The board of the State’s health watchdog will meet next Thursday to discuss an alleged conflict of interest involving its chairman Brian McEnery.
Mr McEnery has faced calls to resign from his position with the Health and Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) after he admitted attending a meeting at which a group of care providers suggested boycotting the Fair Deal scheme for nursing home places.
Speaking at a session of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee on Thursday, Mr McEnery said he remained in attendance at the October 2015 meeting of nursing home operators after hearing suggestions of a boycott, but that he did not contribute to the conversation and would be opposed to such a move.
“If I had been asked I would not have supported that as a proposition… I believe it would be unwise,” he told the TDs and Senators present. The proposed boycott never proceeded.
Mr McEnery said he attended the meeting in question in his capacity as a partner with accountancy firm BDO, and that he only provided financial advice which he routinely dispenses to nursing homes in his professional advisory role, of which he said Hiqa board members were aware.
He added that as Hiqa was only involved in the regulation of quality standards for nursing homes and not the financial side of such services, “I believe I do not have a conflict of interest”.
Care providers have often criticised the payments regime imposed by the Fair Deal scheme, in which the State subvents the cost of nursing home places in lieu of a portion of the person’s estate.
Addressing the committee, Hiqa chief executive Phelim Quinn said the organisation had clear and robust procedures in place for declaring conflicts of interest.
Mr Quinn confirmed that the board of the organisation would discuss the conflict of interest allegations and Mr McEnery’s position at its meeting next Thursday.
Separately, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission announced earlier this week that it will be examining practices at Irish nursing homes over fears of "potential anti-competitive conduct" which may lead to the establishment of a formal investigation.
Mr McEnery said he was invited to speak at the October 2015 meeting by Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), and members of the PAC were critical of the refusal of NHI representatives to attend Thursday's meeting in a voluntary capacity.
Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald described the refusal as “extraordinary” and “unacceptable”, and other committee members including Catherine Murphy and Catherine Connolly encouraged NHI to appear at a future session.
In a letter addressed to committee chairman Seán Fleming, NHI chief executive Tadhg Daly said his organisation still asserted "legal privilege" over the minutes of the October 2015 meeting.
Ms Lou McDonald called on Mr McEnery to step aside from his position with Hiqa in light of the minutes which were leaked to the media.
Fianna Fáil TD Marc McSharry also voiced concerns about the meeting, and said public confidence in Hiqa was not helped by the proximity of its chairman to such matters.
“The complexion is one which is grubby, it’s one where the gamekeeper is effectively acting as adviser to the poacher… I think you should reflect on your position,” he said.