Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Finance Bill 2011: Committee Stage
Joan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
I concur with much of what Deputy Barrett has said. Almost 30,000 people are employed on a full-time or part-time basis in various sectors of the horse and greyhound industry. I regret the complete shambles made of the arrangements over the past 13 years by Fianna Fáil and its various Government partners. We saw a parade of different vested interests all looking for an angle, all promising to deliver a high-quality product. One of the reasons many people from other countries come to Ireland is because of their interest in racing and horses. I refer to a regrettable result of the collapse of the boom which attracts media coverage. At the edges of my constituency, in Dunsink, horses, mostly palominos, are running wild. Many of them were starving during the cold spell. People may have bought a couple of horses and had them in training or in a field or paddock and now that the construction industry has collapsed some of these horses have been left almost to fend for themselves. It is not good in a country with a long reputation in the horse industry. People who emigrated from Ireland over the past century and a half and their descendants have been heavily involved in horse racing and breeding in countries to which Irish people traditionally emigrated such as the United States and Australia. The mess we have the moment is a reflection on the fact that Fianna Fáil in government caved in to vested interests with no clear insight as to what was best for the long-term future of the industry.
My perspective is that the earlier model was more attractive, with a number of tracks for horses and greyhounds throughout the country where people can go, as opposed to being bent over a computer screen consumed by the type of gambling which has a very high risk of addiction. There is potential for much money to be contributed to the national purse and ploughed back into the industry if we can get this right.
I have seen some of the Independent Deputies lobbying heavily for slot machine casinos in Ireland. The last proposal for a slot machine casino was in my constituency on the edge of the Phoenix Park, at the old Phoenix Park racecourse which had many deficiencies, as I am sure Deputy Barrett would have known. However, it was a wonderful tourism amenity for the Dublin area. The proposal collapsed and it never happened because it was for a casino with 1,600 slot machines. I want to say to people who are being persuaded that the best thing for Ireland when we are on our knees is that we have Las Vegas style slot machine casinos, that they would wipe out most of our horse racing industry and do the same to our greyhound industry.
I am probably one of the few Deputies in the House who worked in Atlantic City when I was a student. Unfortunately, people who go to slot machines are not James Bond in a dickie bow going to play blackjack or cards at a table in a casino. I have no problem with this type of operation where most of the people have quite a lot of money. However, I certainly do not want to see pensioners and people on social welfare incomes being shipped by bus to slot machine venues where they are relieved of much of their meagre income. In the United States a huge body of work is being done on the slot machine casino industry in areas of land and reserves owned by Native Americans. In South Africa at the time of apartheid, bantustans and areas such as Swaziland and Lesotho were used as venues for slot machine casinos. This is a personal view of mine and I know other views are held in the House.
In the Fingal County Council area in north County Dublin, where I was a local authority member, and in Dublin city long campaigns were fought, certainly by Labour Party politicians, to get rid of slot machines and slot machine arcades where much gambling was occurring, which was very damaging, particularly to young people and those with an addiction to gambling. People are holding up slot machine casinos as a way to save Ireland. This is a trap and we would live to regret the social impact on society. A day out at the races or a night at the dogs is a great and enjoyable experience and very attractive to visitors. We should think about how best to encourage and promote this as part of an overall development of leisure amenities and tourism in this country and leave the mega slot machine casinos. Anyone who has ever worked in a casino environment will realise that a casino with 1,500 slot machines is the size of three very large supermarkets. It is a gigantic undertaking and one would need very large bus loads of people who are very often on very low incomes to feed the machines. That is how it works.