Wednesday, 13th February 2013
I thank the Minister and my colleague, Senator O’Donnell, for tabling the motion, which I fully support. I have listened to the Minister carefully. I can see positive elements on both sides of the argument. The difficulty is that my gut is saying that we should not be doing this. That is why I am supporting the motion.
With respect, I listened to the Minister. First, on the figure of €500 million and the clear statement that there was no basis to it, while waiting to speak I put “national lottery, Brendan Howlin and €500 million” into Google. The Minister must speak to his spokespeople. Numerous newspaper articles come up in response to the search. If we take The Irish Times in August 2012, there is a reference to the lottery licence sale Bill being due next month and to the Minister, Deputy Howlin, saying that the building of the national children’s hospital could be part-funded by a front-load payment secured for the next licence to operate the national lottery. It was stated that the upfront payment to the State could be in the region of €500 million while some €200 million could go to the children’s hospital project. The article indicated that the Minister’s officials have met and held conference calls with potential bidders for the licence. I went to many sites. I was alarmed that top-10-online-gambling-sites.com is very excited and proposes to bid for the national lottery. That makes me hesitant about what is taking place.
The Minister has said we cannot afford it. It is a difficult subject because it is about the national children’s hospital. I passionately agree that we must build the hospital. I have been waiting for it. The announcement by the Minister for Health was to set up a new board for it. The hospital is like the carrot at the end of a stick. We are constantly being told that it will go ahead. I concur with Senator Norris’s image of holding the baby. It has become an emotive issue. I want the hospital to go ahead but I do not understand why we cannot have a hypothecated draw. “Hypothecated” is a new word for me.
I had to look it up. I wonder why a cost-benefit analysis has not been done. Have we looked to our nearest neighbour in the UK which had a draw for the Olympics? From what I read there was not a huge decrease in the other draw. People got behind the London Olympics project and supported it. Whatever one thinks about the Olympics, one could certainly motivate people behind the national children’s hospital, which for me is part of the reason the motion has been tabled.
The Minister also referred to interactive sales channels and mentioned that such games are already available online. It made me think of my mum saying that just because someone says one should jump over a cliff does not mean that one should do so. I am concerned about the growth of interactive sales channels, as we all are. I am trying to think it through logically. If I was a reputable company that wanted to buy the licence I would expect a return on it. If I were giving an upfront payment I would expect a return. Such a return would mean that the money raised would not go to good causes. One does not get a free lunch. As a reputable company why would I give an upfront payment? It would be because I expect to get something. Several companies around the world are now taking steps to regulate interactive sales channels. Perhaps I would expect this country to be a little more lenient on such channels. I do not say that is the Minister’s intent but where is the carrot for a company to make an upfront payment? No company would have the same vested interest in us having a national children’s hospital as the people of this country. The people of Ireland want such a hospital. I am open to being convinced by the Minister’s arguments but I am not. My gut is asking why we are not renewing the licence or staging our payments?
We can go for renewal of the licence, we do not have to go for the upfront payment. The Minister has put that argument forward about the upfront payment but we could apply for the renewal of the licence.
I have no difficulty with that. My difficulty is that by asking for an upfront payment, the bidder expects something in return. Nothing comes for free.
We get money from the draws if we have the hypothecated draw Senator O’Donnell has suggested. I would like to see a cost analysis of this. We should talk to the British and also see what payments we need for the national children’s hospital. When I was building my house I did not give the builders every cent on the day they said they would build it, even though all the plans and permissions were not yet in place. It was done in stages.
Over several years. We are still waiting for this national hospital and the draw could be in place before we know it.