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.