Public feared ‘political interference’ with National Lottery

Lottery received legal threat before launch from man who had registered business name

Gerard Harvey, chairman of the National Lottery (right) pictured with Raymond Keaveney,  director of the National Gallery in 1989. The gallery  carried out the renovation of the roof of the 1864 extension and the complete refurbishment of the Italian Rooms, which was  made possible with an allocation of £950.00 from the National lottery Fund. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

Gerard Harvey, chairman of the National Lottery (right) pictured with Raymond Keaveney, director of the National Gallery in 1989. The gallery carried out the renovation of the roof of the 1864 extension and the complete refurbishment of the Italian Rooms, which was made possible with an allocation of £950.00 from the National lottery Fund. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

 

The public feared “political interference” in the new National Lottery and had a “very strongly held hope” that the funds from it would not go to the central exchequer.

Extracts from a study carried out by the market research firm Behaviour & Attitudes for the National Lottery in advance of its launch in March 1987 are contained in files released by the Department of Finance under the 30-year-rule.

Some element of government involvement was “widely recognised” but it perhaps presented “something of a double-edged sword”, the report said.

On the positive side, the involvement of the government provided a feeling of “security and of guarantee”, particularly in relation to the payment of large prizes. But on the negative side, “there is a fear of political interference”.

“There is a strong sense of distrust of politicians, of every hue,” the report said.

“There is a fear that there might be political interference in the expenditure of funds in particular constituencies. People are so suspicious in this area that they even anticipate the possibility of rigging substantial prize payouts to coincide with election periods.”

The study said it was also “not too surprising” to find a mixed reaction to the idea of using Lottery funds to help foster the Irish language and that the idea was often most vehement among better off, better educated groups.

Notes of a meeting between the minister for finance John Bruton and his officials, An Post and lottery chiefs in October 1986 indicated the lottery company “should be aware of the government’s concern in relation to gambling”.

In his opening statement, Mr Bruton said the company was to be given “the maximum commercial freedom possible, consistent with government’s legitimate concerns”.

The papers also reveal the launch of the lottery was beset by a number of last-minute glitches, including computer problems and a legal threat from a man in Athlone who claimed to have registered “National Lotteries” and “Irish Lotteries” as business names.

The Department of the Public Service also questioned the circumstances under which the salary scale of the National Lottery chief executive was set at a rate of £35,000 without a reference to it.

Chairman of the National Lottery Gerard Harvey wrote to Bruton on January 20th to say that “circumstances outside the control of the company” had created a situation where the target launch date of February 23rd could no longer be met.

He said the implementation of the computer system for the lottery prizes and accounting systems had fallen behind schedule by three to four weeks.

“Regrettably the company received no indication from the supplier of any setback until the beginning of the new year and, in spite of immediate action on the part of this company, the true extent of the shortfall on the implementation schedule was not fully identified for some further time.”

Records from the Department of Finance files reveal correspondence to the minister and the National Lottery from FM Fitgerald & Co Solicitors in Galway on February 6th 1987 on behalf of David Clelland from Athlone.

The solicitors said their client was the registered owner of the business names National Lotteries and Irish Lotteries under the Business Names Act 1963 and that Clelland had intended to establish lotteries using those names.

Solicitors for the National Lottery responded to say Clelland was “in clear breach” of companies legislation and was liable to prosecution because he had registered a business name under which he was not carrying out any business.

Taoiseach Charles Haughey launched the National Lottery on March 22nd. The VIP guest list included ministers, guests from US lotteries and editors and management of the national newspapers.