I am sure your signature was there as a result of co-operation and the briefing of your party and the same applies to Deputy Harney. Quite clearly, the message there is that local authorities are in the best position to disburse the funds. Of course, many of the recommendations of the joint committee were adopted by the Minister in his statement, with one exception, the provision of block grants to local authorities from which disbursements would be made.
On 8 November 1988 Deputy Harney moved the Private Members' Bill, which has been referred to, to reform the national lottery and was absolutely scathing about the way in which Fianna Fáil had abused the disbursement of lottery funds for political purposes. She referred to the fact that, during the previous April, she had drawn attention to the scandalous manner in which members of the then Government were allocating the proceeds of the lottery.
Deputy Harney stated, at column 2120 of the Official Report of 8 November, 1988:
I said then that the national lottery was in danger of becoming a national scandal and that an independent allocation process was necessary if public trust and confidence in the lottery was not to be eroded. Unfortunately, the abuse has escalated since then and the spectacle of seeing a pipe band leading the Minister for Agriculture into a town to announce the "good news" from the lottery has disgusted and sickened most ordinary, decent people.
Fianna Fáil have engaged in the most despicable exercise in gombeen politics ever seen in this country in the way they have handled the allocations from the national lottery. The behaviour of this Government is seriously jeopardising the future of the lottery itself and leading many people to the view that Fianna Fáil see the lottery as merely a re-election slush fund.
In the course of that speech the present Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Harney, went on to draw particular attention to the responsibility given to the Minister for the Environment to allocate £6 million for amenity and recreational purposes. Having analysed the way in which that money had been disbursed up to that time, the then Deputy Harney pointed out to the House at column 2125 of the Official Report of 8 November, 1988:
... The criteria the Minister for the Environment used were clearly based on his own constituency consideration and not on the basis of need. Of the 49 applications approved by the Minister for the Environment for the County Dublin area up to the beginning of May this year, 26 went to the Dublin North constituency represented by the Minister, Deputy Burke.
In concluding her speech Deputy Harney referred to a six point policy priority programme launched by the then Deputy Desmond O'Malley for the Progressive Democrats.
She went on:
One of the six points to which we believe priority must be given in Irish politics is the question of decent standards in public life. This Bill is about the issue of public confidence in political standards and it is far too important an issue to be funked. Anyone who thinks that a majority Fianna Fáil Government would be good for this country has only to observe their antics in relation to the national lottery. Anything left to their discretion is abused and when one sees the way they allocated the £71 million from the lottery one must wonder what they would do if they had full control over the nation's finances.
What we are now doing, the Minister for Energy notwithstanding, is leaving that control with the Minister for the Environment.Later on in the same debate — at column 2437 of the Official Report of 9 November, 1988 the Leader of the Progressive Democrats had this to say:
After 65 years of our independence the citizens of this country if they want to apply for public assistance for some project of public merit and value that they want to undertake, are entitled to do that on the basis that as citizens of this country they have equal rights with any other citizens and they can go and look for something on the basis of the need of the project and the merit of the project. They are entitled as Irish citizens under our Constitution not to have to act like 19th century peasants aproaching a gombeen man with their cap in their hand virtually on their knees, begging and pleading as a favour to them from an omnipotent and omniscient TD that they should be entitled to some kind of financial assistance for some project that they and others are pursuing in their own locality. I had hoped we had put that sort of approach behind us, that we could deal with citizens on an equal and fair basis.
In his contribution Deputy O'Malley drew particular attention to the "amazing coincidence" that of 49 applications approved in Dublin during that time, no fewer than 26 should come from the Dublin North constituency of the then Minister for Energy, Mr. Burke. He pointed out that the remarkable thing about it was that the Dublin North constituency was the only three-seat constituency in Dublin under the present disposition. Therefore, he said, it was the smallest constituency and had the smallest population in Dublin.
As I said earlier, the debate in which these remarks were made was that on a Progressive Democrats Private Members' Bill, the purpose of which was to establish an independent method of distributing lottery funds. Following Labour Party intervention in that debate the then Government agreed to the establishment of an all-party committee on the national lottery. As everybody knows, that committee was chaired by ex-TD, Barry Desmond and included yourself, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and Deputies Donal Creed, Mary Harney and Joe Sherlock. It is worth recording what the committee had to say about amenity grants, the essential subjects of the motion before the House this evening. The committee's report said:
The amenity grant scheme funded from the national lottery in 1987-88 should in future be operated by the local authorities.
I might point out that that proposal was agreed by all parties and signed accordingly.The committee's report continued:
From the total amount allocated by Government for this purpose block grants should be made by the Department of the Environment to the local authorities at the time the authorities estimates for the year are being set. In determining the level of the block grants of lottery funds for each authority consideration should be given to the population of the area, the programme of amenity works submitted by the authority and the amount already allocated to the area for amenity grants. Each authority would then be responsible for processing applications from local organisations, making allocations to voluntary and community groups and for projects undertaken by the authority itself and issuing payments and accounting for payments.
This would avoid duplication and would remove any degree of perceived patronage which could have an adverse effect on the lottery. Local authorities are best placed to ensure that facilities are provided where they are most needed.
The group notes that, under the present amenity grant scheme, local authorities are required to approve and recommend projects. The group considers that local authorities would tend to be more objective about approving projects, ensuring that they were viable and avoiding duplication, if the grants were being paid from the authorities' own budgets.
It is also worth noting that the content of this recommendation is extremely specific. This is the only point in the report of the working group to which reference is made to the issue of "perceived patronage". It is quite clear that in December 1988 and January 1989 even yourself, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as the sole Government representative on that committee, shared the general view that there was something seriously wrong with the existing method of handing out lottery money.
As everybody knows, a considerable time elapsed between the issuing of the report of the all-party committee and the Government indicating that they were prepared to do anything about its recommendations.In fact, the announcement came as late as October 1989 in response, unusually, to parliamentary questions tabled by myself, Deputies Spring and Sherlock. In the meantime Deputy Desmond O'Malley had become Minister for Industry and Commerce and Deputy Harney Minister of State in the self-same Department she had so effectively abused in her contribution to the debate in November 1988. The Government response came as no great surprise to anybody on this side of the House — that they had decided to keep for themselves the granting of national lottery funds for amenity purposes and that the authority to disburse such funds was going to be retained in the hands of the self-same Minister for the Environment, now Deputy Harney's boss.
Against that background I find it absolutely beyond belief that Ministers O'Malley and Harney, and the other four Progressive Democrat TDs, are going to troop into this House tomorrow evening to vote for the maintenance of that self-same system they so roundly condemned not much more than 18 months ago. At that time they were so convinced of its potential for abuse they were prepared to go to the lengths of publishing a Private Members' Bill and to argue in this House that the management of national lottery funds could not be entrusted to Fianna Fáil but ought, instead, to be entrusted to High Court judges and the like. One has to ask: what has changed? In particular, what has changed the minds of Ministers O'Malley and Harney? If the system was corrupt then, surely it is still corrupt? If the principles were fundamental then, surely they are still fundamental?Or is it the case simply that being in possession of high office automatically changes the standards and outlook of people like the Progressive Democrats? We already had evidence within the past week of the willingness of the Progressive Democrats to come to the aid of Fianna Fáil in their attempt to damage the interests of RTE. It now seems clear that the Progressive Democrats are not to be trusted when they talk to us at great length about integrity and the need for high standards in high places.
Of course there is another consideration.The sum of £6.5 million has been set aside this year for allocation for amenity grant purposes. So far, according to the latest information available, approximately 4,000 applications have been received, amounting in total to requests for grant aid of approximately £163 million. In effect, this means that the average amount applied for is in excess of £41,000 for each organisation looking for assistance and the average amount available to the Minister per organisation is approximately £1,600.
Surely it is abundantly clear, even for the most practicable of purposes, that organisations wishing to apply for assistance under the national lottery should have spelled out to them clear, basic, understandable criteria? They should be told in advance that there is a bottom line and a very limited amount of money available. Local authorities who — as the all-party committee report states "are provided where they are most needed"— should be given the task of allocating the money according to specified criteria. That is not just the honourable way to proceed; it is also the practical way to proceed. Instead, the money is being held by the Minister and the only conclusion that can be drawn is that he is holding it until such time as it can be distributed in the most politically advantageous way.
I fully expect to see large sums of money being scattered around the Dublin West constituency in the autumn with a view to preparing the people in that constituency for a by-election in the increasingly unlikely even that the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, succeeds in his bid to become President of Ireland.