Minister to be called to explain refusal to comply with equality Acts
Minister for Health James Reilly and his senior officials are to be called before an Oireachtas committee to explain their refusal to comply with equality legislation.
The committee made the decision after hearing Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly strongly attack the Minister over his rejection of recommendations she made in recent reports on the mobility allowance scheme and the motorised transport grant. Dr Reilly’s stance amounted to “an unequivocal statement that the law is optional”, she told the committee on public service, oversight and petitions.
In both cases, the department accepted its operation of both schemes was in breach of the equal status Acts but said the State could not afford to expand eligibility as recommended by Ms O’Reilly.
Ms O’Reilly said the Minister and his department were refusing to respect the law of the land and this was far more important than any issues relating to the two schemes themselves.
“However, I cannot imagine that parliament would find this behaviour to be acceptable. On this approach the law is optional and not binding: we can decide when it suits us to obey the law and we can disregard the law where it is troublesome or inconvenient to abide by it.”
The department had a long history of “carelessness about the law” which proved costly for the taxpayer, she said. In the 1990s, illegal assessments under a nursing home support scheme led to compensation payouts totalling €6 million. The illegal charging of medical card holders for long-stay care which continued until 2004 has cost the State €500 million.
More than 300 people had begun High Court proceedings against the State seeking compensation for private nursing home costs where the HSE failed to provide long-stay care.
The Minister’s disregard for the equal status Acts could breed “nothing but cynicism” among the public.
She said: “Why should the owner of a pub or a hotel respect the terms of the Acts – for example, by treating Traveller customers the same as all other customers – when the Minister does not, apparently, have to abide by these Acts also?”