The public could be excused for thinking that the issue of illegal deductions from those in long-term care had been resolved with the payment of some €425 million by the State to the thousands of people affected. Acknowledging the wrongdoing in 2005, former minister for health Mary Harney said: "More than 300,000 people were charged illegally during 28 years. This was entirely wrong.
They were old, they were poor, they suffered from mental illness, they had intellectual disabilities, they were physically disabled. As vulnerable people, they were especially entitled to the protection of the law and to legal clarity about their situation."
But it has now emerged that more than 500 people with intellectual disabilities who were also illegally charged by the State will only now receive €8 million in compensation. This follows a U-turn by the Department of Health; following inquiries from this newspaper it has decided to drop a court action aimed at blocking the payments. It has also emerged during the long-running High Court case, which had been adjourned no less than 24 times, that those affected had not been formally represented.
The 500 residents cared for by three organisations - the Daughters of Charity, St Michael's House and Cheeverstown House - will now receive up to €20,000 each in compensation. But some important questions remain: people with similar disabilities are cared for by other institutions throughout the Republic. Although not involved in the appeal, will they now be paid compensation? What of the decision of the Department of Health to contest the entitlement of vulnerable people after Ms Harney made her forthright condemnation of the practice? Did Ms Harney and her successor James Reilly approve the actions of officials in continuing to deny the intellectually disabled what was rightfully theirs? And will the department now do the honourable thing and promptly offer compensation to people with an intellectual disability who are under the care of other voluntary organisations in the State?