10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan announced the list of events he proposes to designate as of major importance to society, thus making them 'free-to-air' for Irish television viewers.
The Audio Visual Media Services Directive and Broadcasting Act provides that EU member states may designate certain sporting and cultural events in order to make them available on free television.
Events that are already available for all Irish television viewers on a 'free-to-air' basis include Ireland's Rugby World Cup games, the Summer Olympics, the All-Ireland Football and Hurling Championship finals and the Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby.
Each of Ireland's games in the RBS 6 Nations is designated as an event of 'major importance to society for which the right of a qualifying broadcaster to provide coverage on a deferred basis on a free television service should be provided in the public interest.'
Members of the public were asked to submit their opinions on which events should be designated as 'free-to-air' and added to the list.
A further consultation process is now set to take place, with advertisements appearing in the national media in the coming days. After the conclusion of the consultation process on June 4, the list will go to the European Commission for final approval.
Minister Ryan, who wants to introduce the measures by next year, says that certain events are 'an important part of our indentity, part of our culture.'
"These events are part of what we are as a nation and their enjoyment should be available to all," he explained.
"These special events should not be limited to those who have a subscription or pay-per-view service - they warrant the widest possible access for Irish people."
The IRFU has issued a statement on the matter, with its Chief Executive Philip Browne saying: "The IRFU notes Minister Ryan's announcement earlier today regarding his proposal to include the RBS 6 Nations Championship and the Heineken Cup as designated 'free-to-air' events.
"At this juncture we do not feel it appropriate to make a detailed comment, other than to say that Ireland's ability to compete at the highest levels, both internationally and at European club level, has brought tremendous enjoyment and pride to the country as a whole and has been built on rugby's ability to invest major financial resources in our teams.
"We will obviously engage actively with the Minister and his Department as part of the consultative process to ensure any proposals being brought forward would not lead to a weakening of our teams' abilities to compete, and so strike at the very heart of the game in this country."
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