Adjournment Debate. - National Lottery Funds.

The national lottery was first suggested to the Government by Cospóir as a sports lottery. It was intended that the lottery should finance the sector which had become a Cinderella as far as the spending of Exchequer funds was concerned, namely sport. The 1986 legislation which established the national lottery failed to confine the spending of its proceeds, or at least a decent proportion of them, to sport. It stated that lottery funds should be divided "in such amounts as the Government may determine" on various matters, including sport.

The result has been all too predictable. The huge revenue generated by the national lottery has disappeared into the Exchequer and sport, as a result, has become progressively marginalised. This has allowed successive Governments to avoid painful expenditure cutting decisions. However, this has been done at the expense of sport and leisure. Accountability and transparency in the expenditure of lottery funding have been conspicuous by their absence. Recent research has shown that lottery funding is distributed over 13 Oireachtas Votes, eight Government Departments, 32 budget subheads, eight health boards, 39 local authorities and 38 vocational education committees. Even the meagre amount left over for sport and leisure has become little more than a device to enable Members, particularly on the Government side, to purchase votes in their constituencies.

The 1992 allocation of £12.5 million to fund sport represents about 4p for every pound spent by the public on the lotto and scratch cards. This starkly illustrates how self deluding and myopic policy has become in this crucial area. It ignores entirely the crucial importance of sport and leisure in modern life and its doubtless increased importance in the world of the future. It also ignores the socio-economic benefits which flow from proper investment in sport. For example, the hosting of international events would bring large numbers of tourists to Ireland with consequent positive publicity abroad. The building of sports facilities can be used to regenerate areas of urban decline; there are several excellent examples of this abroad. Successive Governments have also chosen to turn a blind eye to the fact that the voluntary efforts of many of those involved in sporting organisations thoughout the country have helped to contain crime and vandalism. All their efforts have elicited from the Government to date is a mean and mealy mouthed response.

Does the Government propose to establish an independent commission to distribute lottery funds? Does it intend to change the 1986 legislation to ensure that sport obtains at least a decent proportion of these funds? Does it intend to introduce transparency and accountability to this area? A good place to start would be to publish guidelines, which would be available for public inspection, under which lottery funds are allocated. In the absence of these reforms the lottery will continue to fail abysmally to have the beneficial effect on Irish life which it was originally designed and intended to have.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and for the generally constructive case he made. We know the system and how politics are played but behind the case he made there is a serious point which I will address. Since the establishment of the national lottery demands for lottery funding have consistently outstripped the available resources. The allocations for the various activities funded from the national lottery are negotiated annually by individual spending Ministers as part of the overall Estimates process.

It might be helpful to explain how lottery spending is decided. There appears to be some confusion about this. While the Minister for Finance is responsible for the overall operation of the national lottery, it is the Government that decides, under section 5 of the National Lottery Act, 1986 how the surplus from the national lottery is to be spent. Such allocations by the Government are usually made in the context of the annual Estimates process. Responsibility for the disbursement of lottery grants then rests with the relevant spending Minister. The present system has many strengths in that the allocations are voted on by the Dáil, Ministers are accountable to the Dáil for their decisions and the accounts of each Department are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General at the end of each financial year.

Under section five of the National Lottery Act, 1986, the surplus from the national lottery may be used for the following purposes: sport and other recreation, national culture, including the Irish language, the arts, within the meaning of the Arts Act, 1951, the health of the community and for such other purposes as the Government may determine. The following additional beneficiary categories have also been designated: youth, national heritage, welfare, and amenities.

The allocations for sport are administered by the Minister for Education and amount to approximately £10.6 million out of a total of £88.2 million lottery allocations in 1996.

These allocations form part of the lottery funding for the general expenses of youth and sports organisations, other expenditure in relation to youth and sports activities and the provision of major sports facilities. It is also worth noting that approximately one third of moneys from the national lottery surplus is spent in the related areas of youth, sport, recreation and amenities. Approximately £27.5 million of lottery moneys was spent on these areas in 1995 and a total of over £200 million was spent in the period 1987 to 1995.

I am satisfied that these areas receive a fair proportion of lottery moneys and would point out that expenditure on sport and related areas could only be increased if expenditure in other desirable areas such as the arts, welfare or the health of the community were cut back.

Suggestions have been made that a board or boards be established to disburse lottery funds, perhaps along the lines of the British model. The British arrangements have come into effect comparatively recently and it is too early to reach definite conclusions as to whether they are likely to give general satisfaction. Criticism has, however, been made that the process in the UK is slow moving and does not provide for accountability to Parliament, which is an important feature of our system.

The national lottery has made a valuable contribution to the development of sport and many other activities of importance to the community and I look forward to a continued positive performance from it.