I WAS very proud to launch a detailed policy document which sets out how to finally tackle gambling addiction in Ireland.
While many people are able to enjoy gambling occasionally in a healthy way, many families in Cork and across the state will know the pain and heartbreak that comes when it becomes an addiction. Gambling has devastated the lives of many people who have lost control of the impact it has on them.
Frustratingly, this government has been asleep at the wheel on regulating gambling for far too long. Our regulations are stuck in the dark ages and don’t do enough to reflect the digital era we’re now in. People can easily pick up their phone and place a bet through an app on their mobile within just minutes. Online advertising floods websites with eye-catching and colourful images that make gambling look like a fun game.
While putting together these policies, I spoke to many people who have been affected by the devastation of addiction and experts working in the sector. They shared heart-breaking stories of how gambling can affect peoples’ lives and their families’ lives.
But as well as the heartache and pain, I was struck by the frustration and sheer disbelief they felt at the government’s indifference on this issue. Families and charities have been crying out for help on this issue for years, but their cries have been shrugged off by this government.
Addressing the issue of gambling addiction is a responsibility of this government and it is time for them to show leadership and finally act.
We urgently need a gambling regulator to be put in place. My proposals outline how this can be achieved and how this would work in practice. My policy document also outlines how we need to ban the use of credit cards when gambling- no one should be able to gamble with money they don’t have and I will be introducing legislation to enact this later this year.
I’m particularly worried that our current regulations are leaving children and young people vulnerable to being sucked into the world of gambling. According to ESPAD, as many as three thousand children aged 15-16 years old in Ireland have an issue with problem gambling. This is one of the highest rates in Europe.
Those figures should be a call to urgent action. Many are lured in by apps designed to look like computer games and too often families and schools don’t know enough about what signs to spot in order to act early and get them the help they need.
In my proposals, I’m calling for measures to be put in place to protect our children and young people from being lured into gambling. We owe it to our young people to act and ensure they have the protection they need.
One key step is to ensure that there is a watershed between 6am-9pm preventing gambling adverts, so that younger children aren’t being exposed to adverts normalising gambling both on TV and online.
We also need to ensure there are age checks up front when people sign up for online gambling. Currently there is a 72 hour wait period before this is checked, which means children can gamble for this 3 day period unchecked. This is scandalous and must stop.
Another key step is to address the issue of advertisements aimed at children and encouraging them to have their confirmation or communion at a racecourse. I’m proposing a ban on racecourses advertising these events as it is not appropriate for children and young people to feel pressured to hold events in gambling establishments.
We take major steps in this country to protect children from consuming alcohol and drugs- rightly so. But we have a serious blind spot when it comes to protecting them from problem gambling.
We owe it to our young people to drag our gambling laws into the modern era so that they’re fit for 2021.
In Ireland, we can sometimes find it difficult to talk about addiction. This is understandable, as it can seem a scary and intimidating topic. However, the price of silence is too high. We must end the taboo around gambling addiction and ensure we have the discussions we need to create the solutions required.
When Sinn Féin became the lead opposition last year, our party President Mary Lou McDonald said we would be the most effective opposition in the history of the state. We are committed to delivering that as a party. My proposals demonstrate this constructive opposition in action. They are detailed and deliverable policies to finally tackle the issue of gambling addiction. I am urging the government to work with me on this issue and implement Sinn Féin’s policies.
We cannot keep kicking the can down the road on this important issue. There can be no more delays. The solutions are there if the political will is there to match it too.
Thomas Gould TD, Sinn Féin is spokesperson on Addiction, Recovery and Wellbeing and TD for Cork North Central