‘I’d like a break from being abused all the time’, says TV licence inspector in wake of RTÉ crisis

Bill O’Sullivan says situation at doors of homes got ‘hot and heavy’ last July when scandal relating to Ryan Tubridy’s pay first came to light

The day to day experience of TV licence inspectors has evolved a little since the early days of the crisis at RTÉ, according to one who attended the Communications Workers Union (CWU) conference in Galway on Wednesday.

“Where it was Ryan Tubridy and the flip flops,” said Bill O’Sullivan, a veteran inspector based in Kerry, “now it’s ‘sure, that thing is being gotten rid of, we don’t need one any more, we’d be throwing good money after bad’. That kind of sentiment.”

Mr O’Sullivan says things got “hot and heavy” for a while last July, when the scandal over payments to the broadcaster’s best-paid presenter first broke. “People were just totally outraged,” he recalls.

A large part of his work is now taken up trying to point out to people they are still obliged to pay the €160 annual fee.

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For a spell, he says, inspectors were switched to simply dropping cards through letter boxes, a move that was repeated recently when the funding issue was back in the media. Things are less heated now, but the sense of grievance encountered still persists.

Householders are also questioning whether the funding model for RTÉ will change in the future and if licenses will be abolished, and are concerned about the continuing controversies at the national broadcaster.

Mr O’Sullivan has never, he says, been physically assaulted in the course of his work, but some people do get very worked up.

“On occasion, people would be menacing but nobody has ever hit me. I would have a bit of experience dealing with people, so you try to take the heat out of the situation. But you definitely get the aggressive body language and verbals.

“It certainly gets personalised at times too. You get ridiculed, people asking what you are doing, telling you should be ashamed for yourself. It happens pretty regularly where it was only occasional before, from people who would have been paying the fee before but now say ... ‘until they get their house in order’ or ‘there is clarity on it‘.”

Recent figures show that TV licence fee income dropped by €21.9 million from late June 2023 to late February 2024 compared to the same period the previous year. “I was out in Tralee last night and at seven or eight out 14 or 15 houses in a particular estate, they said ‘we’ve always paid it but this is a joke’.”

Some TV license inspectors are worried about their futures.

“What they need is clarity, and [for the politicians] to get on with it. And for people to bear in mind that there’s 100 jobs involved, as well.

“Some of my colleagues are worried about their jobs, worrying what’s going to be there long term because right now there is the sense that revenues are being affected.

“Then we’re being dismissed and looked down upon. So I’d like to see some clarity about the whole and I’d like a break from being abused all the time.”

CWU general secretary Seán McDonagh says the union accepts the company has done its best to deal with what has been a challenging issue for everyone involved and he too would like to see clarity provided by Government on the issue.

“Something has to be done because what’s there now isn’t fit for purpose any more,” he says. “But if responsibility is to be transferred then the staff involved should be given choices and the Government will have to look at the funding implications involved of An Post losing that contract.”

In a statement, An Post confirmed increases issues in relation to the work inspectors but said episodes of violence were rare.

“In our experience, the more we speak about this, the more we encouraged copycat behaviour so in fairness to all our employees, we decline to get into the details of individuals’ experiences. But suffice it to say, this is a matter of great concern to all of us,” a spokesperson for the company said.

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