SELLING the National Lottery to "cash-rich offshore pension funds, parallel Lottery organisations or wealthy billionaires" could damage the brand beyond repair, Public Sector Reform Minister Brendan Howlin has been warned.
Independent senator Marie Louise O'Donnell said that the Government, instead of selling the National Lottery licence to part fund the new Children's Hospital, should instead ring-fence one of the weekly draws, specifically targetting it to raise funds for the hospital.
"The minister should ask the Irish people to ring-fence a particular draw on Wednesday night specifically for the children's hospital," she said. "I guarantee you that the money will be paid in six years. It is called a hypothecated lottery, the British did it for the Olympics."
It is expected the sale of the franchise could net the Government a one-off payment of half a billion euro.
However, the senator, who will meet Mr Howlin on the issue next week, warned that such a proposal may prove to be seriously unpopular with the public.
"It's a national icon, unlike electricity grids or Eircom cables, the Lotto is not Minister Howlin's or the Taoiseach's to sell. It was created by the Irish people and should be kept Irish."
She added that everything about the National Lottery is "fuelled, furnished, financed, stocked, sourced, owned and possessed entirely by the Irish people".
And she warned that any attempt to sell what is seen by many as "the pennies of the poor" to "cash-rich offshore pension funds, parallel Lottery organisations or wealthy billionaires'' could damage sales of Lotto tickets.
Currently, the Irish lottery is the fifth-biggest in Europe.
However, Ms O'Donnell warned, the public would not like the scenario of "giving our lottery licence away to strangers and paying them to take the money out of our pockets".
The senator noted that the sale of the Lotto would be "the greatest transfer of wealth from the pockets of the poor to the pursuit of privatisation".
The senator also said questions must be raised about the consequences of any foreign takeover in areas such as reductions in prize money, the outsourcing of Irish jobs and online gambling.