Once the biggest lottery in the world the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake made millions for those who ran it and for the state. Yet workers with years of loyal service struggle financially.

For 56 years the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake contributed over £270 million in prizes and over £130 million to the hospitals’ building fund. However in 1986 the Irish government established the National Lottery but awarded the licence to An Post.

In February 1987, 147 Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake employees, many with 40 years of service, were made redundant. Because their wages were low, their statutory redundancy and Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) payments were also low and the former workers found themselves facing financially insecurity.

Most of us have between 35 and 40 years service and we feel we’ve just been thrown on the scrapheap.

Former employee Maura Doolan explains that while workers were considered well paid during the 1940s and 1950s, after this period, they did not get any increments. She says that the directors, the higher executive of Irish Hospitals Trust and Sweepstake agents all did well out of the enterprise. The workers are the ones hardest done by. 

The hospitals made money out of it, the government made money out of it, the employees didn’t make any money, and at the moment have nothing.

Another former employee Carmel Hibbits was given the choice of taking a pension of £5 a week or taking a lump sum of £2,600. She opted for the lump sum but when her redundancy and PRSI runs out she will receive £34 or £35 a week of unemployment assistance. She does not know how she will keep her flat.
Carmel blames her plight on the management of hospitals trust and the previous government who established the National Lottery.

I feel we were pushed aside a bit order to make way for the Lottery.

The Labour Court recently ruled the former employees should receive two extra weeks pay per year of service. The workers were hoping to get this money from one of three sources. Firstly, the liquidators could pay it; secondly the Minister for Health could pay for it out of the sale of the former Sweepstake headquarters in Ballsbridge in Dublin; thirdly, the money currently in the trust fund of unclaimed prizes could be released to them.

The third option is now the only one left for the former employees, but an Act of the Oireachtas will be required before this money can be released to somebody other than a prize-winner.

If there is the political will then there definitely is a political way.

This episode of ‘Evening Extra’ was broadcast on 3 December 1987. The reporter is Eamonn Ó Muirí.