Concerns raised over political links to betting sector ahead of Irish regulation

Reports in the Irish media over TDs’ attendance at a betting industry ‘VIP tent’ have prompted criticism from political rivals and in other national outlets. 

The Irish Daily Mail, the Ireland-facing edition of the UK’s Daily Mail, reported this week that TDs and Senators from the ruling Fiianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties attended a VIP event at Punchestown racecourse the month before. 

This comes ahead of the implementation of major legislation changing the Republic of Ireland’s gambling oversight, including the long-awaited introduction of a regulatory body – similar to the UK’s Gambling Commission – in addition to other restrictions. 

In response to the Mail’s allegations, gambling reform advocates as well as a leading representative from the opposition Sinn Féin party have voiced their concerns about perceived closeness between the government and gambling industry. 

“The shocking revelations in the Daily Mail today are deeply concerning,” a statement from Thomas Gould TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Addiction, Recovery and Wellbeing, read yesterday.

“They suggest a dysfunctional relationship between the industry and the politicians responsible for regulating that industry. I am concerned that this represents a conflict of interest.

“Many people working in the addiction sector to support those affected by problem gambling have been dismayed for many years at the government’s inaction on this issue. Today, I am sure this sense of dismay will be growing.”

According to the Irish Examiner, another Sinn Fein politician – Niall Ó Donnghaile – has also called on the TDs and Senators who attended the racecourse event to issue a statement. 

The paper also quoted Barry Grant, CEO of safer gambling organisation Extern Problem Gambling, who compared the disparity between politicians meeting betting firms and their interactions with responsible gaming charities which ‘rarely get these opportunities to meet with large groups of legislators in such a casual setting’.

“My concern is when you have huge companies that can wine and dine policymakers,” Grant continued. “Now, there’s no guarantee that lobbying around the gambling regulation bill was happening. But there’s a possibility that things like this could make some policymakers more sympathetic to their cause.”

Ireland’s overhaul of national betting legislation has prompted a long-running political debate, as legislators put increasing pressure on the government to steam ahead with reforms. 

Earlier this month, the Joint Committee on Justice made several recommendations in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Gambling Regulation Bill, notably proposing how to ‘decouple’ sports and gambling advertising. 

This has been a key focus of many sporting and political stakeholders over the past year, with the President Michael D Higgins, the Irish Labour Party, Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and Gaelic Players Association (GPA) all voicing their opinions on the matter. 

The Deputy responsible for overseeing the regulatory reform, Minister of State for Justice James Browne, is currently in the process of reviewing the Committee’s recommendations for the creation of a new Irish gambling regulator, creation of which is expected next year. 

However, following the Mail’s recent reports and the backlash from it across the Irish political and RET spheres, calls to ‘decouple’ politics and betting in a similar fashion to sports and gaming marketing could add another dynamic to proceedings. 

Gould TD concluded: “I am once again urging the government to prioritise fair and robust regulation of the gambling industry, which meets the needs of people experiencing or vulnerable to addiction.

“I am urging Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar as the leaders of these two parties to come forward and be honest about the extent of their parties’ links with the gambling industry. 

“It is vital that the public can have confidence in those who are passing legislation and be aware of the full extent of any conflicts of interest.”

The Mail has now reported that such meetings between political figures and betting and gaming representatives will be banned under Ireland’s legislative overhaul. 

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