Dáil debates

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

2:00 pm

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Question 110: To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will he ensure, in relation to the sale of the valuable National Lottery licence by the State, that the issues highlighted in respect of the sale of the second mobile phone licence will not recur; if he will further ensure that no contact with Ministers by parties involved in the licence process will be permitted, that the sale process will be fully transparent in relation to tendering and rating of bids for the licence and all relevant documents will be published; that the licence process will include a requirement that the proportion of sales going to good causes and the prize fund and the retailers' margin will be maintained at current levels by the successful bidder; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20543/12]

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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As the Deputy is aware, I announced on 4 April that the Government had decided to hold a competition for the next national lottery licence. The licence will be for a 20-year period and will involve an upfront payment to the State with part of this payment being used to help fund the building of the new national children's hospital. No decision has yet been taken on the terms of the competition for the next licence. Before a competition can commence, the Government is committed to introducing primary legislation to revise the National Lottery Act 1986. My Department is carrying out the necessary preparatory work on that legislation.

The integrity of the process is a high priority and ongoing work is being led by officials in my Department. I stated in my announcement on 4 April that the ongoing provision of a fixed percentage of annual lottery turnover for good causes will be a legislative condition of the next licence. This percentage for good causes will be retained at 30.5% of lottery sales, which was the level that was achieved in 2011.

Regarding prizes, the National Lottery Act contains a provision that at least 40% of sales must be returned to players as prizes. I do not envisage this provision being changed.

Regarding retail outlets authorised to sell national lottery tickets, I am cognisant of the essential role retailers play in the operation of the lottery. I am also aware of the importance to retailers of income from the lottery, particularly in the present economic climate. The position of retailers will be taken into consideration in the context of the arrangements for the next lottery licence.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister. I acknowledge that he addressed the last portion of my question, namely, the per cent for good causes and prizes in the retailers' margin, but the essence of my question was different. When Fine Gael and Labour were last in government, one of their last actions was to issue the second mobile telephone licence. We all know that substantial issues were raised about the then Government's handling of that process. What measures will the Minister put in place to ensure something similar does not apply in this instance? I do not want to revisit the mobile telephone issue, as we all know what was involved.

The Minister stated that the bidding process will commence in October. Will he explain which external consultants will be employed to carry it out, how will it be done and will the lobbyist Bill be published prior to a final decision? In the interests of ensuring the integrity of the process, will the Government ensure that people tendering for it or those working on their behalf will not have access to Ministers through the front door, back door or pub door, whichever the case may be? Will the Minister reassure the House to this effect?

Photo of Derek KeatingDerek Keating (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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What about the last Government?

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have finished my question, Deputy.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Please, these are Priority Questions.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy makes a valid point of which I am cognisant. I want to ensure that any process involving my Department or the Government is transparent and has no external pressures or influences placed on it. I have issued a protocol to myself as well as to every senior official-----

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Minister issue it publicly?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Yes. I would have no difficulty with placing it on a website. The protocol relates to all of these matters. For example, I will not meet anyone - I have received calls from all over the place from people who want to see me or my advisers - in respect of these matters. There is one access point at arm's length for people who will advise others on how to go about the process. This will apply in the case of every sale of State assets, in that I will not be directly lobbied and I will not meet anyone regarding those matters. If people have something to say, they will talk in an open fashion to the people charged with handling their communications.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to hear that and I would welcome the protocol's publication, which was news to me. Will the Minister consider the lobbyist Bill? During this process, which will last for 12 months or so, people who know people who know people will inevitably contact Ministers through various mechanisms, as occurred previously. We want to ensure that the scoring card by which the ultimate decision is made will be public and transparent so that there can be no allegations or suggestions that the card can be changed at the last moment.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I fully accept the Deputy's point. He is right and it is good to have this discussion at an early stage. It is my firm intention to achieve that. Regarding the register of lobbyists Bill, I am anxious that it proceed. There are a number of linked Bills. For example and as the Deputy knows, the detailed heads of the whistleblowers legislation are before the committee. I hope I will receive a response before the summer, but I do not know whether the committee has decided to hold hearings on it. The Freedom of Information Act amendment is proceeding and I hope to have it published by the end of the year. A great deal is happening on this front.

The registering of lobbyists is a difficult matter. Everybody lobbies to some extent and a considerable amount of legitimate lobbying is done by, for example, child care groups on child care and farmers on agricultural policy. As long as this is done in an upfront and transparent manner and there is no inducement of any description, it will be very good.