Many people believe that voluntary contributions, such as those made by the general public to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, are a source of revenue. Others believe that they continue to be paid for by the British Exchequer, or by Trinity House. Another misconception is that the service is completely paid for by the Irish Government.
In fact, the Commissioners of Irish Lights is a 'User Pays Service', the primary source of revenue coming from dues levied on commercial shipping which relies for its safety on these aids to navigation. Pleasure craft under 20 tons and fishing vessels within the Republic of Ireland are exempt from these charges, although they are major beneficiaries.
Ships entering ports and harbours in Ireland pay light dues towards the upkeep of the lighthouse service.
The concept of commercial shipping paying dues to fund light services was developed in the last century and is similar to the idea that road tax and tolls should fund our roads. Ships trading to Great Britain and Ireland pay 'Light Dues' when they call to ports to discharge or load cargoes. These 'Light Dues' are based on the net registered tonnage of the vessel and on the frequency and number of voyages per annum. The Dues are collected either by the relevant customs authority or by ship's agents acting on behalf of the lighthouse authorities.
The 'Light Dues' collected in Ireland are not sufficient to meet the full cost of the service. However, as Ireland lies in the path of the major transatlantic shipping lanes, vessels not calling to Irish ports still benefit from the service.
For this reason all light dues collected in Britain and Ireland are pooled into a central fund called the General Lighthouse Fund (GLF) which is administered by the Department for Transport.
This fund meets the costs of the three General Lighthouse Authorities (GLAs). Additionally, a grant in aid is made to the GLF by the Irish Government's Department of Transport.
At present, there is some debate on the whole topic of a 'User Pays' Service as to whether this means of financing the Aids to Navigation services should be paid from central government funding.