Belfast Telegraph

FitzGerald backed lottery proposal

Ex-Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald wanted the National Lottery set up to end the Irish State's involvement in illegal activities overseas, he confided in a Cabinet colleague.

Newly-declassified files reveal an approach by Paddy McGrath - who ran the Irish Sweepstakes - to the then premier in 1984 about the demise of his internationally notorious gambling operation.

Despite being operated on the black markets of the US, UK and Canada, the Irish Government happily took donations from the Sweep to help fund the country's cash-strapped hospitals.

Mr McGrath offered to wind down his own company, which had made his family an extraordinary fortune but was by this stage doomed, and set up a new State lottery if the Government gave him IR£1.7 million.

The proposal was made two years before Ireland's National Lottery was set up.

A new lottery would "yield a very substantial return to the State", the Taoiseach was promised, and Mr McGrath vowed to abandon his controversial overseas sales in countries where it had been illegal.

In a letter to then Justice Minister Michael Noonan about the approach, Mr FitzGerald champions the proposal to "nationalise the Sweep" as an attractive move for the Government.

"On the face of it, it seems to me that this proposal to nationalise the Sweep, and to put it on a fully legal basis, no longer dependent on illegal activities overseas, is a very attractive one, both in terms of the possible benefit to the State - if (McGrath) is correct in suggesting that it could be greater than the existing Sweepstakes - and in terms of ending a somewhat anomalous and unsatisfactory situation in which the State is involved at one remove with activities that are illegal in other states," he wrote.

The Taoiseach states that Mr McGrath wants a response within two weeks, and asks the justice, finance and health ministers to consider it.

However, two years later An Post won the contract to run the new National Lottery and the Sweepstakes was wound up in 1987.

Although promoted as a charitable lottery financing Irish hospitals, the Sweepstakes was a private company that made its owners a fortune.

Throughout most of its lifetime, the Irish Sweepstakes operated on the black markets in the US and the UK, when gambling was illegal - causing some diplomatic strain between Ireland and the two countries.

Its notoriety is marked by its mention in several films as well as novels by Agatha Christie and Evelyn Waugh.

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