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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
State Papers

Irish people really didn't like paying for their TV licence 30 years ago

The government needed to make savings in 1985, and RTE was very much in the firing line.

pic2 National Archives 2015 / 88/359 National Archives 2015 / 88/359 / 88/359

STOP US IF any of this sounds familiar.

In 1983 the government commissioned an external consultant to run the numbers at RTE in a desperate search for costs that could be cut as recessionary times bit hard. The consultant’s findings have been released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

Poor RTE always seems to come into the firing line when an Irish government has a few snips to make.

tv licence

On this occasion, the consultant found that there was one way RTE could improve its efficiency – by getting people to actually pay their licence fee.

Yes, in 1983 almost 20% of viewers didn’t bother paying their annual charge.

“Reducing the level of TV licence evasion is the area of maximum potential for increasing revenue on the existing basis,” reads the consultant’s memo to government.

pic1 National Archives 2015 / 88/359 National Archives 2015 / 88/359 / 88/359

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TheJason19771977 / YouTube

The plan would have been to cede full responsibility to RTE for licence fee collection from An Post after three years. The hope was to reduce evasion from 18.6% to 13%.

In the meantime, the report states that “An Post should be given an attractive incentive payment scheme related to the level of licence fee revenue achieved”. A bonus for bothering to try to catch offenders in other words.

The consultant further estimated that RTE needed to shed 320 staff in order to improve its financial position:

There is a need for a restructuring of the corporate and senior management structures. The number of executives reporting to the Director General should be considerably reduced.

There’s no mention of what the top TV stars were paid in 1985 which is a shame. We’d hazard a guess it was less than what they get today though.

Still, the public may have been on board with the government’s plan if the thoughts of one Roscommon voter who wrote to Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald are anything to go by:

20151202_145214 National Archives 2015 / 88/359 National Archives 2015 / 88/359 / 88/359

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Read: When Maggie dropped some epic shade on Garret FitzGerald…

Read: Pornography being shown in pubs had the government in a fluster 30 years ago

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