I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House.
National Lottery Bill 2012: Second Stage
I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to return to the Seanad. I am aware that this matter has been debated twice in the past 12-----
On a point of order, an bhfuil ráiteas an tAire Stáit le fáil? Is the Minister of State's speech available in print?
I am sure that it will be. Is the Minister of State's speech available?
I understand it is outside the Chamber. Will I get the Senator a copy?
As I was saying-----
I beg the Minister of State's pardon, but is the House quorate?
No, but if the Senator wishes a quorum to be called, that is her prerogative.
I absolutely do, out of respect for the Minister of State and the Bill.
This matter has been extensively debated recently in this and the Lower House. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and the Government welcome such debate. It gives Members of the Oireachtas the opportunity to outline their views and concerns regarding Government proposals. It also facilitates the in-depth discussion of issues and allows time to clarify any misunderstanding or misapprehension that there may be.
The Bill was published in December 2012 and was passed by the Dáil last Wednesday, 17 April. The Bill, which is intended to replace the National Lottery Act 1986, has a number of purposes, in particular to continue to provide a legislative framework for the operation of a national lottery, to continue to safeguard the integrity of the national lottery-----
I am sorry that I must interrupt the Minister of State but, out of respect for his office-----
Does the Senator have a point of order?
-----we still do not have a quorum. We got it for one second, but then it disappeared. We need 12 Senators.
I apologise to the Minister of State.
The third objective is to provide a new national lottery regulator, which shall be funded by the national lottery operator and be independent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
Fourth, it will set out certain principles regarding the regulation of the national lottery, such as the circumstances in which a licence may be amended or revoked. A number of amendments were made to the Bill during its passage through the Dáil. For example, the natural environment has been added to the list of good causes which may receive national lottery funding. However, none of the amendments made impact on the fundamental purposes of the Bill.
The national lottery commenced operating 26 years ago. In that time, the lottery has raised some €4 billion for good causes. It has also maintained the support of the general public, which is crucial to the success of a State lottery. There has never been any issue with the integrity, probity or ethos of the national lottery. There may be different views regarding the future of the national lottery but there is almost universal consensus that the lottery has been an outstanding success since its establishment. Inevitably, the national lottery has been affected by the economic downturn of recent years. Nevertheless, the lottery has proved itself to be resilient and it continues to generate a very significant surplus for the State each year. This surplus is used to fund a range of good causes in every part of the country. I wish to emphasise that the provision of annual funding for good causes will continue to be central to the arrangements for the next licence.
The present licence to operate the national lottery was granted to An Post National Lottery Company in late 2001 and is due to expire later this year. Following an examination of the various options by my Department, the Government agreed in April 2012 that the following arrangements will apply to the next national lottery licence: there will be a competitive process for the award of the licence, which will be for a period of 20 years; the terms of the next licence will include an upfront payment to the State which will help fund the new national children's hospital; and the next licence will involve the ongoing provision of a significant level of funding for good causes each year.
I wish to emphasise at the outset of this debate that I do not have any discretion regarding whether to hold a competition for the next national lottery licence. Under EU law, the State is obliged to hold a competition for the next licence. However, the State may set the terms of both the competition and the licence itself, such as the duration of the licence and the financial arrangements that underpin it. The fact that I am legally obliged to hold a competition may have been overlooked by one or two contributors to the debates in the Dáil, who seemed to be under the impression that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, could simply award the next licence to whomsoever pleased him without having to hold a competition. Neither the Minister nor I have that option and a competition for the current licence was held between 1999 and 2001. Therefore, this will not be the first time for the State to hold a competition for the national lottery licence.
I do not need to remind Senators of the difficult economic issues we face. This is something which I think is sometimes lost sight of in debates on this issue. Given the present budgetary position, the Government needs to be innovative and creative where opportunities arise to generate additional resources for the State. All parties are agreed that the national children's hospital should be built and that the resources to build it have to be found. Therefore, the Government has decided to take advantage of the expiry of the current lottery licence to provide for new arrangements for the next licence, which will involve an up-front payment to the State.
Despite what was claimed in this House during a previous debate on this issue, the national lottery is not being "sold". A competition will take place for a 20-year licence to operate the national lottery on behalf of the State, which will involve an up-front payment. A number of Deputies and Senators have made the suggestion that the money could be raised through holding a series of special lottery draws to raise funds for the hospital. However, as I have frequently pointed out, such an initiative would simply involve much less funding for good causes, such as sport and recreation, health in the community, or arts and heritage. We are all aware of the enormous benefit of such funding to individuals and communities in every part of the country. Many examples of such projects have been cited recently, for example, by Members of this House during our debate last February. The Government is determined that any initiative to raise funding for the national children's hospital will not be at the expense of good causes. The Government's approach involves an upfront payment and the safeguarding of annual funding for good causes.
When I announced the Government's decision regarding the next licence in April 2012, the intention was that the building of the national children's hospital would commence in the near future. Developments since have meant that the timescale for the hospital has been put back. A question has been raised, and quite legitimately so, in ensuring that funding from the up-front payment will be safeguarded for the hospital. During the debate on this Bill on Committee Stage in the other House, the Minister gave a formal commitment that when the competition for the next national lottery licence is concluded and the Exchequer is in receipt of the up-front payment, he will revert to that committee on the arrangements for the upfront payment. I wish to reiterate, in case of any doubt, that the intention remains for part of the up-front payment to be used to help finance the national children's hospital.
With regard to the competition itself, the competitive process will be undertaken by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is envisaged that the competition for the next licence will commence during May, with the process likely to run until September 2013, at which stage a preferred bidder will be chosen. It is expected that the up-front payment will be made towards the end of the year. It is envisaged that the new 20-year licence will commence in 2014, subject to transitional arrangements.
Much of the Bill replicates the National Lottery Act 1986, which it is intended to replace. However, the Bill also contains important new provisions, such as those in the area of regulation. As well as dealing with the national lottery, the Bill also provides for a number of amendments to the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. I am not going to go into the detailed provisions of the Bill as there are many people who may wish to make a contribution. People can see in the circulated document a detailed assessment of each of the sections.
We must be innovative and creative in how we use State resources for purposes which people believe to be important. Even in difficult times we can carry out very significant infrastructural projects. It is arguable that a new tertiary paediatric hospital should have been built during the good times, were it not for the to-ing and fro-ing that occurred. Even in the teeth of a recession, with such a challenging budgetary position, we can still do really important things. The late former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, more than anybody proved that in difficult times we can get extraordinary developments over the line. I am thinking of the Irish Financial Services Centre and Temple Bar, for example. That is the template we must follow, with the public finances in a very difficult position.
The Minister, on behalf of the Government, wants to use part of the up-front payment for the purposes of a new national children's hospital. It will look to bring together excellence for children in a small country, which will have significant support around the country. If we use the assets we have by means of the licence to be put in place for the next 20 years, we will be able to part-fund that significant development.
On a point of order, I object to the Minister of State just giving a speech instead of setting out the details of the Bill. It is unacceptable and insulting to the Seanad that the Minister iof State would not explain what is in the Bill for the purposes of the debate. It is unprecedented and I call on the Minister of State to argue his point. Otherwise, we may as well close the doors, walk out and abolish the Seanad immediately as it will just be a rubber stamp.
If the Government Senators are willing to do that, fair play, but I am not willing to do it and I object to it in the most fundamental way.
In fairness, the Minister of State outlined his reason for not going through it section by section.
It is clear that the next speaker is unprepared for his contribution because he wants me to use up another 20 minutes of time.
That is an outrageous allegation for the Minister of State to make in this House. If they treat this Parliament as they are doing they will be run out of office quicker than they ever expected.
I am glad the Senator got a copy of my speech, which was outside as he passed on his way in here. I want to welcome him back to the Seanad following his recent travails.
This is an important Bill. It is a key part of what the Government wants to do and there is significant support behind the objective of funding a new national children's hospital. I am sure that is something the good Senator from County Meath will support.
I do not know what to say because this is outrageous. It is a bad precedent for the Seanad and the Dáil because while Governments, and this Government in particular, are prepared to guillotine legislation, I have never heard of a Minister's speech being guillotined in any Chamber. It is outrageous and people should object to that in a serious way. It is turning this Seanad into a rubber stamp and that is very unfortunate. We support this Bill. We have some reservations about it. I compliment Senator O'Donnell on her campaign on this because it is highlighting public interest in the matter, but we cannot support legislation that is going to be rammed through the Oireachtas or where the Minister is not prepared to set out why he wants to put this legislation through. That is a fundamental obligation of Government. It should set out the options because there are other amendments to this Bill, not just regarding the national lottery, but also regarding the Gaming and Lotteries Act. I call on the Cathaoirleach to ask the Minister to withdraw his allegation about my being unprepared for this debate as the reason for my standing up. That was outrageous and uncalled for from a Minister of State.
We support this Bill. We have debated this Bill in the Seanad before in Private Members' time and it has come up on numerous occasions. We support the idea of a tendering process. We support the idea that the State would maximise the sale price, given that the Minister has said he will use the proceeds, or a large part thereof, for the national children's hospital. However it is a major flaw in the legislation that we must rely on a Labour Party promise to do this, rather than enshrining it in legislation. Unfortunately, the promises, the word or the solemn undertakings of Labour Party Ministers are not worth the paper they are written on. It is essential that this be provided for in legislation if this is actually what the Government intends to do.
That is a major flaw because the only way the Minister can sell this Bill, and possibly overcome some of the objections that Senator O'Donnell would put forward, is through the prospect of the national children's hospital, and that is not in the legislation. The legislation needs to be amended to ring-fence money for the children's hospital. The same process needs to be fully transparent regarding tendering and the rating of bids for the licence, and documentation must be available for public inspection. The tendering process should take note of serious issues that arose during other tendering processes that members of the Government were involved in when they were in government previously. The Minister is already committed to having no contact with the parties involved. It is essential that no such contact would take place. The good causes issue is a flaw of the lottery generally. Money is not ring-fenced for those good causes but is sent straight to the Exchequer. It has been a major flaw over many years that there was no express provision for this.
I hope we can get a more detailed debate on this Bill. I advocated undertaking this sort of procedure four years ago in 2009 with the then Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, when I felt it could pay for a certain amount of capital infrastructure in the State. My suggestion was schools and roads but the children's hospital is a good one and I would expect that it be provided for in legislation. I hope we will not have a guillotined debate on Committee Stage when we are going through this Bill line by line because we have effectively had a guillotined debate on Second Stage. We broadly support the Bill but we have concerns, which we will raise on Committee Stage. On Committee Stage I will ask the Minister, on every section, to outline what is proposed. That is very important. The public are watching this debate. They want to know. They do not have the printed statement in front of them. A very unfortunate precedent has been allowed to be set here today.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have reservations about this Bill. There are no specific amounts in the Minister’s information. The lotto has raised €4 billion in 26 years. Gross turnover last year was more than €700 million. Be it true or just speculation, it is expected that the national lottery licence will be sold for 20 years for an up-front payment of approximately €500 million. Let the Minister correct me if I am wrong. That does not make good business sense. When the country was going down the tubes during the last Administration a plethora of economists offered their opinions. I am surprised that I have not heard any of these eminent economists offering an opinion on the sale of the national lottery.
Will we get the best achievable deal for the country? Speaking to some so-called experts in this field, they believe there is only one realistic customer for the national lottery. I will not name him in case it does me any harm. While there will be a process, and it is open to anyone to apply for that licence, realistically is there only one customer for the national lottery? If that is the case, I say "Halt" now because we will not get a good deal. I hope the Minister of State can inform me and the House to the contrary but that is the information I have.
I want to see the national children’s hospital. It is a disgrace that it has not been built. The term “selling the family silver” has been bandied around. We are not selling it. It is a 20-year lease and the €500 million will build the children’s hospital. When the new operator comes in, a regulator must be put in place. I am led to believe that the regulations that should be put on the company coming in to buy this should be water-tight. There is a fear out there that they will put gambling in people’s faces every day of the week. This is a business exercise by the company that will take this over and it will do whatever it must to make it profitable, and it will milk it for all it is worth, online and everything else.
I understand it has to go to competition but have all the avenues been looked at for the State not to hold the national lottery? Let the Government, in a meaningful, controlled manner explore other avenues of revenue for the lotto. I use that word “explore” because I am afraid if we sell the licence for 20 years it will be exploited.
I am afraid of that. I am not a regular purchase of lotto tickets but the statistics highlight that many of those who play lotto cannot afford it. Those in the lower socioeconomic bands spend the most on the lottery. Protection needs to be provided and I am afraid that if the State sells the national lottery licence to a business, it will be exploited. The upfront payment is €500 million. The annual levy will merely offset the costs of the regulator's office. I would turn the screw in this regard. There should be an additional benefit to the State other than the levy. Will it be a percentage or will it be a set fee? A percentage of the profits would be the best way to go rather than applying a set fee.
We have to build a national children's hospital but I wonder whether there are more imaginative ways to fund it. Could we retain the huge asset we have in the national lottery and explore other avenues rather than having outsiders exploit it?
I thank the Minister of State for his patience. There are only seven Government Members present but I will not call a quorum. It says a great deal about the interest in this issue. Perhaps Members have not examined it deeply and do not understand what it is happening.
International best practice shows that lotteries run out of steam and need to be regenerated. The lottery licence is due to be renegotiated and re-tendered according to the Minister but regeneration does not necessarily mean sale. The problem is that the Minister is selling the lottery licence to the highest bidder from outside the State for an up-front payment. I do not know anybody in Ireland who has between €400 and €600 million. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform stated, "We are in a national crisis we must think outside the box". This is true but why are we defining thinking outside the box as sale or up-front payment? The Minister argues that the Government would like to secure a significant sum that will enable it to invest a large chunk in building the new national children's hospital. I am thinking outside the box and we could get the money for the children's hospital from a dedicated weekly draw over a five to seven year period. There is no evidence to suggest that other draws would suffer and the British did this for the Olympics.
The Minister says we engaged with the troika and "we stated that we would sell up to €3 billion of state assets excluding the national lottery". The national lottery licence was not to be included in the process but the Minister did so with a few trendy thinkers from New South Wales. The Minister believes that the sale of the licence will not damage the lottery but he is wrong. Following this sale we will not own our lottery licence for 20 years but a private gaming consortium of outside private buyers will. If the House wants an example of damage, it should try the privatisation of public money for gaming private profit. I cannot think of a better example of damage in Ireland.
The Minister thinks that I am resistant to reform and change but I am not. The licence sale is not about reform or change; it is about money up front - a fast buck from the highest bidder. Senators must consider that a €500 million upfront payment to buy the lottery licence for 20 years is outside politics, parties and politicians and they should regard it as such when they vote. Senators need to ask themselves some simple questions. If the national lottery licence is so valuable, why is it being sold? Do they think, in the best part of their heart beat, that is right to sell it off for 20 years? If the sale is a success, can we not keep that success for ourselves? Why are we selling the family silver for the up-front payment? The reason somebody would give the Government that amount is healthy profit, which will be generated by the opening up of online gambling and the turnover from that. I am not trying to hold back life at the door and I do not have a problem with online sales but let us have online gambling for ourselves. We should restrict or semi-restrict it and we should control and profit by it solely for ourselves. A sale to a private gaming consortium is a short-term fix, which takes that option away.
Senators have tried to reassure me - one is present - that the great ring-fencing of good causes is a reason such a sale makes no difference. There are two answers to that. First, the people own all the money generated - €763 million per year - the prizes, marketing and the administration and not just the good causes. Second, regardless of ring-fencing good causes or anything else, money has to be found to pay back the €500 million provided by the buyers. They are not Santa Claus and they are not altruistic. They are private gaming consortia and to make the buyers a healthy profit over 20 years, the money will come from us through online sales because this is the big growth area; otherwise the buyers would not be interested
The Government parties are giving away the right for us as a nation to make huge profits over many years for ourselves because they want a fast buck, up-front payment and the licence holder will make a profit on that. The greatest and most important question is how much will be extracted as a profit from the up-front payment and how much will continue to be extracted over 20 years to justify the €500 million charge and the interest on it. No up-front payment is worth that quick fix. What happens if the licence holder has given us €500 million and he is not generating his profit? Will we have to pump up the sales? What happens if everything gets a little looser? What if online sales turn into a social disaster? When we are in control, we can tighten regulations but when we are not, we will have to allow the buyers to continue to extract its profits regardless.
I believe gambling will be an issue in the future. I am concerned about the plethora of new casinos opening in towns all over the country. The volume of online gambling is also huge. We seem to have no control over this and will need to have a proper discussion on the issue. The Minister said that. Genuine online gambling will be a different way of playing the lottery. Why can we not retain control of its profits?
There is also another huge problem about which no one is speaking. If the State controls the gaming consortium bidders too much, the price will go down to an insultingly low level. Without control, there could be an explosion of gambling. It is, therefore, Hobson's choice for the Minister and it is not worth it. We are always bending over backwards in this country, doffing the cap to the likes of Shell and BP, to the pharmaceutical companies and to Eircom. We know what happened with the latter company.
What will happen to the 108 national lottery jobs? Where is the written guarantee for them? Will they be assimilated back into An Post? If so, where is the written agreement on this? What has An Post said, agreed and put in writing about this? If not, who will pay the staff pensions and how much will it cost? No Senators can tell me that he or she believes in this sale. How can one believe in a sale that will privatise public money in a private gaming consortium? How can one believe in a sale that incentivises the opening up of online gambling to profit a private gaming company off the island? Is this the kind of judgment the Upper House should be about, as it signs off on decisions such as this? It is not the kind of Upper House I thought I was entering two years ago. People say it does not matter, that I am only grumbling. That is correct but it is €763 million a year of our money and it belongs to us. Where are the ethics in this?
Where is the ethics in this? I am reminded of a quote from the late comedian Peter Cook: "We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war." I have to accept that my speaking against what the Minister of State proposes is somewhat futile because there is an overwhelming majority under the Whip here which ensures that whatever Ministers do or propose, however misguided, will be approved. It is the responsibility of all Senators to question perceived wisdom and decisions, to examine those matters where the consensus is misguided and to hold a mirror to actions which are not in the best interests of the people. This is not in the best interest of the people. The Minister of State with responsibility for public service reform, Deputy Hayes, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, have told us that we are selling the national lottery but we need to ask why somebody from the private sector would want our lottery licence. The duty of those who manage and lead the private sector body is to maximise shareholder value. This is done by getting the best financial return. It follows then that an investor will buy our lottery licence because it is convinced and has proof that return on this investment will ensure a greater profit than any other venture into which they might put their money. The Irish national lottery licence is one of the greatest cash cows in Europe. If our lottery can ensure such a rich reward for the private sector why can it not do the same for the State?
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and his colleagues constantly remind us of their ambition to regain our national economy and our sovereignty, to become the independent country that we could be, to exit the bailout, to be free from the troika. If the Minister is determined that we should control our own destiny why will he not think inside the box and allow us to run our own lottery with the development of online gambling by the Irish, for the Irish, and maximise returns to the Irish rather than sell it to an outside private gaming consortium?
I find it ironic that in the anniversary of the 1913 Lock-out a Labour Party Minister is allying himself more with the descendants of William Martin Murphy than with those of Jim Larkin. The Minister is about to destroy a lottery licence owned by the people, operated by a State agency for the Irish people, for Ireland's public good and replace it with a private profit platform for an offshore gaming consortium, for an upfront payment. It is not worth it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and would like to respond to some of the issues that Senator O'Donnell has raised, particularly about social issues and gambling addiction which will remain a problem regardless of whether this is in private or public ownership. Many leading psychologists would vouch for that. The Seanad is a fantastic instrument in the organs of the State. It shows the essence of democracy that we can come into this House and debate on both sides of the argument, saying where we stand on the issue. When other Members come into the House to vote on the legislation we will see democracy at work and how people feel about this Bill. It is necessary to say that. We are not selling this licence.
We are not. We are giving someone the opportunity to run and operate the national lottery. We are not losing ownership.
There is an upfront payment of €500 million. If that is not a sale I am Santa.
That is the most important point that we must take from this debate today.
I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Brian Hayes, into the House. I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead this debate on the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party group. We all know that the national lottery has been a constant feature of our lives since 1986. At that time there was much posturing about whether it would be a good idea to introduce it in the first instance and whether it would lead more people to gamble. The results speak for themselves and the Irish people and associated philanthropic organisations are very pleased with it.
I commend the Minister of State and his Department for the introduction of the Bill. This is a pivotal point in our recent economic history as this Bill will allow for the national lottery licence to be sold to acquire funds to assist in remedying the economic crisis in which we have found ourselves in the past few years. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, has worked with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to bring the country's finances back on track and for that they all deserve the highest recognition. This Bill will go some way towards rectifying our economy through the money it will raise. Worthwhile projects will come to fruition on the back of that which will ultimately lead to job creation. None of us in this House should oppose that given that 450,000 people in Ireland are on the dole.
The current licence as operated by An Post expires at the end of June 2013 and the expiry of that contract is giving the State an opportunity to raise much-needed moneys. It is important to remember that the asset of the national lottery itself is not being sold as I highlighted at the outset of my speech.
It is only the licence to operate this asset that is being sold.
Why are we looking for €500 million upfront?
It is important to have clarity on that issue. That is the point.
That is incorrect information. The Senator is giving incorrect information.
This should reassure Senator O'Donnell and members of the public who have major concerns about the sale. It is not beneficial to anybody to be scaremongering about this. With this in mind I would welcome the establishment of an independent regulator to ensure that the interests of participants in the national lottery are protected. The regulator would also have the important task of ensuring that allocations to good causes are maintained as far as possible so that they can continue doing their great work. There have been calls, with which I agree, for greater transparency and accountability regarding which projects receive allocations. The appointment of a new regulator should help to allay any concerns in this respect amongst members of the public. I understand from figures being bandied about that the total revenue generated by the sale of a 20-year licence could be anywhere in the region of €400 million to €600 million, a considerable sum. Many sectors of Irish society will benefit from this and we will now begin to ease out of the economic handcuffs which have been placed on us.
The biggest project associated with the sale of the national lottery is the proposed construction of the national children's hospital, a project which holds a special place in the minds of many Government representatives and officials. The advancement of this project is essential for the many young children who will require attendance at this facility and will be a cause of relief to many Irish parents when such a first-class medical facility is available here. Over the years Irish citizens have been promised that this hospital would become a medical feature of this country. One of the prime achievements of the Government will be the delivery of this project. Without the ability to liquidate the value in this licence this project would remain on the back burner. That is a reality. Once we have the money which comes from the sale of the licence let us ensure that the construction phase of this hospital follows immediately. I urge the Minister for Finance to be particularly mindful of that because it is essential that we get the benefit from the liquidity associated with selling the licence. Not only will thousands be engaged in the construction of the project but the multiplier effect will give a great impetus to the local economy, giving it a much-needed shot in the arm as a consequence of increased spending power.
The national lottery plays a very important philanthropic role in Irish society and we cannot forget that. When the lottery was first set up in the recessionary 1980s its original purpose was to support good causes without putting further pressure on our tax system. Since its inception in 1986 nearly €4 billion has been raised through it for deserving causes which means that almost one third of every euro spent on the national lottery was donated to good causes. This is a powerful example of the American adage "pay it forward" working, as many thousands of people and organisations have benefited from its existence. A total of 30% of the €4 billion raised has been given to projects in the youth, sport, recreation and amenities, health and welfare, arts, culture and heritage spheres. These are areas which could not prosper without special delineation in the allocation of lottery money. Galway organisations were allocated €230,000 in 2012 in lottery grant aid. I profusely thank the national lottery for this.
I welcome the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to the House. I commend him for clarifying this point in section 41 of the Bill which provides that money should continue to be paid to good causes in the same categories as have been the case to date. Most Members of this House will give this a huge welcome. It will come as a relief to the recipients of lottery grant aid. This Government should ensure that these social dividends flow. I thank the Minister for making sure that this was part and parcel of the Bill. As a proviso, however, I urge that legislation be put in place for a percentage to be paid to good causes in order that they have certainty in this regard and are not fearful of a dip in percentage donations commensurate with any dip in profits in the same year.
Despite our economic recession, sales of lottery tickets have remained robust. In 2011, sales amounted to more than €761 million. These figures and the enduring popularity of the lottery will ensure we attract the highest and best bidder.
We have seen from our near neighbour that the UK lottery has been run successfully for 20 years by a private company, Camelot, which donates 28% of its total sales to good causes. This displays that a private company can work in harmony with the interests of the Irish people, while operating the national lottery licence.
I commend An Post, its employees and agents at this juncture for the fantastic job they have done since the inception of this lottery in helping it grow and prosper, and with many philanthropic organisations throughout Ireland. This is the kernel of success of the project and I say, "Well done", to them. I am sure that should An Post be mindful to bid for it, there is nothing to stop it from becoming a possible bidder, also in conjunction with another bidder.
We and the Irish public alike await the outcome of the operator licence lottery later this summer. No doubt the Bill and the selection of the operator of the licence are matters of intense public interest and of interest to the Members of this House and the Dáil. In the interests of the taxpayers and the population in general, we must ensure we get the best price and the best possible terms for the awarding of the licence.
Whoever wins this licence to operate the national lottery, I wish them the best of luck and urge them to continue to help it grow and look to increasing the overall expenditure to worthy causes in the longer term. I wish the new regulator, whoever he or she will be, all the best in the position. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to the House.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I am glad he heard Senator Higgins. I am disappointed that the Minister missed hearing the emotion and deep concern of Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. She made a wonderful input that I would urge the Minister to look back at because it is not enough to read what she said; one would want to see it as well.
As chairman of An Post at the time we set up the national lottery in 1986, I was involved in its establishment. At that time, one of the concerns about the national lottery that appealed to me was the battle that went on to ensure that the money from the ticket sales did not go into Government funds in order to shore up the deficit. It seems the Government intends to use the national lottery to shore up the deficit to some degree, although the Minister would not agree.
Since the start of the national lottery, approximately €4 billion or one third of all ticket sales has been donated to good causes such as charities, arts projects and community initiatives. I am glad the Government states it intends that the percentage to go towards good causes will be retained at current levels, however I am concerned that this may not be the case. Camelot has been involved in preliminary negotiations. In Britain, it only donates 28% to good causes, which is a much lower figure than here. Surely if it was to come into the Irish market it would want to bring profits for its shareholders up by reducing the funding for good causes in one way or another. I hope the Minister is able to protect us from that.
There is a need for greater transparency in terms of the national lottery. It is well known that some feel aggrieved that their sports club or similar entity has not received funding due to political affiliations or even the type of sport being played at their club. I would like to see the application process conducted online where applicants could see how their application was judged. If the Minister could comment on this sort of increased transparency, it would be good for everybody.
I will read a letter that I received today because it is from somebody who knows something about the national lottery. It states:
The new National Lottery Bill received scant media coverage during the past week. The original idea to sell the Lottery franchise for a twenty year period in return for a lump sum of circa €500/600 million was ill thought out and nonsensical in the first instance. Any prospective Licensee would require an income of around €1200 million, i.e. some €60 million per annum, in order to cover their initial outlay. Currently the only profit in the operation, which is run on a shoestring, is the €2.4 million management fee paid to An Post. The shortfall would, of course, come out of the beneficiary funds. This would probably not have fazed some politicians as it would be a long time before the beneficiaries would notice the impact. The idea of getting an up-front lump of money that didn't have to be repaid was still attractive to Government. However the risk to the potential licensee was still too great and to sweeten the pot it appears that the Minister was persuaded to allow the Lottery to have internet gaming as part of its portfolio. Internet gaming was, as you will know, a complete no-no for both the Government and the An Post National Lottery Company. To now allow a new licensee into that area is scandalous. You will be well aware of the dangers of introducing further readily available gambling opportunities nationwide, particularly through a state supported institution. To do so at any time would be reprehensible, to do so in current economic circumstances is nothing short of criminal.
I read the letter because I think it is worded better than I might have been able to word it. I would like to hear a reply from the Minister on it to see what is the position.
On the problem with online gambling in general, it seems there is substantial room for growth in the national lottery that would be attractive to bidders as it currently earns just 3% of revenue online compared with those in other countries which earn up to 15%. How will this develop and should the company running the national lottery be allowed free reign to advertise when that side of the business develops under the new management?
I understand betting shops, unless there is a horse race, must close at 6.30 p.m. from September until March under a 1931 Act. A 1931 Act forces betting shops to close. How does this interact with online betting that is available 24 hours a day? Although we may not be enthusiastic about gambling, there is something to be said for at least reviewing regulations based on legislation introduced 80 years ago. Overall, we are lagging behind as legislators when it comes to gambling.
I also want to raise the issue of restricting online gambling. While the Bill covers safeguards including strict age-verification systems, it does not go far enough. The EU is looking to protect children and to combat fraud through a draft directive, but I would like us to consider some issues sooner rather than latter. For instance, given the problems associated with gambling, should gambling companies be allowed to sponsor and advertise wherever they please? I note the difficulty we are having with alcohol and alcohol advertising in sport, but should we be doing something about gambling and gambling companies on the same basis? As we talk of restricting alcohol advertising, why not gambling advertising? Given the problems with gambling that ever more young people face, should the GAA accept sponsorship from gambling companies? Countries such as Germany have increased controls on advertising as well as limiting the amounts customers can gamble, and increased taxes on betting. I believe we should at least be examining Germany's lead on this issue. Could the new operator of the national lottery be compelled to implement some real measures that will help to protect consumers?
I believe the Government has made its decision in this area as to what to do about the national lottery. There are some benefits in this. We all are quite worried about the sale of any State assets on this basis, particularly coming from a Minister with his background, but there are occasions when the sale of State assets makes sense. In this case, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell says we are selling the national lottery and others argue that it is only being rented out for 20 years, but I am concerned about encouraging anything that is not in the interests of the community, particularly its younger members.
The other point about gambling, not only online but of any kind, is that one can now gamble on the Internet anywhere and if we pass a law here, we cannot enforce it in Germany, France, Britain or elsewhere. I note that in the case of alcohol advertising rugby's Heineken Cup cannot be called "The Heineken Cup" in France and is called the "H Cup". It is merely a reminder of how difficult it is nowadays to control anything where one has the ability to be able to buy anything one wants online.
This is a debate that should not be curtailed. We need this debate here today and I welcome the opportunity to hear the Minister's views on the points that have been made.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for listening to us once again on this important issue. There is no doubt the national lottery has contributed greatly to Ireland, with more than €4 billion contributed to a variety of good causes over the past 25 years. During this period it has managed to give to every county in the country and contribute to every sector while always maintaining the support of the public as it was never seen to give favourable treatment to one body, sector or county over another.
When the decision to establish the national lottery was undertaken in the 1980s, at which time much debate took place, as alluded to by Senator Higgins, we were in a time of economic difficulty. This was seen as a creative solution to help us with our problems. Once again we find ourselves seeking solutions to our economic challenges. As part of this, the Government agreed to a competitive process to award the licence for a period of up to 20 years. The licence will include an upfront payment to the State intended to fund the national children's hospital. The licence will guarantee an ongoing provision of funding for good causes each year.
The Minister has acknowledged in the past there must be competitive tendering, and under EU law the State is obliged to hold a competition for the next licence. In this respect we do not have a choice.
We have a choice about the sale.
We do not have a choice about putting it to tender. We do have a choice in that the State may set the terms of the competition and the licence, including the duration of the licence and the financial arrangements. The Bill represents a sensible proposition because it ensures an upfront boost for the taxpayer and additional moneys throughout the duration of the licence. It also creates a framework which allows the State to obtain the best possible bid and therefore derive the greatest benefit. Like other speakers I have concerns about the large number of companies in the country in a position to tender for the licence. I am interested to hear the Minister's comments in this regard.
The terms of the licence are also included in the Bill. Under the Bill the licence should be published and publicly available, apart from commercially sensitive information. It is expected the licence will be extended in duration from the current ten year period to a 20 year period, an upfront payment will be made by the new operator to the State and the current management fee will be replaced by an operator's fee, producing more company profits. I welcome these moves. The 20 year period adds stability and this is important because presumably we will have a number of bidders. I am interested to hear the Minister's comments on potential bidders.
The rationale for such an approach is to help generate funds to build a new children's hospital. No official figure has been adopted, although figures of between €400 million and €600 million have been reported in the media. In a way, the need for the children's hospital is an emotive issue and, in fairness to those with views opposing the proposal, we must not be swayed by this emotive answer and we must be sure it is definitely the right decision for us. I am sure the Minister is sure, but in any case we should address these points.
The Bill allows for the possibility of the national lottery being managed by a private operator to allow for online sales of lottery products and sets out the key principles for the regulation of the national lottery. I share the concerns of other speakers with regard to opening up gambling. I am sure the Minister intends to answer these concerns. Senator Quinn referred to legislation from the 1930s. Perhaps in keeping with this proposal we could introduce a framework to protect against the flourishing of gambling in the country to a rate which is out of control.
This does not preclude An Post or the State from bidding to operate the national lottery, although An Post would be disadvantaged on an international level with regard to its ability to tender. It is important to state it is not precluded from tendering in the process. After the bidding process has finished the current operator could be the future operator. It is what I hope for, but I am not sure how realistic this hope is. I am keen to see a sense of flexibility. If the national lottery operator manages to increase profits on non-core items or sidelines in an unforeseen way, the State should benefit commensurately from this and we should keep some level of control in this regard. I thank the Minister for his continued work in this area. I commend the Bill to the House.
My colleague, Senator Byrne, outlined the party's position, in that we agree in principle with the Government's proposals, and this was also stated during the debate and in the Dáil by Deputy Sean Fleming, our spokesperson in this regard. I will focus on a number of issues relating to establishing the office of a regulator.
According to what I can gather, the regulator, when appointed, will be responsible for very narrowly focused operational activities. He or she will oversee the licence, ensure the national lottery is run with all due propriety, ensure the interests of participants in the national lottery are protected, and ensure the revenue allocated to good causes is as great as possible. I cannot see the justification for the appointment of a regulator. Quite a significant amount of the Bill, including Part 7 in its entirety, is about not only the appointment but also the functions, office and architecture of another quango. Perhaps there are other terms of reference of which the Minister is aware, but based on those I have seen I cannot see why this could not continue to be done, as it is currently, under the aegis of the Minister. Once it leaves the ministerial mandate it will be an arm's length regulator and he or she will make decisions which will impact over the 20 year period. Although it is ring-fenced in legislation, will the regulator have the right to change the 30.6% of proceeds for good causes? Will the regulator be able to tell a future Administration that in light of experience, the operator has decided it cannot possibly get a financial return on the basis of the 30.6% taken from profits and will make a recommendation that it be reduced? If this were within ministerial remit, there would be a very strong political dimension to it.
The Fianna Fáil Administration was probably a past master at establishing arm's length operations, but this does not make it right. Anybody who operates in the public area, be it in the Dáil or Seanad, knows to his or her cost when seeking answers to questions involving a regulator that invariably the Minister sends back a one line reply to say that as it is an operational matter, he or she will send a letter to the regulator or the relevant authority. This is why I have an inbuilt antagonism towards regulatory bodies. In this instance I am concerned because once the Government obtains - I hope - the money it seeks to part-fund the children's hospital what will happen over the succeeding period of time? The establishment of a regulatory authority at arm's length from the Government will mean successive Administrations and ultimately the taxpayer will not be best served.
Will the Minister justify why he believes this is important? I have been told it is because a private company as distinct from An Post may end up with the licence, but this seems to put the cart before the horse. I want to focus on why this particular aspect of the Bill is necessary because it will cost more money at a time when the Government is trying to save every penny and is going around the country trying to get whatever money it can. This will cost more money. There is no indication in the legislation of the specific costs involved. How much will it cost to establish the regulator's office? How many staff will be employed? Will a cap be put on expenditure in the regulator's office? None of this features in the Bill.
I have a great deal of sympathy with Senator O'Donnell's position on this matter. She has argued passionately against it, but we are living in strange and difficult times. If the children's hospital is to go ahead along the lines proposed by the Government, the money will have to be found somewhere. This hospital issue has been dragging on for far too long. There is now a real opportunity that significant sums of money can be raised in a short period which can set this particular process in place. I still remain to be convinced that the hospital will be built on that site because I think there will be problems down the road. Somebody even told me that there is a load of bodies buried under that site, similar to Wood Quay. Historically, there were other institutions on that site. I am waiting, therefore, to hear on the media that skeletons have been found on the site at St. James's Hospital.
The same as the Seanad.
Maybe, but they are not going to build the hospital here. However, one never knows what they will do with this building if they get their way. That is a moot question also. I will refrain from referring to the Government in this context, but I am not sure the Taoiseach will get his way in this regard. We will fight him to the last inch, but that is another day's work.
My main concern centres on the area of the regulator. I would like to make one other small point. RGDATA has already lobbied the Minister because it is concerned that the modest margin of 6% must be protected. An RGDATA representative claimed that a similar condition was imposed during a recent competition for the lottery licence in New South Wales, Australia. I understand there is nothing in the legislation which protects the margins for retailers. Perhaps the Minister has a view on that matter also.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the Bill, which has already been through the other House. The Bill is relatively straightforward and sets out its intention to repeal the National Lottery Act 1986 and make provision for various updates to that legislation. In addition, it will facilitate the competition for awarding the next licence.
The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, with other speakers in this House, has pointed out that the Government has no discretion on whether to hold a competition for the next national licence. That is clearly a requirement but the competitive process does not preclude An Post, the current operator, from applying. The award of the licence will not be indefinite, it will be for a period of 20 years. One could say, therefore, that it is a lease rather than a sale.
The Minister of State also referred to the important point which everyone has emphasised - that the terms of the next licence will include an up-front payment to the State which will help to fund the new national children's hospital. While others have expressed some doubts about the site, I welcome the decision to situate the facility on the grounds of St. James's Hospital. I had an interest in putting forward the Coombe Hospital, which is a bi-located site. As it is where I had my two children, I had a personal interest, but I also felt that it had a lot to offer. I am delighted, however, that St. James's was chosen because it is in the same vicinity. It is an excellent site for many reasons, including the fact that St. James's is already a superb hospital and will add to the merits of the children's hospital being sited beside it. It will also have an important regenerative effect in a disadvantaged area.
The use of national lottery funds, in a difficult economic situation, to raise funds for this vital national resource is both imaginative and creative. As others have said, the decision on siting and building the children's hospital has dragged on for far too long. We do not have a great history with regard to children's hospitals. I refer to the recent TG4 documentary on Dr. Kathleen Lynn and the hospital for children that she ran. In this state we have never had a national children's hospital of which we can be proud and into which we could put all the up-to-the-minute resources. I very much hope, as we all do, that the new hospital will fulfil that function.
There are those who oppose the Bill, or the principle therein, but how else can we raise the money to build the new children's hospital?
How else can we guarantee that the construction of this hospital will go ahead in the way we want it to? The Government must face that difficult question which is at the root of this Bill, although it is not explicitly present within it. That is clearly the context, however, in which we are discussing the legislation.
There is a broader philosophical point about the issue of a competition for the licence. The national lottery is not a strategic State asset of national importance and, as I have said, this is a lease rather than a sale. Many of us do have concerns about gambling and the State having a role in facilitating it. That is a particular ideological or philosophical difficulty that many of us have to struggle with. While we may welcome the large proceeds from the sale of national lottery tickets, we must be conscious that for a lot of people that comes with some pain. If they are buying lottery tickets, they are essentially gambling; therefore, there is a difficulty with the State having a large stake in that process. That is part of the context of this Bill.
Having said that, the next licence will involve the ongoing provision of significant funding for good causes each year. The legislation makes it clear that regarding good causes which receive national lottery funding, the new Bill will not provide for any change to existing categories of good causes; therefore, they will remain.
That is in the explanatory memorandum.
I am sorry. I should say that is in the explanatory memorandum, but it has been somewhat changed in the Bill.
The Bill also contains some important provisions in respect of the regulator. Senator Higgins has dealt with those and I echo her words. It is important to see the regulator's powers, functions and duties spelt out in some detail. This is an important role. In the past, we have seen that in many different sectors there was far too little regulation and supervision of important functions. Therefore, the national lottery regulator will have a hugely significant role. I join with Senator Higgins in wishing him or her, whoever is appointed, the very best of luck in that role.
I again welcome the Bill and, in particular, the fact that funding will now be ring-fenced for the construction of a children's hospital. We all hope it will be going ahead in very early course.
I welcome the Minister to the House but I do not welcome the Bill. I have a good deal of sympathy for the Minister because I think he is in a bit of a bind here. I would like to ask him to break free of it, if he possibly can. We ought to acknowledge, however, the difficulties that Ministers like Deputy Howlin are under with the troika, the EU and the ECB breathing down their necks. It is a disgusting situation in my opinion. While one must sympathise with the Minister, I abhor this Bill and everything it stands for.
It must go against the grain for the Minister, as a socialist, to have to introduce it and sell out a national asset to gambling interests. After all, it was casino economics that got us into this mess in the first place and I do not think it will be improved by selling off this asset. It is actually a lot worse than selling the family silver because it is selling the goose and the eggs for the next 20 years. I cannot think that we are going to get a good price for it.
Given that the Minister is under so much pressure and has so much to do - particularly with the EU - he could not be here earlier when the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, represented him. I am sure he will have an opportunity hear what was said, however. Journalists may say that there were only a few people in the Chamber, but we can watch a debate on the monitors. The Minister can see us online and I would ask him to do so. It would be a good idea because there was a fine speech by Senator O'Donnell, which was one of the finest I have ever heard in this House, although the Minister might not agree with it.
It was a measured debate which was carefully thought through. It is significant that the first spokesman on the Government side expressed considerable reserves about the legislation, including as a business proposition. I saw that look but we should not scold him because he was speaking the truth. We want the truth in the Seanad, not tame people who are bullied through the lobbies. He told it in a clear manner but not a destructive one. The Minister will get support from that side, however reluctantly.
As I have said, I cannot support the Bill. The intervention of the EU and the troika has been appalling. Our National Pensions Reserve Fund is almost entirely gone. The former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, put away something like €23 billion into the National Treasury Management Agency. What the agency did was superb, but the money was raided by our "friends" in Europe. We were discussing pensions earlier, but when we hit that particular pension wall we are in for a smash because everything we had, including all the padding, is gone. I object to this.
As a socialist, the Minister should look at the history of privatisation in this country, which has been dreadful and appalling. Eircom was an unparalleled disaster. In addition, I can speak from experience, as somebody living in Dublin, about what Dublin City Council did with the bins. It was horrible.
It was another utter, total and disastrous mess. Filth and rubbish left all over the streets by these commercial companies are swept up by Dublin City Council. Consequently, the State is left cleaning up the mess after everything is privatised and this is absolutely classic. Members should consider the madness of the European Union, although I acknowledge the Minister will state we are obliged to do it. Recently, there was this stupid stuff about gender equality whereby women who are better drivers are obliged to pay more to be equal. This is insane and I note the Minister at that point did not wish to introduce that rubbish either. Further rubbish was inflicted on the people through the Minister for Health, when we were forced by Europe to allow below-cost cigarette selling. I do not blame the Minister for looking horrified.
Yes, because Ireland is not allowed to set a minimum price, thereby allowing one to sell below cost. Moreover, one can engage in any kind of advertising gimmickry because the European Court of Justice was swayed by the tobacco industry. This decision was forced through and the Minister should talk about it to his colleague, the Minister of Health, Deputy Reilly. I was furious about this decision and spoke violently against it.
I now speak strongly against this proposal. Ireland has the example of the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstake, which made a lot of money. It did not make much for the hospitals but made a hell of a lot for the McGraths. At least they were Irish but unless one is careful, this money will leave the country, which is absolutely appalling. I will reiterate a point I have made to the Minister regarding the national children's hospital, which is a wonderful project. I have tried to be honourable about it but of course would have preferred it to have been located at the Mater site, where it would have helped the metro, my area and so on. Moreover, I thought people were far too picky about the style and all the rest of it but the most important point is this hospital is needed. Nevertheless, Senator O'Donnell is correct to note this could be achieved with a special dedicated sweepstake. As I have told the Minister previously, I believe this association with the children's hospital was included to enable the Government to then state, "Don't hit me with the baby in me arms" and I do not believe this to be fair.
I do not support this sale and do not know the reason the licence cannot simply be continued. I do not know the reason the State does not declare it is not having an open competition but simply intends to continue the licence. This should be possible, as it has been done previously. Why not continue to do this and argue the case? This measure is clearly against the interests of the Irish people, who should have at least some say in their own destiny. Moreover, the Minister should take a look at Monday's edition of the Irish Examiner, which I raised in the House both yesterday and today. The ECB told the Government it could not provide responses to freedom of information requests regarding the IBRC resolution scheme. This is appalling and is another example of being run from outside the country. My final point is if, as has been suggested, there may be only one bidder, the entire process should simply be aborted. It should not be allowed to continue because that is not a tender. In the event of there being only one bidder, I believe the Government should be able to withdraw it.
Under Standing Order 21, I wish to establish a quorum.
I welcome the Minister to the House. The national lottery is actually older than me and as the saying goes, if it is not broke, do not fix it. I do not consider the national lottery to be broken as since its inception it has provided the State with a high quality professional service and crucially, it has the public's trust, which is a point Members must remember. However, a new regulatory code and infrastructure for a service that already is well regulated and well run is being introduced in the Chamber today. It is clear that the purpose of this Bill is for the Government to distance itself from the lottery as a first step in a process that aims to transform it from its current state to something that is very different. In so doing, the Government runs the risk of undermining the very thing that makes the national lottery work.
As of 2011, the national lottery has taken in €12 billion, €4 billion of which went to good causes, including community projects, sports facilities and the provision of supports for the Irish language. Now more than ever, community organisations rely heavily on this funding stream. I will add to my concerns the voices of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Conradh na Gaeilge and other Irish language bodies regarding the implications of this decision for the Irish language fund, which is a key source of revenue for many of these bodies. While funding through the aforementioned fund has decreased since 2009, the national lottery itself has provided an average of 63% of the overall funds since 2009. Kevin De Barra, acting director of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, has stated it is incredibly important that whoever is awarded the licence in the future should prioritise the promotion of the Irish language through making adequate provisions for the Irish language fund.
The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, said "the State may set the terms of both the competition and the licence itself".
Reference has been made to the terms for the upfront payment. I am aware that the Minister intends to hold a competition that will commence in May. Could he advise what other terms and conditions will attach to the competition for the licence? Section 25 refers to the inclusion of matters necessary or expedient in the public interest. I accept the Minister has guaranteed that certain categories of funding will be maintained by the Government. Is the Minister guaranteeing that the same percentage - 30% - will go to good causes, given that the 20-year licence is worth €1.2 billion?
Many speakers have referred to the national children’s hospital and the suggestion that the upfront fee would cover the construction of it. Senator Norris mentioned the baby in the Government's arms. I do not think that should be the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. I accept that children need the national children’s hospital and that it should be a priority but its construction should be funded through the capital programme or, as other Senators have indicated, there are imaginative ways for funding to be raised.
When the Government legislated for the national lottery in 1986 it made clear that there was a need for public trust and confidence in the operation of a State lottery and it was correct in that regard. Understandably, there is much concern about who the new licence holder might be, whether the public interest will be of concern to the new operator and if the integrity of the lottery will be upheld or if public trust will play second fiddle to a Government get-rich-quick scheme with little thought for the long-term consequences. The truth behind the so-called reform of the national lottery is that the Minister is seeking to make it attractive to commercial interests with the objective of generating the much talked-about upfront payment. In so doing we are forever more going to change the primary purpose of the national lottery. It will no longer be a method by which citizens can take part in a lottery to win a cash prize while simultaneously contributing financially to their local community, which is important. We do not want the lottery to be just a mechanism to generate additional revenue. We will not support the legislation. We believe the national lottery is well run and serves citizens and communities well. There is no need for a change in the regulatory framework of the business model. We support the national lottery and on that basis we oppose the Bill.
Tá fáilte romhat, a Aire.
Gabh mo leithscéal. I call Senator Conway.
I am sorry, Senator Ó Murchú. The national lottery is one of the institutions that features in the hearts and minds of the ordinary, decent, hard-working people of this country. I for one believe it is regrettable that we are selling the national lottery licence. I would much prefer the national lottery to remain in its current structure, perhaps with some tweaking. I have listened to the arguments and I support the proposed funding of the children’s hospital. If a structured arrangement is reached with one of those awful private companies for which I have absolutely no time – I have a passionate dislike for any company involved in gambling because of the way they destroy lives – and we could get a children’s hospital built from the proceeds of the sale of the licence, unpalatable and all as it is, then we must consider it. The health of our children is extremely important. I would much prefer to see a situation where all the funding raised from the national lottery for the next five years would be channelled exclusively to the children’s hospital. By doing that we could raise funding internationally to build it quickly. I accept the Minister has far better advisers in that regard than me. I do not doubt his sincerity in this matter, as in some of the enormously difficult and challenging decisions he is making. However, I am particularly concerned about the institution of the lottery. I meet old people who play a €4 quick-pick every week, some of whom have used the same numbers since the lotto was created in March 1988. Some people have used birthday numbers between one and 36 in every single draw since.
I would be afraid to miss one.
Perhaps one would. I am dealing with people who possibly started playing the lotto when they were in their 50s and they are still playing in their 70s. It is something they enjoy doing. Pensioners play "Telly Bingo" and it is a social outlet for them.
I commend the 3,500 to 4,000 lotto agents for their contribution to the national lottery in the past 25 years. Billions have been raised for good causes. Unfortunately, much money was squandered as well as a result of political patronage by successive Ministers. It is also regrettable how national lottery funding was allocated. If it is decided that a percentage will go to health then it goes straight to the Department of Health and if a proportion goes to children it goes straight into the budget Estimates for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The decision in that regard was made a number of years ago.
It was made in the 1980s by Fine Gael.
For the Senator’s information, the national lottery was created by Fine Gael.
It made that particular decision.
The sad reality is that the national lottery should have remained an independent fund to which people could apply and there should have also been much more accountability and transparency. It is unfortunate that private golf clubs received very generous funding from the national lottery. That said, we are in a time of crisis. Our very survival was challenged two years ago. Thankfully, as a result of slow, methodical work, both internationally and nationally, we are in a situation now where at least we have a future. Unfortunately, in order to sustain and develop the future and to ensure that people have a future, difficult decisions have to be made. This is one decision I find extremely difficult to make. I am not convinced about it.
That said, I have enormous respect for the line Minister dealing with the issue. I will support the legislation based on his reputation.
I found today’s debate helpful and informative. We know what way the vote will go but it was interesting in the contributions that we did not divide on political allegiances. That is good in itself because we hear things which provide a consensus on the issue. The House and the country owes a debt of gratitude to Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell because she approached the issue, not just in the House but in public debate on radio and television, in order to try to provide an informed and pragmatic appraisal of some of the issues involved. That is necessary in a debate. We all acknowledge generally that the Government and the country are in a difficult place. They are really between a rock and a hard place in trying to find solutions to the current economic difficulties. We all know from experience that in time of economic deprivation some decisions are made, not necessarily in a knee-jerk fashion, that we always regret subsequently.
I was impressed by Senator Sheahan. He was speaking for the person in the street and looking at the dangers of what is being suggested, namely, in some way the over-commercialisation of the lottery by allowing it out perhaps to some international gambling company. We will be putting gambling in people’s faces.
One of the difficulties we have is that when the children's hospital is brought into the debate as a quid pro quo for letting the national lottery go from the State for 20 years it makes that debate very difficult. It introduces emotion at too early a stage. It would be much more helpful if we could debate the pros and cons and then discuss whether we can have a national children's hospital if we do not go down this route. That, incidentally, is a bigger debate.
We seem to agree on a number of issues today, the first being that the national lottery is a national asset, in many ways akin to a national resource. As to mining the ore in the ground, we learned messages from that too when we let that asset go from the hands of the State. The immediate argument in favour of so doing was the money upfront but we forget that what we are actually selling off is the family silver. There is no doubt about that.
In this particular case we have arranged that at the end of 20 years the lottery will be handed back to us but I believe it will be very tarnished by that time. The national lottery has been very successful. We cannot doubt that at present it is an integral part of the national economy. There are many good causes that could not continue without the revenue that comes from the national lottery. Therefore, the biggest issue is whether we are again creating problems down the road for the next generation. To some extent I believe that is what is happening. By setting the bar so high in regard to the revenue involved we are going to make it exceptionally difficult for us to provide any control mechanism. We will also make it difficult to have a fair competition for the actual licence. In fairness, it is not even clear in the Bill what percentage of the income will go to good causes. "Good causes" is a general term but it is also a very sweeping term. We are talking about health in the community, sports, recreation, arts and culture - about virtually every aspect of society at present. If the children's hospital and the amount of money we need to generate for it are the main issue, it would be better if we could take on board some of the points made in today's debate. Senator Quinn is right. If some points have been missed they should be revisited and reconsidered by the Government because it will take only a short period to know if we have made a right or wrong decision in this regard.
If we are to go ahead with the Bill, as it seems will happen, it requires much tweaking at this stage. It is very short on specifics. I realise we have not discussed some of the specifics outlined in the Minister's speech but the Bill is short on them. We should build in certain protections to cover the very issues which were raised today. It is still possible to arrive at a compromise. From the language used even by those Members who are promoting the Bill, I could see they had reservations, some very strong, on certain points. We could see that even from the last speaker, who is one of the great contributors in the Seanad. Would it not be well worthwhile if we slowed down the momentum, went back to the drawing board and took on board some of the very strong points that have been made in the Chamber? They should not be ignored. The one message coming across to me is that we appreciate the Government's position and we do not have immediate answers as to where it will find the money required for the children's hospital. However, given the standard of research and debate shown today in the Seanad it is well worthwhile bringing the Bill back to the table and taking another look at it. I do not know whether it is within the remit of the Minister to do that but this is one of the times when we should not divide on political allegiances. We must think first of the country, and not only the country as it is now but how it will be in 20 or 30 years time. The Minister will have noted there was a great degree of what I would call conciliation today, almost a suggestion of compromise. I would hate to think that would not be accepted in some way and taken into the equation.
I thank Senator O'Donnell for her contributions on this subject which she has made on many occasions. Her bona fides on the matter is entirely without question. She has very strong beliefs about the role and future of the national lottery in this country and the need to keep it within public ownership and within the Irish system. As somebody with a Labour Party background, I too believe in State ownership. However, my view of that ownership is perhaps somewhat different in that I see State ownership more in the context of the State owning a basket of assets some of which, when the need arises, we can move around. We can change the inputs into and outputs from that basket. In other words, it is something that is there for us when we need it, whereby we can promote certain activities that we, as a country, want to promote.
I am conscious that during the 1950s and 1960s the role played by State companies such as the ESB and Bord na Móna was critical in the commercial and industrial evolution of this State. The companies were supported, not only by Fianna Fáil but also by the Labour Party, Fine Gael and every party within the State at different points in our history. Those companies were essential to the evolution of industrialisation in this country. Other companies were established because services cannot be provided unless they are provided socially, for example, transportation in rural areas, and so forth. I do not believe any of us in this House disagree that there is a role for State companies and, in particular, a role for their continuation. As the Minister has stated on other occasions, Irish Water is an example of how we are adapting as a State and moving forward with State companies to provide essential services that would not be provided unless the State engaged in the provision of such companies.
Privatisation has a bad name. It is important for us to distinguish that we are not privatising the national lottery per se, rather we are putting the licence up for sale, which is a critical difference. It is not as if we were talking about privatising Coillte. I know Senator O'Donnell has very strong views on the issue of national forests. I congratulate the Minister because he has fought a very robust battle to protect the assets of the State and State companies from the troika which, two years ago, as I am sure Members are aware, was looking for €5 billion in sales of State assets. Incidentally, these were not going to be put towards the children's hospital or anything similar but were to be put towards the national debt. The Minister must be personally commended on the role he played in that situation by protecting State assets.
Privatisation does have a bad name, but as I have stated in this Chamber the situation is similar to that of a family with savings. There are times when there is a need to dip into the savings account. I have a strong belief, which I have outlined in regard to this matter, that I regard the building of a children's hospital as one of the top priorities of the Government. It is important to remember that during the decades of Fianna Fáil rule, while we were building ghost estates throughout this country and leaving 230,000 empty units behind, we did not build a single hospital. Let us be realistic - it is for that reason we are now in a position where we must find from somewhere the money to build a children's hospital. As anybody who has ever had a sick child knows, we are not properly served in this country by the institutions we have available to us to protect our children, especially those who have acute diseases such as leukemia and life-threatening illnesses.
Much as I would love to be in a position never to sell anything, creating instead good quality State companies as the need arises, the time to sell the national lottery is now. I might feel somewhat different if the asset in question was Coillte, or some of the other companies, but I am afraid I do not hold the national lottery in the same esteem. "Esteem" is the wrong word. The national lottery has provided a very valuable service to this country but that service can continue. The Minister has included robust protections and has stated on many occasions in this House that he is determined to protect the services that benefit from the national lottery.
He has said on many occasions in this House that he is determined to protect the services that benefit from the national lottery. We have control over the terms under which the licence is offered and we are in a position, for example, to protect the retailers whose livelihoods will be affected. We are also in a position to protect the many good causes that will benefit from the national lottery in the future.
This could be an opportunity for the national lottery. There is an opportunity, for example, to tap into the Irish Diaspora all over the world, who could contribute to an enhanced national lottery. We should not see this as the end for the national lottery but rather as a potential beginning. We should never see ourselves as being in a position where we cannot use State assets and State companies for the purpose for which they were intended, that is, for the betterment of the people and Irish society.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for being here, especially as it is such a busy time for him and his Department. I wish him well in his ongoing negotiations vis-à-vis securing certainty and sanity regarding our public sector pay bill.
I am sure the Minister has listened to the debate with interest. I did not read the transcripts of the debate in the Lower House but I suspect, in the tradition of that House, that the debate was more of a Government versus Opposition, black versus white, yes versus no type argument. We have had a very balanced debate here this afternoon and if we lived in a democracy where voting in the Oireachtas was done by way of secret ballot, we might be a little uneasy about the outcome of the Second Stage vote.
I wish to comment first on the matter of the national children's hospital. It must be accepted as an absolute given that every Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas and every citizen of this State wants that hospital to be built as soon as possible. That is not what the debate is about. One could say, 80 or 90 years after the McGrath family brought about the building of hospitals by the sale of Irish Hospitals' Sweepstake tickets, the country has not travelled very far economically, politically or socially if the building of the new children's hospital is now dependent on the sale of national lottery tickets. It is regrettable that we have not been able to use our resources, our taxes and our politics in a more advantageous manner in recent decades. We are now being asked to use the licensing system for the national lottery to generate funding for the hospital. If that has to be the way, then so be it.
Very pertinent issues have been raised in today's Second Stage debate and I hope we will be able to deal with them in more detail on Committee Stage. In the days of yore it was said that the Roman Catholic Church sold indulgences in order to build cathedrals. In the era of the British establishment it was said that peerages and seats in the House of Lords were sold to fund naval and army advances and we are doing something similar here in order to build a necessary piece of social and health infrastructure. In that context, we must ask ourselves where it all went wrong.
We talk about thinking outside the box but we are not really doing so. There is a vast amount of unused and under-used financial resources in this country. We have very high levels of savings here but are not able to incentivise people to put their money to more constructive use. There is an enormous amount of legally-held Irish money in onshore and, particularly, in offshore accounts overseas. Should we not look afresh at encouraging some of that money back into this country, particularly for the development of social infrastructure?
In the immediate aftermath of the general election, the country was in a state of economic confusion, chaos and fear and every citizen understood that we were in a national emergency situation. There was a willingness among all sectors of society to think differently and to respond differently, with generosity. Politically, we did not take advantage of those few weeks and months to take major, daring, new and different steps. We are still doing more or less the same as has been done in the past 15 or 20 years. New and fresh thinking are required, even at this late stage.
Regarding the legislation before us, I look forward to the Minister of State's Second Stage reply and I am sure he will be able to justify what he feels needs to be done. However, we must listen to what our colleagues are saying in this House. Those of us in government must listen to what those in opposition are saying regarding the need to guard, in whatever way we can, a resource of the State. Senator Hayden's point about the possibility of differentiating between this State asset and other State assets such as Coillte was interesting. Nonetheless, the national lottery is a State resource and cannot be dismissed lightly. Senator Tom Sheahan posed a question about value for money. Given that the profits to be made over a ten or 15-year period will be very substantial, is it appropriate that we would lease, sell or transfer this asset for the price of the profits that will accumulate over two or three years? These are important issues and I hope the Minister's mind is not fully closed. We must have a substantive Committee Stage debate and go through these very important issues thoroughly.
The broader debate about the funding of necessary national projects such as our hospital building programme will have to be conducted elsewhere. We should be moving beyond the days of the sweepstake tickets. What was appropriate and necessary in the Ireland of the 1930s and 1940s should be left to those times. We should be able to fund necessary projects in different ways today.
I wish the Minister well in his deliberations and hope he will take on board the generally supportive views of my colleagues, as well as the concerns and questions raised.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish him well in his endeavours to deal with some very challenging issues. I am very conscious of the very close attachment of the people to the national lottery. I know a few people from my own locality who became millionaires as a result of playing the national lottery. I commend Senator O'Donnell for her robust contribution and for challenging us to examine whether it is a good idea to lease out the national lottery for the next 20 years. I wish we were not in a situation where we have to consider new arrangements for this national asset but the fact is that, as a country, we are broke. We must look at new and innovative ways of raising funds for major projects, including the new national children's hospital. We all want to see that hospital built as quickly as possible.
The Minister has no discretion in terms of putting the licence for the national lottery out to tender, as part of the renewal process. He does have discretion, however, in terms of the arrangements that are put in place for the operator of the new licence. I believe that 20 years is too long and that a ten-year licence would be more appropriate. I know that would mean that the up-front payment would not be as significant but our economy will change considerably in the course of the next ten years and in that context, a shorter time period than the one being considered by the Minister would be appropriate.
I welcome that the good causes will be protected because in every parish and rural community there is evidence of the contribution National Lottery money has made to community centres, playing pitches, swimming pools and every possible public amenity one can think of. Reference has been made to online gambling and we need a major debate on the scourge of online gambling which is increasing. We need much more control of how it is operated. In most cases the State receives absolutely no dividend from online gambling which is free of tax. Unfortunately many people are gambling beyond what they can afford. While that is a matter for another day, the issue has been raised here today.
Senator Norris suggested that the provisions of the Bill were not in the interests of the people. What Minister would want to do anything that would not be in the national interest, particularly with a national asset? What the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is attempting to do here is in the national interest. We would prefer if An Post could continue to operate it. I would love if An Post had sufficient resources to compete for the licence. Only when it is put out to tender will we discover what interest there is in running the national lottery for the next 20 years - or ten years, as I would prefer.
I hope the Minister can give some assurances that national lottery agents will not see any erosion in the commission rates they receive as a result of the change in the licensing arrangements. What will happen to the existing staff in the National Lottery organisation? What guarantees will they have?
I will be supporting the Bill. I had some heated discussions outside the Chamber with Senator O'Donnell on the matter. I would much prefer if An Post continued to run it.
It has the money.
I am realistic enough to know it does not have the money.
Nobody in Ireland has.
The country needs the money and we need to build the national children's hospital which requires a significant upfront payment. I ask the Minister to reconsider the term of the licence, but on balance it is in the best interests of the country.
I call the Minister. Does Senator O'Donnell have a point of order to raise?
I did not have the privilege of speaking before the Minister because I knew he was busy in the Lower House. This is a point of order-----
The Senator has already spoken. I ask her to resume her seat. The Minister has only a few minutes to reply. The debate is to conclude at 2 p.m.
How will my questions be addressed in the Minister's reply?
The Minister of State was here as were my officials who took notes. I was anxious to get here myself. When the debate was scheduled I did not realise that events would require me to be in the other House this morning. This is the third occasion on which I have debated this issue in this House and I do not believe there are any views I have not already heard. I have listened to every comment made since my arrival and my staff have taken notes of everything that has been said. I fully acknowledge the bona fides of everybody who speaks in this House. Everybody speaks with passion, belief and integrity. There is no falsehood or contrivance about the views expressed here, which is a comfort in some ways because I cannot say that is always the case in all the debates I attend. That is why it is important for me to listen and it is also important for me to hear.
The role I was given just over two years ago is a daunting one - I do not believe anyone in the House would gainsay that. However, it needs to be put in context again. In 2010, the year before we came into office, the deficit of the State was 32.4% of GDP. That was shocking and disastrous - it was the worst on the planet. I was interested to hear Senator Bradford say that we did not take advantage of the immediate aftermath. During the negotiations for the programme for Government I was not sure if there was a path back from the brink. We have steadily with resolve and determination done more in two years than I believe any government has done in the history of the State. It is because of the breadth of support the two parties in government have that we can do things that are politically extremely difficult. I say that by way of context because in every issue presented to me, as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, nothing is black or white. It is lovely to be a purist about these matters.
I apologise for laughing.
I am not referring to anybody.
The Minister is referring to me.
I am not. Bluntly, it is not all about Senator O'Donnell.
I know that.
I have faced difficult issues, including negotiating with the troika on the assets we should sell. I would rather sell no asset. However, during the programme for Government negotiations with Fine Gael, we agreed a package of measures, not all of which I was enthusiastic about, but all of which I could live with. The Government wanted to have a few flagship achievements in areas that are really important for the country. In that context - it cannot be disaggregated as a number of Senators have suggested - we wanted to build a national children's hospital even though I had to downsize the public capital programme. Uniquely in all the capital expenditure I changed, the one area I did not change was the health spend - we left the health capital allocation unchanged. Other areas, for example transport, I am afraid were very significantly downsized.
I knew there was pressure on the built infrastructure of the hospitals and that we had to embark on a new programme of primary-care centres and I did not want to impact upon that. That meant there was no scope for a children's hospital and we needed to decide whether we wanted it and if there was a means to get it. As Senator Hayden said, I believe this was a reasonable way of ascertaining whether we could get better value now for jobs, development and investment from our asset package than we have. I knew the national lottery licence was due to expire. The first range of discussions I had with a number of Senators here related to not having the licence at all. I believe a motion before the House called on me to, almost, fix the result to ensure an Irish winner, but I cannot do that. I must allow for open tendering for the licence.
Those who are critical of the Bill are right to this extent. We constructed it on a different basis in order to get the upfront payment. That is it is a longer term and on a different basis. However, we have included enormous safeguards some of which I would like to outline. Committee and Report Stages will afford me the opportunity to go through this in some detail. While I fully accept the bona fides of those who spoke in the debate, I trust people will accept my bona fides in this regard.
It is my objective to maximise the income flow to good causes - I will go through this in more detail when we get to it. It will be linked to the gross gambling reserves and not to the gross sales. There will be a number of different products. For example, with scratch cards, the payout is 65%.
I want to be able to construct a package which will ensure that there will be a robust stream of money for good causes into the future and I want said stream to be at least as good as that which has obtained up to now.
The licence will not be alterable by the regulator or anyone else.
The Leader has indicated that he wishes to amend the Order of Business.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that a further five minutes be allocated to this debate in order to allow the Minister to conclude his contribution.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I appreciate the Leader making further time available.
In the context of retailers, we are including in the licence the figure which is currently available. It will be stated in the licence that I will determine the figure and that this will not be capable of being altered subsequently by the regulator or anyone else.
I will deal with the issue of the regulator on Committee Stage. I was convinced that we need a regulator. This links to a much broader and important issue which was reflected in all of the contributions made by Senators. I refer to gambling. I seldom have the opportunity to watch television and I usually only get to see it late at night. It is somewhat jarring at that stage of the day to be presented with advertisements for online casinos and God knows what else. There is no proper regulation in this regard and that is why the Minister for Justice and Equality is preparing detailed legislation on gambling. I have had preliminary discussions with him in respect of how the regulator I am establishing might assume, over time, responsibility for the regulation of gambling. This would at least allow us to put some controls in place in the context of how gambling - outside of the very controlled confines relating to the national lottery - operates in this State. Senators will be able to deal with that matter when the legislation on gambling comes before the House.
I wish to deal, in no particular order, with the points that were raised and I ask Senators to accept that I will not be able to deal with everyone's concerns. Senator Quinn referred to good causes and the position online. The Senator has had a distinguished career in the retail industry. Perhaps he saw the retail results announced by Tesco last week and is aware of that company's statement to the effect that it is changing its marketing pattern to allow it to accommodate "destination stores" and focus on online sales. A large percentage of Tesco's business now emanates from the fact that so many customers are shopping online. This will be the position for all of us in the very near future. We already shop online when we purchase airline tickets, etc. It would be impossible to state that the national lottery operator should be prohibited from selling its product in this way, particularly when it is possible to purchase groceries, airline tickets, etc., and renew one's driving licence online. We must be open to developments in this regard.
We are taking a very measured approach to how we sell State assets. The sales that will proceed this year will be those relating to the generating elements of Bord Gáis Energy, BGE, and two foreign assets owned by the ESB, namely, a power station in Spain and a shareholding in another such station in the United Kingdom. I have negotiated with the troika for over two years in order to get us to the point where all of the money from these sales will not be put towards retiring debt but will instead be available to invest in the economy and in job creation. The Government decided last week to transfer the balance of the moneys in the National Pensions Reserve Fund - a matter on which Senator Norris had strong views - into an Irish strategic investment fund in order that we might leverage investment in jobs. God knows we need a robust stimulus in respect of the SME sector, job creation and the construction sector. This is another matter we will be able to debate separately.
I must inform Senator Bacik that during proceedings in the Dáil we added one item to the list of good causes, namely, the natural environment. There was a strong lobby in this regard and I felt it put forward a good case with regard to the natural environment - in the context of the provision of walkways and other things - being added to the list.
It has been stated that we should put in place a dedicated lottery and that the proceeds from this could be used to pay for the construction of the new national children's hospital. It is as if this would not in some way dislodge the spend from the good causes element of the national lottery. Senator O'Donnell and I have different views in respect of this matter. I am being advised on it by a number of experts who are being paid to consider the position with other lotteries across the globe. The advice I have received indicates that if we were to establish a separate and dedicated lottery such as that suggested, this would have the effect of dislodging some of the money relating to the good causes element of the national lottery. There may be those who are of the view that there is another pool of money for gambling which is separate to that which relates to the national lottery but it would not be good or reasonable to encourage people to gamble even more. It would not be possible to obtain the funding to build the new national children's hospital now on the basis of the promise that a separate and dedicated lottery would put us in a position to recoup the required amount over a period of years. We want to build the hospital, create jobs and provide facilities as soon as possible. We will have an opportunity to discuss these issues in greater detail at a later date.
I wish to conclude by making a particular observation. Senator Ó Murchú referred to a knee-jerk reaction. The knee relating to this reaction has been jerking since October 2011, which was when I put forward my proposals in respect of this matter. The dedicated team in my Department and the outside experts we have brought in and paid to provide advice have considered the position with regard to the operation of lotteries across the globe. This matter has been debated at the Cabinet and in this Chamber. This is the third occasion on which I have been involved in a discussion on it. There are a number of major proposals relating to my sphere of operations but there is none which has been debated as often as the Bill, particularly in this House. The legislation was debate at length by the Dáil and the relevant select committee.
Any proposal one brings forward will always contain flaws. Likewise, there is always a reluctance to move away from the status quo. As Minister with responsibility for reform, I have discovered that everyone is in favour of reform until one puts forward one's proposals. At that point, there is always a compelling reason that we should not make the proposed change. We are all reluctant to face change. If heed had been paid to the arguments put forward when the national lottery was first mooted, then it would never have been established. I am sure there are still people, even in this House, who are of the view that we should not have a national lottery.
I look forward to the debate on Committee Stage and will do everything possible to make myself available to deal with the points Senators may wish to raise. I will certainly review all of the issues raised during this debate which I have not been able to address. I thank the House for affording me the time to complete my reply.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- Harte, Jimmy.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Keeffe, Susan.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Whelan, John.
- Cullinane, David.
- Heffernan, James.
- Mac Conghail, Fiach.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- O'Brien, Mary Ann.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- Reilly, Kathryn.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
On Tuesday next.
Is that agreed? Agreed.