Speech – National Lottery Bill

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 29th January 2013

 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

 

Given the current difficult financial straits that this country has found itself in in recent years, all avenues have had to be explored in terms of finding the finance necessary to get the country back on its feet economically and as part of this, a number of initiatives were identified which could produce revenue, while ensuring that valuable assets were retained in state ownership.

 

The decision to hold a competition for the next National Lottery 20-year licence was among the novel funding avenues identified and I have to compliment Minister Howlin on bringing this idea to fruition in a speedy manner.

 

The new licensing arrangement is timely as new legislation was needed in any event to take account of new regulatory functions. I understand that following the hoped-for passing of this legislation, the licence competition will be launched very quickly, with a view to having the new licensee in place early next year.

 

While we do need innovative solutions given the difficult times we find ourselves in, it is imperative that we do not diminish the ability of future generations to benefit from assets already owned by the state and I believe that the sale of this licence is an option which can have the twin effects of raising money while not selling assets.

 

One concern I do have in relation to this Bill relates to securing the future of the many small retail stores that are the lifeblood of local rural communities and which need to retain their margins in relation to scratch cards and other lottery products.

 

At the moment, such small stores receive a margin of six percent on their sales and there is no provision in this Bill to secure that margin for the next twenty years. Instead, it is to be addressed in the licence and I believe that ensuring that this margin is retained is crucial for the future viability of such small stores.

 

Another element that really must be safeguarded is the funding that goes to good causes. In 2011, sales of national lottery tickets created €761.4 million in revenue, with over €422 million of that going in prizes. Good causes received over €231 million. That is a very substantial figure, which is a tremendous boost to voluntary groups all over the country. I note that the protection of this funding is to be provided for in the licence as opposed to the legislation.

 

Groups such as RG DATA have called for the percentage of the takings to be distributed among good causes to be retained. Reducing the amount of money going to good causes would make buying such products less attractive and would eventually result in a decline in sales, which would be counter-productive.

 

The issue of Ireland’s love affair with gambling and the trouble that our gambling gene has brought on the country to date, thanks to the reckless gambling indulged in by certain elements of the banking sector, has been widely discussed this week.

 

Addiction is ruining many lives and for many families, a family member’s addiction to gambling has resulted in incomprehensible misery. We have to ensure that the licence offered to any new licensee has strict regulations to ward against pushing gambling products in the direction of already vulnerable people. For example, the availability of lottery games in pubs or other places where people are interacting with alcohol.

 

The economic necessity that prompted the sale of this licence is the need for a new state-of-the-art children’s hospital for the nation and I believe that the children of the nation deserve this hospital and it should become available to the current generation of children, as opposed to the next generation and this is why it is important that money is raised from this licence and also that it is used in a most effective manner to delivery this key piece of national health infrastructure in a timely manner.

 

This new hospital will be of great benefit to the sick children of the nation and their families and it is about time that all of the various paediatric services are brought together in one cohesive setting.

 

Of course, the building of the new hospital will also be of benefit in terms of the jobs that will accrue and a report from ICTU has already suggested that up to 2,750 jobs could be involved in the construction phase of the children’s hospital.

 

In conclusion, it is important to remember that this is not the sale of the National Lottery, but rather is the sale of the licence to operate the lottery for a defined period of twenty years.

 

I believe that it is a good mechanism for freeing up money for state coffers at a crucial juncture in our history and by ring fencing the money for an important national project, I believe that we can look forward to twin benefits from this legislation.