing in the Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland, a television licence is required for any address at which there is a television set. In 2008, the annual licence fee is 160.cite web |url=
title= Personal Customers / TV licence |accessdate=2008-05-02 |publisher=An Post
] Revenue is collected by An Post, the Irish postal service. The bulk of the fee is used to fund Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ), the state broadcaster.


The licence must be paid for any premises that has any equipment that can potentially decode TV signals, even those that are not RTÉ's. The licence is free to anyone over the age of 70, some over 66, some Social Welfare recipients, and the blind. The fee for the licences of such beneficiaries is paid for by the state.

Collection and evasion

An Post is responsible for collection of the licence fee and commencement of prosecution proceedings in cases of non-payment. Licences can be purchased and renewed at post offices (in person or by post), or by using a credit card or debit card via a call centre or via the internet. An Post receives commission to cover the cost of its collection service. As of 2004, An Post had signalled its intention to withdraw from the business. [cite web |url= |format=PDF |accessdate=2007-09-21
title=Television Licence Fee Collection
publisher=Comptroller and Auditor General |first=John |last=Purcell |date=January 22 2004 |pages=§2.12

An Post maintains a database of addresses and uses this to inspect suspected cases of non-payment. Television dealers are required to supply details of people buying or renting televisions; this is no longer enforced as details supplied were unreliable. [Purcell, §2.35] There is no obligation on cable and satellite providers to supply details of subscribers. [Purcell, §2.37]

Inspectors, who are An Post employees, visit the premises to verify if TV receiving equipment is present. If speedy payment of the licence is not made following an inspection, court proceedings are commenced by An Post. [Purcell, pg. 34, Figure 3.5] In 2002, the rate of licence-fee evasion was estimated at 12%. [Purcell, §2.5] In the Dublin region in that year, approximately 21% of detected evaders were summonsed for prosecution (6,000 cases); [Purcell, §3.62] approximately one third of these cases resulted in fines, averaging €174. [Purcell, §3.68] Only 4% of fined evaders followed up three months later had purchased a licence. [Purcell, §3.70]


TV licence fees make up 50% of the revenue of RTÉ. The bulk of the rest comes from RTÉ broadcasting commercials on its radio and TV stations. [] RTÉ also sells programming to other broadcasting. Some RTÉ services, such as RTÉ 2fm, RTÉ Aertel,, and the transmission network operate on an entirely commercial basis.

The licence fee does not entirely go to RTÉ. Expenses first deducted include the cost of collection (paid to An Post), and funding for the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) [cite web |url=
title=Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976, §8 |date=21 December 1976 |accessdate=2007-11-06 |authorlink=Government of Ireland
] and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC). [cite web |url=
title=Broadcasting Act, 2001, §23 |date=14 March 2001 |accessdate=2007-11-06 |authorlink=Government of Ireland

5% of the balance is used for the BCI's "Sound and Vision Scheme", which provides a fund for programme production and restoration of archive material which is open to applications from any quarter. [cite web |url=
title=Broadcasting (Funding) Act 2003 |date=23 December 2003 |accessdate=2007-11-06 |authorlink=Government of Ireland
] TG4 does not obtain licence fee revenue directly, [] but does so indirectly as RTÉ is required to provide it with one hour's programming per day, [cite web |url=
title=Broadcasting Act, 2001, §47 |date=14 March 2001 |accessdate=2007-11-06 |authorlink=Government of Ireland
] as well as other technical support. RTÉ's accounts express the cost of this as a percentage of its licence fee income,] amounting to 5.3% in 2006. [] The remainder of TG4's funding is direct state grants [cite web |url=
title=Broadcasting Act, 2001, §51 |date=14 March 2001 |accessdate=2007-11-06 |authorlink=Government of Ireland
] and commercial income.


The licence has been criticised both in principle and as regards its implementation.

It is opposed for being for being outdated in a world with an increasing variety of TV channels and audio-visual technologies. [] Commercial television companies have alleged that RTÉ unfairly uses licence fee to outbid them for broadcast rights to foreign films, TV series, and sports events. RTÉ denies this. European Community competition law prevents state funding of commercial activity, and RTÉ's accounts charge for non-"public service" programming out of its commercial income rather than its licence fee subsidy.

The licence is condemned as a regressive tax,] where the majority of prosecutions are of people on low incomes.

The high cost of collection is presented as inefficient.] Licence inspectors' calling to people's doors is seen as intrusive. The low rate of prosecution of non-payers is seen as allowing evaders a "free ride". Alternative funding methods suggested include direct funding from general exchequer revenues, or a levy on electricity bills on the model of Cyprus. []

A licence is required per address, rather than per person or per set. It has been considered unfair that the same licence fee applies to a single private dwelling as to a large commercial address, such as a hotel or a privately-owned business park. In 2003, there was negative comment after a crackdown on unlicenced television sets at holiday homes, [] and proposals for a reduced-rate licence for seldom-occupied premises. []

RTÉ journalists largely support the existence of the licence, and lobby for greater increases in the fee, as being a revenue stream independent of the government and thus guaranteeing freedom from political influence and associated editorial bias. [] The opposite claim has also been made: that an annual review of the licence fee by the Government leaves RTÉ liable to political pressure.

A survey of public attitudes to public-sector broadcasting was carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute in 2004. [] The authors noted that "public discontent at the level and inherently regressive nature of the ad rem licence fee is noticeable by its absence, particularly in contrast to the difficulties associated with the introduction of some ad rem service charges, e.g. bin and water charges." [Delaney & O'Toole, p.323] The associated opinion poll recorded agree:disagree percentages of 54:29 for the statement "Public Broadcasting should be financed by the licence fee." [Delaney & O'Toole, p.333] Respondents were asked what level of monthly fee they would be prepared to pay to receive RTÉ if subscription access were hypothetically to replace the licence fee: the annualised mean and median household figures were €180 and €252.60, compared to the then licence fee of €150; [Delaney & O'Toole, p.347] those watching more RTÉ programmes were more willing to pay. [Delaney & O'Toole, p.348]


Television licences were introduced for the establishment of Telefís Éireann (now RTÉ) in 1962. Radio licences, abolished in 1972, had been introduced by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1904 [The Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1904. (4 Edw. 7, c. 24);renewed by The Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1906. (6 Edw. 7, c. 13); continued by the Expiring Laws Acts [ 5/1922] , [ 47/1923] , [ 60/1924] , and [ 41/1925] ] prior to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Non-compliance was widespread until the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1926 when the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs was empowered to prosecute those with no licence. [cite book |url=
title=WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY BILL, 1926—SECOND STAGE |series=Seanad Éireann Parliamentary Debates
author=Government of Ireland |authorlink=Government of Ireland |date=16 December 1926 |accessdate=2007-09-20 |pages=Volume 8, pp.81–82|quote=Mr. WALSH: ... I had no alternative but to take steps to expedite the collection of licence fees, which is the main source of revenue. There are, I believe, something like 40,000 wireless users in this State. We have so calculated the number at any rate, and of these only about 4,000 have so far been good enough to pay the small licence fee of 10s.
] [cite web |url=
title=Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 |date=24 December 1926 |accessdate=2007-09-21 |authorlink=Government of Ireland

Although before 1962 there was no television licence as such, a television set fell under the definition of "wireless receiver"; thus someone possessing a television but no radio would have needed a wireless licence at the same fee as someone with a radio. [cite book |url=
title=Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Radio Éireann Revenue.
series=Dáil Éireann Parliamentary Debates |pages=Volume 162, p.1094
author=Government of Ireland |authorlink=Government of Ireland |date=19 June 1957 |accessdate=2007-09-21
quote=MINISTER for POSTS and TELEGRAPHS (Mr. Blaney): There is no separate television licence; a television set is covered by the ordinary wireless receiving licence.
] Conversely between 1962 and 1972, the possessor of a television licence did not need an additional radio licence.

In 1975, members of Conradh na Gaeilge, an Irish language activist group, began campaigning for an Irish-language television station. They adopted tactics learnt from Welsh language activists of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, including non-payment of the television licence, and non-payment of fines imposed for not having a licence. This campaign of civil disobedience ended in 1996 with the establishment of Telefís na Gaeilge (now TG4). []

Century Radio, Ireland's first licensed solely private-sector broadcaster, began broadcasting in 1990. Minister Ray Burke proposed allocating 25% of the television licence revenues to private-sector broadcasters. The government rejected this, but agreed instead to cap RTÉ's advertising income. A tribunal of enquiry later established that Oliver Barry, an investor in Century Radio, had given Burke a political donation of £30,000. The advertising cap was lifted in 1993. []

In the mid 1990s, proposals were floated to distribute funding (licence fee income or otherwise) among broadcasters based on content production, on the model of New Zealand. RTÉ successfully persuaded minister Michael D. Higgins against such a change [Corcoran, pp.47-52] ; although the Sound & Vision scheme now operated effectively provides this, at a low level.

The definition of television in the original licensing legislation presumed a wireless radio broadcast receiver, and it is unclear whether it extends to computers, internet devices, 3G cellphones, or other newer technologies. As of April 2007, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey proposed modernizing the definition to include newer technologies [cite web |url= |title=Proposals for Legislation in Relation to Broadcasting PART 6: Television licence 51: Interpretation
] The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources cautioned against too broad a definition: [cite web |url=
title=Houses of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Tenth Report: Considerations, recommendations and conclusions on the Joint Committee’s consultation on the draft General Scheme of the Broadcasting Bill. |format=PDF |accessdate=2007-09-21 |pages=pp.59–61 |month=April |year=2007
] quote|The Joint Committee notes that the proposed changes to the definition and interpretation as to what constitutes a television set could have adverse effects on the perception of Ireland as a global leader in technological developments. The Joint Committee accepts that the introduction of additional forms of licence feecollection, in that regard, could negatively impact on the business sector.

Licence fee

Increases in the licence fee have been irregular. Only one happened between 1986 and 2001. Recent increases have been essentially index-linked. [cite web
title=Television Licence Fee Reviews
authorlink=Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Ireland)
author=Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
accessdate=2007-10-08 |date=2006-05-29
quote=As part of the Programme of Public Sector Broadcasting Reform, the Government decided that the RTÉ licence fee adjustment would be reviewed annually. A mechanism to allow for annual changes to the licence fee, using the CPI-X formula (i.e. the Consumer Price Index less a specified figure) was introduced by the Government in 2002.
] The annual licence fees have been as follows:


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