Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein told to protest GAA over games coverage in Northern Ireland

By Jonathan Bell

Sinn Fein have been told to take their protest over GAA games coverage in Northern Ireland to the sporting organisation.

The party delivered letters to the BBC in Belfast and RTE in Dublin calling for them to provide extra coverage of championship games and to end "geo-blocking" - that is when coverage in Northern Ireland is blocks because of commercial rights contracts.

The BBC has said that while it wanted to show all the games, it can't because of rights restrictions and arrangements the GAA had entered into with Sky and RTE. It said only those games RTE broadcast live could be shown on the BBC.

It also said it is working to try and offer enhanced levels of coverage for this summer and beyond but did provide extensive coverage of the games on radio and online.

Sinn Fein MLA Sinead Ennis said a recent cut in coverage by the BBC to the 2018 GAA Ulster Championship from seven live games to two had caused "huge anger among GAA members and fans" in Northern Ireland.

“I have met with the BBC Head of Sports Programming to voice our disappointment and how they as a broadcaster for everyone, could and should do more to ensure that the 250,000 Gaels in the north are not unfairly disadvantaged.

"The ongoing digital partition of the island has left many citizens in the north feeling angry and let down.

“I believe there is an onus on sporting organisations and broadcasters to ensure there is equality of access to GAA coverage for citizens across the island of Ireland.

“I have launched the Fair Play for Ulster Gaels campaign in order to address these inequalities and today I presented letters to the broadcasters calling on them explore all options to improve GAA coverage in the north.”

However, the BBC said the matter was for the GAA to determine broadcasting coverage and while it wanted to show all the Ulster Championship games live was restricted by what is available from the rights holder and by partnership agreements with other broadcasters.

A spokeswoman added: "A new five-year agreement announced in December 2016, means that, on television, BBC Northern Ireland can broadcast live any Ulster Championship match selected for live broadcast by RTE, including the Ulster Final.

"As a result, this year, we were able to show two live games on BBC Two NI. We negotiated additional rights to show two games live on the BBC iPlayer. Fans were also able to watch the other four games in the Ulster Championship deferred on BBC Two.

"Live radio commentary of all Ulster Championship games was available on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Sport NI online. All eight games were available on the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service available on desktop, mobile or tablet devices and on smart TVs.

"Fans could also keep across all the action with live text reports of all the games in the Ulster Championship, first class reaction, features, analysis and match reports across BBC Sport NI’s online services and social media channels and BBC News NI services.

The GAA completed a five-year €11.5million media rights deal in late 2016.

In 2016 a motion at its annual congress calling for all televised senior inter-county championship games to be available on free-to-air channels was defeated by an 85% majority.

The size of the defeat, under GAA rules, means the matter can not be raised again until at least 2019.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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