Compensation could be paid after the Taoiseach admits government failures on disability benefits

New compensation could be paid after the Taoiseach’s acknowledgment that the state “had not a leg to stand on” in halting disability benefit payments once a person had entered an institution.

It has since emerged that former Fine Gael Minister Michael Noonan had previously argued that people who lost their subsistence allowance could instead get “pocket money” from the Health Board – a stance that likely fuels the party’s concerns over the issue strengthened.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is today to question HSE and Department of Health officials over the state’s stance on denying disability benefits, along with a controversial legal strategy over the alleged entitlement to free alimony for health card holders at a private nursing home.

It is now understood that the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), the Ombudsman and legal advisers consulted by the State have raised concerns in the matter.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the government is now investigating both controversies through the Attorney General. But he also told the Dáil that they were distinctly different.

Former FG party leader Michael Noonan was asked in 1995 why the Disability Living Allowance (DPMA) was not paid to people being treated in hospitals or nursing homes to enable them to maintain their independence.

He said the regulations specified it “is not payable to a person residing in a healthcare facility.” However, an existing recipient who has entered an institution should have received it for eight weeks. It appears that in many, if not most, cases this has not been the case.

In recent years, legal advice on denying disability assistance has been that the state “didn’t have a leg to stand on,” Leo Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday.

About 12,000 people are believed to have been affected and the government is reviewing the situation, he said, adding that he has been a member of three governments that have taken major steps to right past wrongs. That had happened with the Magdalen Laundries and the Mother and Child Houses and is now happening with mica, pyrite and apartment block problems.

Victims of symphysiotomy have gone to court and lost their cases, he said – but the state has set up a compensation fund anyway.

But the government not only has a duty to do what is right and just, it also has a duty to protect taxpayers and the treasury, he said.

Separately, he said it has not been found that the state has illegally charged medical cardholders in private nursing homes.

There was official legal advice on legal defense and he concluded: ‘You cannot prevent anyone from going to court in Ireland’.

But Sinn Féin Chairwoman Mary Lou McDonald said efforts had been made to keep the matter “under wraps and out of court”.

The government first devised a plan to “hit the elderly hard,” she said. At that time there had been a government decision – later deemed illegal – to deny people their disability benefits when they entered a facility.

That was another strategy aimed at concealing and covering up — and protecting the government rather than the vulnerable, she said.

C&AG has advised the TDs in a private meeting that it follows all standard practice regarding the requirement to disclose details of a potential legal liability in financial statements.

It comes as the government faces mounting controversy over older people being incorrectly billed to private care homes.

Despite claims that C&AG had some sort of agreement with the government not to publicly disclose the cost of settlements, the TDs were told in a confidential PAC meeting yesterday that no specific arrangements had been made.

the Irish Mail on Sunday reported that an agreement had to be reached with the Spending Regulator because reporting to the Oireachtas may have led to an increase in new cases.

Politicians will have a barbecue at the PAC Department of Health and HSE officials today.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted he did not sign the directive, instead citing his predecessor, former Health Secretary James Reilly. Compensation could be paid after the Taoiseach admits government failures on disability benefits

Fry Electronics Team

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