Fitzgerald and Bruton clashed on lottery funds

Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald was at odds with his finance minister over how proceeds from the soon-to-be launched National Lottery should be distributed, cabinet papers from 1986 show.

John Bruton, the finance minister, outlined his vision that 50%-60% of the new lottery’s proceeds go to sports with 20%-30% for the arts sector and 10% for health.

It was estimated that the Government would have £10m of lottery funds to distribute to worthy causes the following year after the planned launch in March 1987. However, the taoiseach said he believed that arts and culture should receive an equal share with sport.

The Fine Gael leader said the funding of the arts sector was one of the main motivating reasons for the establishment of the lottery. However, he said such an objective had “not made rapid progress”.

Junior arts and culture minister, Ted Nealon, called on the taoiseach to ensure some lottery proceeds were permanently earmarked for the arts. Mr Nealon was also worried there might not be any real increase in funding for the arts as it was envisaged that exchequer grants for the sector would be correspondingly reduced.

However, Mr Bruton said he held the view that sports had an entitlement to the major share of lottery proceeds: “The origin of the lottery proposal was in the sport area. This is also a vitally important area nationally.”

He claimed there was a need for additional funding for sport and warned of the “unpopular political impact” if it was not the major beneficiary of lottery proceeds.

Mr Bruton said recent debates in both the Dáil and Seanad had highlighted how many speakers believed that sport was the only deserving beneficiary of such monies. The finance minister also said it was incumbent on him to have control over the allocation of funding.

Mr Bruton said it would be extremely disappointing if lottery funds were to be given to a wide variety of smaller projects “of relative insignificance”. He also “dared to suggest” that some monies should be diverted to reducing the national debt.

However, state papers show the Taoiseach wrote to his finance minister on December 12, 1986 to state he disagreed with the methodology Mr Bruton was proposing for the distribution of funds.

Dr FitzGerald said he didn’t subscribe to Mr Bruton’s view that sport was entitled to a major share of the money “and certainly not at the expense of arts and culture”. He recommended both sectors get 40% each of funding with the remainder going to other areas including the Irish language.

The taoiseach accused his Fine Gael colleague of failing to appreciate the significance of the arts. He challenged Mr Bruton’s contention that the Department of Finance should get a list of all potential beneficiaries in order to recommend who should get funding.

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