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Ireland’s justice minister butted heads with opposition deputies on Tuesday (23 April) over the gambling bill’s possible effect on fundraising.

Minister James Browne faced calls from deputies to send the country’s gambling bill back to committee due to concerns about potential conflations between charities and commercial gambling.

The Gambling Regulation Bill, which seeks to establish a regulated gambling market in Ireland, has been in the report stage of the Dáil, Ireland’s lower house, since 12 July 2023.

Only amendments that were considered during the committee phase of the bill can be added back in during the report stage.

Once it passes the chamber it will head to the upper house, the Seanad, for approval.

Labour Party deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin attempted to add an amendment to the bill that would exclude charities from the bill.

Browne asked Ríordáin to withdraw the amendment, arguing to do so would remove safeguards and protections for the sector.

The minister said: “We are morally and legally obliged as legislators to ensure that somebody cannot operate and offer gambling activities under the guise of being a charity for the benefit of criminal or other non-charitable activities.”

Several deputies arrived mid-way through the debate later, progressing to then ask about the bill’s effect on fundraising.

Ireland gambling bill’s affect on fundraising

Browne took issue with the deputies opting to miss the earlier part of the debate.

Browne said: “This is exceptionally frustrating. We debated this very issue about 45 minutes ago. I gave answers on all of these questions and clearly the deputies were not here.

“They turned up late, on deputy Ó Ríordáin’s amendment, and hijacked that because they could not turn up on time to discuss it when we discussed it.

“This is a complete waste of Dáil time, making a minister of state repeat everything because they could not be bothered to turn up when we were discussing this very issue.”

Sinn Féin deputy Pearse Doherty pressed on, warning that Browne’s legislation would “crucify” many groups and charities.

His Sinn Féin colleague Thomas Gould concurred, adding that he was disappointed with Browne’s answer.

Gould said: “I know people who have lost their lives because of gambling. I know people who have lost their families and their homes.

“That is the stuff on which we support the Government and we have come to the Chamber to back it. They did not lose their lives or their homes by buying a ticket to a GAA draw.

“They lost them on slot machines or in betting offices. I am not sure when the minister of state was last in a betting office.

“They are like casinos. I invite people to go in and look at them. They are pulling every trick in the book to get every penny out of people.”

If passed, the bill would establish a regulated market overseen by a new regulator, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI).

The legislation has faced criticism from industry that its contemplated gambling advertising watershed would damage the racing industry.

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