By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the State “didn’t have a leg to stand on” in relation to disability payments withheld from people in care, but he stressed it is “different in substance” to the nursing home charges story.
It comes after RTÉ Investigates revealed the State denied thousands of vulnerable people in residential care their Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance (DPMA).
A memo which dates back to 2009 reportedly outlined that if families were to take cases, they would likely succeed.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said it was another strategy to “conceal, to deny, to cover up”, instead of protecting vulnerable citizens.
It comes after the Mail On Sunday revealed a legal strategy by the State in relation to families who were forced to use private nursing homes when public spaces were not available.
Where is the compassion & care for people?
Why did successive governments deny people disability payments & nursing home refunds they were entitled to?
Why, instead of standing up for people, did they face down some of the most vulnerable in our society? – @MaryLouMcDonald pic.twitter.com/y6iHF0nqRC
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) February 1, 2023
It has been reported the strategy sought to settle the cases out of court to prevent further cases from being taken, in relation to charges for nursing home care deemed “illegal” by a 2010 Ombudsman’s report into the issue.
Whether the charges are illegal has never been tested in the courts, but the State maintains there is no obligation on it to pay for private nursing home care.
Ms McDonald said vulnerable people need government “to stand up for them – instead of governments facing them down and fighting them tooth and nail at every turn to deny them things that they were entitled to”.
Mr Varadkar said the two issues are very different.
During leaders’ questions on Wednesday, he told Ms McDonald: “The legal advice in relation to the DPMA was that the State didn’t have a leg to stand on.
“The legal advice in relation to the nursing homes is that those charges were not illegal, and that’s never been established, deputy.
“You’re making an assertion that is not established and hasn’t been established and your ultimate assertion that people are prevented from going to court – nobody is prevented from going to court, deputy. You can’t prevent somebody from going to court in Ireland. That’s an entirely false statement.
“There were cases that were settled and there are cases that have not been settled and they may yet go to court, deputy, so that assertion is also false.”
Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the State’s approach to litigation was “indistinguishable from any faceless private corporate entity – it’s a war of attrition against those who dare to sue it”.
She called on the Government to re-evaluate the role of the Attorney General, and said it “wasn’t right or transparent” that ministers can “hide behind unpublished legal advice” given by that office.
Mr Varadkar repeated that the issues are very different. “It does appear different to the nursing home charges issue to me, it appears different in substance because the legal advice is different,” he said.
He added that the governments he has been a part of have worked to right the past wrongs of the State. “We’ve put a huge amount of time and care and resources into putting right some of the wrongs of the past, even where there is no legal liability on the State,” he said.