State taking legal advice on mobility allowance

Fri, Oct 26, 2012, 01:00

FURTHER CONSIDERATION is required on the ruling by the Ombudsman that the Minister and Department of Health are illegally refusing the disability allowance to people over 66 years of age, the Tánaiste has told the Dáil.

Eamon Gilmore said the Government would take legal advice on the mobility allowance and it wanted to resolve the issue in a way “that is reasonable, sustainable and does not cause undue distress to those in receipt of the allowance”.

He was responding to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said the State was acting outside the law and “must bring the scheme within” the law.

The €208.50 monthly allowance is paid to some 4,500 people at an annual cost of €12 million.

Mr Gilmore said the criteria for the payment meant a person must be unable to walk or be in such a condition that the exertion required to walk would be dangerous to their health. The HSE makes the means-tested payment to those with a severe disability.

Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in a report on the issue that Minister for Health Dr James Reilly and his department were acting illegally and breaching international human rights principles in refusing the allowance to anyone older than 66 years.

She said the department had been acting illegally for 12 years but knew it was doing so in 2008. It continued, however, to refuse to pay the allowance to older people despite a promise last year to do so.

Ms McDonald demanded in the Dáil to know what the Tánaiste “is going to do about the mobility allowance schemes and the fact that the State is operating outside the law”.

Mr Gilmore told her the matter “requires further consideration by the Government in order to meet the requirements of the Equal Status Act 2000”.

He said “we are seeking further legal advice on the options available to the Government. It is not our wish to withdraw the allowance from those who receive it.”

He noted that the ombudsman’s recommendation that the HSE reconsider the applications of four complainants mentioned in her report. The report also recommended the health authority look again at applications received since April 2011 which were refused solely on the basis of the upper age limit of 66.

The department last year promised to review the scheme but yesterday said it could not afford to make the changes the ombudsman recommended.

When Ms McDonald asked if the Government planned to rectify the situation, Mr Gilmore said the report by the ombudsman would be considered. “We must obtain legal advice on how to proceed obviously because the recommendations concern compliance with the terms of the Equal Status Act.”