Taoiseach says there will be no ‘witch-hunt’ but ‘lessons must be learned’ following TDs’ VIP day at races
Gambling should be regulated in the same way as tobacco and alcohol, as addiction is ‘wreaking havoc’ on people and their families, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheál Martin also said ‘lessons must be learned’ after it was revealed in the Irish Daily Mail that several Government TDs and senators attended a VIP event at the Punchestown races sponsored by the gambling industry. But he said he doesn’t believe in ‘witch-hunts’.
Following the revelations in this newspaper, Fianna Fáil junior minister James Browne said such events would be banned under forthcoming legislation – promised over a decade ago – that will properly regulate the industry for the first time.
Yesterday, Mr Martin said politicians have to ‘get on the side of working towards dealing with addictions’.
The Taoiseach refused to call for an apology from those who went to the Punchestown event, but said attitudes towards gambling have to change.
‘I’m not going to personalise it to the individuals concerned,’ he said. ‘Lessons need to be learned from this in terms of getting on the side of working towards dealing with the addictions that flow from gambling.’
He said gambling is a ‘shocking’ addiction that can ‘wreak havoc’ on people and their families. ‘I don’t believe in going after witch-hunts on individuals,’ he said.
‘The more important point is that we need to profile how challenging or how traumatic the
gambling addiction is. I would prefer to bring people with me on a journey to really deal with gambling, like we’ve been dealing with tobacco, like we’ve been dealing with alcohol.’
The Taoiseach said change has to be made ‘across the full gamut of advertising and regulation’.
Those entertained at Punchestown included Fine Gael TD for Wexford and former defence minister Paul Kehoe, Fine Gael senator and former social protection minister Regina Doherty, Fine Gael TD for Clare Joe Carey, Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary Jackie Cahill, Fianna Fáil senator Paul Daly, and Fine Gael senators Garret Ahearn, Martin Conway and John Cummins.
They were guests at a corporate event at which the Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) paid for three tables in the tent. Representatives from a major gambling firm also attended.
It comes as the Government prepares to regulate gambling for the first time against pushback from the industry.
Mr Kehoe defended his attendance and said he would go to similar events in future.
His comments were described as ‘hugely ignorant and disappointing’ by Gaelic football star-turned-addiction counsellor Oisín McConville.
The Armagh football legend, who was driven to the brink of suicide by a gambling addiction
that left him €42,000 in debt, accused the politicians who attended of giving ‘two fingers’ to
those trying to tackle the issue.
He told the Mail: ‘It would be okay if the Government was actually doing something about it but they’ve done absolutely nothing.
‘The gambling Bill has just been sitting there since 2013…. There’s apathy towards it and that apathy is costing lives week in week out. Shame on them.’
When these comments were put to the Taoiseach yesterday, he acknowledged the harm caused by gambling addiction but declined to call for an apology.