Lottery Loot

 

The Minister for Finance, Mr Quinn, is to be commended for publishing the first comprehensive list of detailed allocations from the National Lottery fund. It has been a long-standing complaint, since the lottery was founded ten years ago, that the money it raised had become an adjunct of the political process a kind of slush fund for ministers and TDs, and also a topping-up vehicle to pay for projects that ought to be tax-funded. Nothing in yesterday's hefty volume casts a light on the criteria used in choosing between applicants or makes it possible to compare the benefits' conferred on a constituency basis. Still less does it answer the charges of political inspiration for many of the specific grants.

Mr Quinn deserves praise for his initiative, but only because he has bitten the bullet and done what none of his predecessors was willing to do by de-mystifying the allocations. But the praise stops there. From a dearth of information to a flood - eight years of grants ranging from a few pounds to thousands - the exercise is a lesson in how to keep public inquisitiveness within bounds. Professor Saddlemyer's £18.91 for participation in a Yeats Memorial lecture in India in 1992 gets equal billing with the £100,000 grants for library purposes to Longford and Kerry county councils and the £290,679 given to Nenagh library.

It would take a long process of analysis, and a deep and devious knowledge of political networks to derive much more from the document than the bare facts it relates. The Department of Finance itself makes no great claims for the 200-plus pages of closely packed detail other than that they "will help to inform the public as to where exactly their money goes when they purchase Lottery tickets". That is, if the public has the time or the inclination to wade through the mass of figures.

A symptom of the general lack of clarity in separating Lottery from tax-derived funds is explicit in the entries for the Arts Council stating that it "does not distinguish between Lottery and Exchequer funds in making its grants". No doubt there is some administrative reason for this, but it gives rise to a strange gap in the otherwise comprehensive coverage of beneficiaries. On average the Lottery provides between one-third and one-half of the council's resources and the amounts are relatively small. A much greyer area is in Health and Education, which together take up the lion's share of available money, and where there is no guidance to the extent the Lottery is being used to substitute for taxes.

Outside its obvious deficiencies, the list of projects supported since 1988 forms a stimulating picture of life in this State, from sports associations, parish organisations, youth clubs and resource centres, to support groups, artistic activities and training classes. Not to speak of the innumerable cultural and academic contacts which have been encouraged throughout the world. The Lottery has obviously been of immense benefit in shaping contemporary society and defining its goals. But the mechanisms by which grants are made must also be laid open to public scrutiny, removing the suspicion of undue political influence in individual allocations.