Nursing home neglect during pandemic due to ‘systemic failures’ – Cullinane

Call for public inquiry is about ‘establishing facts’, SF’s health spokesman says

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane. File photograph: Leah Farrell/

A Sinn Féin call for a public inquiry into nursing home neglect and deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic is "not about a witch hunt or apportioning blame but establishing facts", the party's health spokesman David Cullinane has said.

He told the Dáil that “pandemic restrictions, combined with poor oversight of the nursing home sector, has been a perfect storm which led to neglect and abuse.

“Nobody was given the authority to implement visitation guidance, monitor compliance, or sanction non-compliant nursing homes.

“In many cases, even the phones were not answered as loved ones were isolated and neglected,” he said.


“We are calling for enhanced regulatory powers for Hiqa [Health Information and Quality Authority], comprehensive adult safeguarding legislation with an enforcement authority, and a full public inquiry into nursing home neglect and abuse during the pandemic.

“The Government must face up to these responsibilities and ensure there are no more delays,” he said, in the wake of more than 2,000 deaths in nursing homes linked to coronavirus.

The motion was agreed without a vote and represents a decision of the Dáil but the Government is however not legally obliged to act on it.

Opening a two-hour debate on nursing homes during the pandemic, Mr Cullinane said it was wrong that “no statutory authority or State agency has a right of entry into private nursing homes to investigate individual cases of neglect” and it “must be put right”.

“We must fast-track reforms to empower Hiqa, which has been stating for some time that its powers are blunt instruments.”

The Waterford TD also highlighted the cases of families who could not see their loved ones in nursing homes even from a window and spoke of “harrowing accounts” of “neglect or what could be described as abuse. This was all because of systemic failures in the sector,” he said.

Minister of State for Older People Mary Butler said "significant" updated guidance on nursing homes to come into effect from next Monday, July 19th, "will mean a return to more normalised visiting", while continuing vigilance is necessary.

Ms Butler added that in cases of potential criminal abuse “it’s the full expectation of the department and me that any such instances in our health and social care services would be referred to An Garda Síochána in the first instance and investigated accordingly”.

The Minister said that “safeguarding adults” is a key objective of the Department of Health, statutory bodies and health and social care services.

Ms Butler added that development of the department’s national adult safeguarding policy is at an advanced stage and “legislation to underpin this policy will be developed”.

But Mr Cullinane said former senator Colette Kelleher had drafted and introduced safeguarding legislation and that should be used. "We have to get on with it," he said.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times