Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

2:30 pm

Photo of Olwyn EnrightOlwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Question 12: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made by the casino gaming control section of his Department in its review of gambling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31473/09]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy is aware, I have initiated a wide-ranging review of gambling, the objective of which is to provide Government with options for a new and comprehensive legal and organisational framework governing the gambling architecture in the State. The casino gaming control section of my Department will be responsible for bringing forward proposals, including a draft Bill for a revised gambling code.

Consultation is an essential part of the review currently under way. The control section of my Department, through a public information notice in daily newspapers and on my Department's website, invited submissions from interested parties and members of the public. The closing date for the receipt of submissions is 30 September.

The gaming control section is, as a consequence, consulting widely with stakeholders - statutory, NGO and the private sector - and with the community at large before bringing forward any proposals. My Department will, with the benefit of the consultation process and on the receipt of submissions, develop legislative proposals based on three important considerations which are the hallmark of most well regulated gambling codes. These are that young people and the vulnerable are protected; that gambling should in all respects be fairly and openly conducted; and that gambling is kept free of crime.

The Deputy will appreciate that developing a revised gambling code that is capable of generating broad public support is a complex task. Notwithstanding that, I have instructed the control section in my Department to make every effort to provide me with policy options for a new gambling architecture by the end of the year which will include proposals for a draft Bill on the subject. Ultimately, it will be for Government to decide the policy approach to be legislated for in this area.

The Deputy will also be aware that in tandem with the review of gambling, I decided that the private members' clubs at which gambling activities are carried on will have to comply with relevant anti-money laundering and terrorist financing legislation. On 28 July, I published the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2009 which will transpose the third EU money laundering directive into Irish Law. I expect that the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2009 will be considered by the Oireachtas as a priority this session.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. Successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments have shirked their responsibility on this issue. The Minister has taken up the baton and is driving it on, in fairness to him. What protections does the Minister envisage for young people and for those with gambling problems in the forthcoming legislation? What other measures does the Minister envisage to remove criminal elements from the use of casinos? Will the Minister comment on an industry report which concluded that €280 million will be generated for the economy as a result of regulation of casinos? That report also stated that 13,000 jobs would be created by 2020.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I do not accept that Fianna Fáil has shirked its responsibility. Previously in the House I stated that all political parties, whenever they were in Government, veered away from this area because of the difficulties from a legislative point of view. People in this country are operating under very old legislation, which is out of date. It behoves us to move forward. The Deputy may be aware that we tried to have all-party agreement on how to proceed on this but unfortunately-----

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Has that been scrapped?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, because the Deputy's party leader would not participate and neither would the Labour Party in what was originally an understanding under my predecessor. I have asked my officials to proceed and the public has shown a significant level of interest in the consultation process which we advertised. I have asked my officials to bring forward policy options by the end of the year and I hope to bring a draft Bill to the Government following that.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Is it not the case and does the Minister not understand well that the reason the all-party committee did not get off the ground was because there was an attempt by his predecessor, in conjunction with the then Minister for Finance, to use an all-party committee as a cover to introduce fixed odds betting terminals, FOBTs, into bookies' shops in the Republic of Ireland? If the Minister understands that, and I think he does, I offer my congratulations to him for being persuaded of the campaign that I ran in this House and outside it against the introduction of FOBTs into bookies' shops because of the damage they do to feckless young people. Does the Minister understand that the purpose of that campaign was not to thwart or delay legislation to regulate the casino sector? Responsible law-abiding people in the casino sector want to be regulated and cannot understand why it is taking so long. Will the Minister tell them when, approximately, we are likely to see the publication of such a Bill?

4:00 pm

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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For the second time today, Deputy Rabbitte has done a disservice to the two people he mentioned, namely, Deputy Brian Lenihan and the Taoiseach. To the best of my knowledge at no stage were they interested in any shape or form in FOBTs and any reasonable person would be against FOBTs, as I stated clearly when I eventually understood what they were about.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Minister and I agree. That is the important thing.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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What I had a difficulty with was the way in which the Deputy laid down preconditions in regard to the all-party examination of this issue. Given that this was considered in the casino report, it was important that entire report, warts and all - there were warts in it - would be looked at by the all-party committee but be that as it may, we have now moved on.

I assure the Deputy that nobody in this Government, including the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, has at any stage exhorted me, in any way, to proceed with the implementation of legislation involving FOBTs.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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A brief supplementary question from Deputy Charles Flanagan.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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In fact, I would hazard a guess that these particular gentlemen are against these.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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A supplementary question from Deputy Charles Flanagan.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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However, it is the case that we will have to legislate in this area to regulate what is, in effect, an unregulated one. We have a duty-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I ask the Minister and the Deputies to allow the Chair to regulate the order of questioning. We set down time limits but we are making very slow progress. I call Deputy Charles Flanagan for a brief supplementary question.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Why has the Minister changed from the course of action contemplated by his predecessor who stated that the publication of any report would be accompanied by recommendations on the part of Government. I have not seen any recommendations on the part of the Minister. When will we see them?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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As I said, when I came into this job, I was confronted by what I understood to be an understanding between the Deputy's party, my party and the other main Opposition parties that there would be an effort to look at this area on an all-party basis. That was not possible because the Labour Party-----

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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That is not what I asked, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am afraid I have no control over the replies.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The Labour Party decided it wanted a precondition that there would be no consideration of FOBTs. I agree with Deputy Rabbitte on the principle of FOBTs in that I disagree with their implementation in this country.

However, the Deputy's party got cold feet.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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May I ask the question again?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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One or two of its Deputies were very annoyed-----

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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May I ask the question again?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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-----at the attitude of the Deputy's party leader who obviously saw political opportunity. As I said, I have asked my officials-----

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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The Minister appointed a chairman-----

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I have asked my officials-----

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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-----without telling anybody.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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A Deputy from the Deputy's party was nominated as an ad hoc chairman of the group-----

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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The Minister leaked it to the press.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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-----and exhorted me to proceed with the all-party committee-----

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Talk about a ham-fisted approach.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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-----and leave the Labour Party out if it wanted to stay out.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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A ham-fisted approach.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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As I said earlier-----

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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The Minister had the gall to say he sought consensus.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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As I said earlier, I have asked my officials to bring forward policy options with a view to legislating in due course.