This Bill provides for the making of ex gratia payments of £20,000 to the former employees of the Hospitals' Trust (1940) Limited or their personal representatives. Former employees or their representatives will apply for the ex gratia payment. Applications will be reviewed by an interdepartmental committee and each eligible applicant will be paid £20,000.
The Irish Hospital Sweepstakes was established in 1930 and was promoted by a private company, Hospitals' Trust (1940) Limited, in pursuance of a standing agreement with a sweepstakes committee appointed by the governing bodies of various hospitals. The Hospitals' Trust Fund was used to channel the net proceeds of the sweepstakes to hospitals for capital purposes. Statutory responsibility for the Hospitals' Trust Fund was with the Minister for Health and that for the running of the sweepstakes by Hospitals' Trust (1940) Limited with the Minister for Justice. Overall responsibility for pensions in the private sector, however, rests with the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs.
Sales of sweepstakes reached a peak of £18 million in 1961 but then declined until for the three years 1980-82 total sales were only £23.1 million. The expenses as a percentage of the proceeds came to exceed the statutory maximum of 40%. The bulk of the income had come from outside the State, and this had declined severely as legal gambling opportunities arose elsewhere. The hospital sweepstakes made various proposals for new weekly draws but the approval of successive Ministers for Justice was not forthcoming, mainly because it was considered the draws would interfere with and cause unfair compe tition with existing lotteries supporting worthy causes.
The entire workforce, then some 150 persons, were given notice of redundancy in January 1987 and received statutory redundancy payments. The Labour Court in 1987 recommended payment of redundancy of two weeks' pay per year of service in addition to the statutory payments already made. This was rejected by the company on the grounds of inability to pay. Although there was a company pension scheme, most of the persons concerned accepted a once-off lump sum of a few thousand pounds in lieu of the small pensions that were available. They are now dependent on the State old age pension.
In December 1990 the Public Hospitals (Amendment) Act enabled the Minister for Health to take over approximately £481,000 in unclaimed sweepstakes prize money, together with accrued interest, for distribution to former employees of the company. The money was distributed in 1990 and 1991 to the former employees generally regarded as the most seriously disadvantaged when the company ceased operating.
The staff made redundant in 1987 were the only employees of the company who did not receive any compensation over and above statutory redundancy entitlements, apart from a tiny pension or a small lump sum. All other groups of employees of the company who were made redundant prior to 1987 received compensation in the form of enhanced redundancy lump sums and enhanced pensions. Accordingly, this Bill is directed towards the staff who were made redundant in 1987. It provides that they receive a once-off and final payment from the Exchequer of £20,000 each. Some 147 former employees who were made redundant benefited from the Department of Health scheme in 1990-1. It is expected that the number of beneficiaries of this scheme will be similar and the cost to the Exchequer will be somewhat less than £3 million.
It is important to point out that these ex gratia payments do not involve setting a precedent for former employees in other organisations, either public or private. There are several unique features which distinguish the former employees from others. While the employees were employed by a private company, statutory responsibility for running the sweepstakes by Hospitals' Trust (1940) Limited rested with the Minister for Justice. The existence of this company was dependent on the Hospitals' Trust Fund, which was used to disburse the net proceeds of the sweepstakes to hospitals. Statutory responsibility for this fund rested with the Minister for Health.
Those employees who remained with the company until it closed received only their statutory redundancy entitlements, supplemented by a tiny occupational pension or the alternative of a small lump sum. Most of them opted to accept the lump sum which means they are dependent on their old age pension. While more than 30 of these former employees have since died, the majority are single women living in very poor circumstances. I am confident that no other group of former employees of other organisations could claim that their circumstances are similar to those of the sweepstakes employees who were made redundant in 1987.
The purpose of the Bill is to establish a mechanism which will enable ex gratia payments to be made to former employees of Hospitals' Trust (1940) Limited. Section 1 is an interpretation section and defines the terms in the Bill. The term “former employee” is defined as a person who was employed by the company for a period of which not less than 104 weeks was a period of continuous employment within the meaning of Schedule III of the Redundancy Payments Act, 1967, and continued to be employed until 1987. The term “personal representative” has the same meaning as in the Succession Act, 1965.
Section 2 provides that payment may be made to the former employee or, in the case of a deceased employee, to a personal representative. This section also identifies the level of payment at £20,000. Section 3 provides for the appointment of a committee to advise and assist the Minister in implementing the provisions of the Act. The membership of the committee will comprise two officers from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and one officer each from the Department of Finance and the Department of Health and Children. The remainder of the section deals with the position of chairman of the committee, the quorum for meetings, filling of vacancies, regulation of business and the dissolution of the committee.
Section 4 provides that applications must be made within two months of the passing of the Act, although this may be extended by the Minister. Such information as the Minister may require to process the application must be provided. Where applications are refused the applicant must be so notified in writing and the reasons for the refusal must be given. Applicants must be informed that they can appeal the decision within 21 days. Appeals against such refusals may be made within 21 days. The Minister must consider such appeals and notify the applicant of the final decision and the reasons for this decision.
Section 5 prohibits the giving of false information in relation to an application for payment. It provides for a maximum fine of £1,000, but recognises that certain defences are available. Section 6 provides that applications for payment must be referred to the committee. The committee will ascertain whether the applicant is a former employee. If the former employee is not the applicant, the committee must verify the status of the applicant in relation to the former employee. This section provides that the committee report to the Minister on its investigations and activities. The section also provides that the committee can require applicants to answer questions and provide information and documents relevant to the application. Section 7 provides that, in the case of a deceased former employee, payment will be made to the personal representative.
Section 8 provides that administrative expenses incurred by the Minister will be paid from moneys provided by the Oireachtas. Section 9 is a formal section which provides the Short Title.
This Bill represents the final chapter in the ongoing saga concerning the treatment of a small group of Sweepstakes workers who were made redundant in 1987. The perception is widespread that these workers were badly dealt with both by their former employer and the State. The Bill vindicates the campaign of these former employees for a generous gesture by Government. It is hoped that these former employees will take some satisfaction from this ex gratia payment. I commend the Bill to the House.