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Problem gambling charity faces threat of closure as government urged to fund services

Sinn Féin’s Thomas Gould has urged the government to provide funding for Extern.
Jan 15th 2021, 2:19 PM 6,697 20

A CHARITY THAT supports people affected by gambling addiction in Ireland faces the prospect of folding in the coming months unless it receives an urgent funding injection. 

The Extern Problem Gambling Project – which runs the website problemgambling.ie – provides supports and counselling for problem gamblers, referrals for related services and provides talks in schools.

Founded five years ago, its CEO Barry Grant had hoped that by now the government’s gambling legislation first proposed in 2013 – which would provide a “social fund” for problem gambling treatment and prevention – would be well established.

Instead, this legislation has gathered dust and Grant told TheJournal.ie that over the years his organisation had applied to every government organisation and semi-state body related to this area for funding to no avail. 

“We’ve always faced funding issues,” he said. “We’re at a point now. After some philanthropic funding in 2019 helped us to provide a counselling service and some educational services – that’s now run out. Unfortunately it’s where we’re at.”

The charity has been at the forefront in campaigning for Ireland’s gambling laws to be changed and amended to reflect gambling in the 21st century, including the proliferation of online betting.

Extern’s calls have followed those of other groups and political parties in recent times. 

A recent position paper from the College of Psychiatrists in Ireland has called for urgent action to deal with the “public health crisis” of problem gambling in this country. 

It called for an outright ban on gambling advertisements in sports along with dedicated treatment pathways to support those who need help with gambling addiction.

Since 2013, legislation which would reform Ireland’s gambling laws has not been progressed by the government. It is expected that the government will roll out reforms at some stage this year, including the establishment of a gambling regulator.

Grant said that he had seen “false dawns” regarding legislation to reform the gambling sector on a number of occasions in the seven-and-a-half years since the government first proposed new gambling laws. 

“We’d a 50% increase in traffic to our website last year,” he said. “We know people are spending more time gambling online than ever before with the shops closed for large periods due to Covid.

That’s something that’s extremely worrying. At the same time, government at policy level is completely ignoring this. 

He described how the group had been unsuccessful in its efforts to receive government funding, and highlighted recent failed applications to the HSE for Section 39 funding.

“These applications are torturous, and have to be to make sure things like governance and financials are all in order,” Grant said. “It took weeks. Within hours of submitting, we’d have HSE managers coming back to us to say gambling wasn’t in their remit.

When we set this up five years ago, I’d hoped we’d be in a different situation. In my naivety, I’d believed the government would enact this legislation, and with the social fund we’d be in a position to commission more services on the ground. Where we are now is very different.

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Speaking in the Dáil this week, Sinn Féin spokesperson on addiction, recovery and wellbeing Thomas Gould calling for specific supports for people with gambling addiction issues to be established by the government. 

He said: “There are no supports for people with gambling addictions and the Extern Problem Gambling Project, which provides counselling for those with such an addiction, receives no Government funding.

“I contacted five Departments before Christmas, namely, the Departments of Justice, Health, Children and Youth Affairs, Rural and Community Development, and Education, and each came back with the response that no funding was available.

“A representative of the Extern Problem Gambling Project told me today that if the Government does not step in now, it will close in six weeks’ time due to a lack of funding. We need to act now to support people who are in gambling addiction.”

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, Gould also called for interim funding to be provided to fund Extern.

He said: “I have written to a number of Ministers and Junior Ministers seeking this funding. They need to pull the finger out now on gambling. This has dragged on for too long and those in addiction are now at risk of losing one of the only specialised supports they have now. This is a disgrace.”

TheJournal.ie has contacted the Department of Justice – which is the lead department on gambling reform – for comment. 

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