Long list of people who didn’t know what was going on over nursing home charges

Nervousness around Government on legal strategy for defending cases taken by medical card holders

Leo Varadkar doesn’t recall it, but reckons he must have been briefed.

Micheál Martin “would not have been aware of the memos in either 2011 or 2017,” his spokesman said.

Brendan Howlin doesn’t recall any memorandum.

No word either from a list of former health ministers. There’s a long list of people who had no idea what was going on.


But something was going on. It may not be the scandal of enormous proportions that Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald was making out in the Dáil. But it is a problem for the Government – not least because so many of its leading figures are having to plead ignorance on the matter. On any issue, this is not a good look.

Everyone agrees that the legal strategy for defending the cases taken by medical card holders who paid for their private nursing home care existing in more or less the terms described by the Irish Mail on Sunday. But nobody is admitting to having authorised it. Presumably, somebody, or some bodies, did. The Opposition are demanding answers.

Attorney General Rossa Fanning will compile a report on the issue for next week’s Cabinet meeting, which – unusually – the Government has committed to publishing. Fanning told the Cabinet on Tuesday that the State had a strong and robust defence to the claims, advice which underpinned Varadkar’s declaration in the Dáil that if he had been asked to authorise the legal strategy, he would have done so.

Fanning’s summary of the State’s legal position is undoubtedly true. But then again, nobody goes into court admitting publicly that its case is pretty flaky. The fact the State decided to settle all the cases suggests that some people weren’t overconfident of the strengths of their defence.

For now, the Oireachtas health committee is to conduct a trawl of documents and hold its own inquiries; the Dáil will debate the issue again next week. You can already see the caution with which Government politicians are approaching the subject. Say something you shouldn’t on the radio and its embarrassing; say something misleading in the Dáil and you’re in trouble.

Whether there is more political blame to go around, we shall see in the coming days. There is some nervousness around Government, but not outright fear. Not yet, anyway.

There is another way of looking at this, though. It was outlined on Twitter by UCC academic and outgoing Child Protection Rapporteur Conor O’Mahony.

“The real story is not the nursing home charges litigation,” he wrote. “It’s that the State pursues the same strategy in lots of areas. People are denied legal entitlements until they litigate. When they do litigate, the cases are defended and then cases are settled late in the day . . .

“The effect is that people who can face the cost and stress of years of litigation get their legal dues, while those who can’t, don’t. The State justifies this as ‘cost-containment’, which seems to trump the basic goal of vindicating legal rights.”

Of course, any government needs to guard the public purse. If billions was paid out to claimants, that is money that would not have available for the health service.

But it is the job of governments to find the difficult balance between providing for its citizens and guarding the public finances. It seems that successive administrations fell down on one of these measures and some on both.