Temperatures rise over illegal nursing home charges


Dail Sketch: The illegal nursing home charges raised the political temperature in Leinster House yesterday.

Mary Harney, flanked by a sole ministerial colleague, Mary Hanafin, took the Order of Business in the Dáil. Later, former health minister Micheál Martin gave his version of events on the illegal nursing home charges to the Dáil committee examining the Travers report.

When comments to the committee by former secretary general of the Department of Health Michael Kelly were raised in the House, Ms Harney was adamant that her political health was not going to be damaged in the face of a negative prognosis by Pat Rabbitte.

Meanwhile, Ivor Callely and Tim O'Malley, junior ministers with Mr Martin in the department, were present, Mr Callely in the minister of state benches, and Mr O'Malley, opting for the protective home turf of the PD benches, next to Liz O'Donnell.

When Mr Rabbitte noted that Mr Kelly had said that the Tánaiste had cancelled extensive briefings on the nursing home charges, Fine Gael's Bernard Durkan suggested that Mr Callely wanted to say something on the issue. Mr Callely had the demeanour of a Trappist monk.

Ms Harney came out fighting. Mr Kelly's comments, she declared, were the equivalent of saying: "Your house is on fire, but I cannot tell you because your secretary has postponed a meeting." Warming to the subject, she added: "It is so laughable that it is not worthy of comment. We found out about the charges because I asked for the advice of the Attorney General." Mr Rabbitte pressed the matter, but Ms Harney was conceding nothing.

"When I asked the man to give me a brief for the Cabinet, he did not even provide the crucial information," she declared. "That is why Mr Kelly was removed from his job."

Fine Gael's Billy Timmins had another version of events. "That is why he was promoted," he observed dryly.

Fine Gael's Richard Bruton referred to a leaked report from the consumer strategy group confirming that Irish consumers were being ripped off, while Labour's Brendan Howlin was annoyed that the details had appeared in The Irish Times before the House was informed.

Mr Bruton found himself going through the alphabet when he expressed doubt that the Government would do anything about it. "Will it be a series of findings where we will examine x, think about y, and set up another discussion or consultation on z?" he asked. "Will decisions be taken?" Ms Harney was hopeful they would.

Later, Ms Harney responded to Labour criticism of her handling of the Gama workers' controversy. "I will not be lectured by a party that supported an amnesty for tax cheats," she snapped. "The deputies should not lecture me about anything." Ms Harney left the chamber after her hurried consultation with the Opposition, while Mr Martin prepared for a more thorough examination of his political health with the committee.