Reilly called to explain age limit for allowance
MINISTER FOR Health James Reilly will be called before an Oireachtas committee next month to explain his department’s failure to remove an upper age limit to an allowance for people with disabilities.
The Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions is also to carry out its own investigation into the department’s failure to open up the mobility allowance to people aged over 66. Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly heavily criticised the Minister and his department for its stance in a report published yesterday.
The department claimed that removing the age limit would cost it an additional €148 million. It said the matter required further consideration by Government to meet the requirements of the Equal Status Acts and to ensure no hardship for the 4,500 people currently receiving the allowance.
“We are seeking further legal advice as to the options available to the Minister. However, the extension of the allowance, as currently structured, may have serious financial pressures on the health budget and may be unsustainable.”
The committee chairman, Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín, said it would hold public hearings into the matter next month, to which Dr Reilly and his officials would be called to give evidence. He said it was clear from Ms O’Reilly’s report that the department and the HSE had acted outside the law. This is only the second time since 1984 that an ombudsman’s recommendation has been rejected in full.
There was further embarrassment for Dr Reilly yesterday when it emerged that he met the National Asset Management Agency with his officials last April to discuss locations for primary care centres in Balbriggan. He said no specific address was discussed.
Dr Reilly has previously said he had no involvement in the selection of a site for a centre in the north Dublin town.
Also yesterday, Dr Reilly briefed the Taoiseach and Tánaiste on his evaluation of locations for the national children’s hospital and will bring a proposal to Government within two weeks.