Tánaiste Micheál Martin was not aware of two memos detailing the State’s legal strategy to limit refunds on illegal nursing home charges, a spokesman has said.
It comes after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that he “must have been” briefed about the strategy, which he described as “legitimate” and a “sound policy approach”.
The Taoiseach said the nursing home legal defence has been “grossly misrepresented”. He insisted that successive governments and attorney generals did not conspire to deny people refunds and said such an allegation was “as far fetched as it sounds”.
A protected disclosure made by Department of Health official Shane Corr, published in the Irish Mail on Sunday newspaper, revealed a 2011 Department of Health memo purporting to set out a legal strategy to thwart refunds of potentially billions of euro to people wrongly charged for nursing home care over 30 years. Another memo was sent in 2017
Mr Varadkar said the Attorney General is now preparing a report for Government on the matter and it will be published after it goes to Cabinet next week.
He said once the facts had been established, there would be statements in the Dáil next week, adding that it would be appropriate for Department of Health officials to make a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health.
The Taoiseach said the strategy was to defend the cases relating to private nursing homes on several grounds, in particular that medical card holders did not have an entitlement to free private nursing home care. “It was never the policy of the Government nor the intention of the Oireachtas to create such an entitlement,” he said.
“A limited number of individual cases were settled over the course of 10 years where there were complicating factors. No case ever proceeded to a hearing and if it had the State would have defended its position and had bona fide defences prepared.”
A Government spokesman said Mr Martin would not have been aware of the memos.
“The Tánaiste would not have been aware of the memos in either 2011 or 2017 mentioned in the article. However, the State’s position going back over decades, and after the Supreme Court decision of 2005, has always been clear. The policy of a number of Governments over many years has been consistent, that private care should not be entirely covered by the State.
“This matter was extensively and openly debated in the Dáil, Seanad and at Oireachtas committees. This led to the then government setting up the Health Repayment Scheme in 2006 to repay eligible long-stay residents. This paid out more than €485m to more than 20,000 patients,” the spokesman said.
“At the time there were communications programmes to highlight the repayment scheme and a public helpline. The Fair Deal Scheme was then established in 2009 to provide a statutory basis for contributions towards public or private nursing home costs.”
Former minister for public expenditure Brendan Howlin was said to have been copied into the 2011 memo. He told The Irish Times, however, that he had no recollection of this. “I was never involved in a decision on this issue. I cannot recall ever being briefed on the matter.”
Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik said all documents relating to the alleged legal strategy need to be published.
[ Nursing home charges: Whistleblower says he alerted Varadkar in 2019 ]
Ms Bacik said there needs to be “a full transparent disclosure of all documents” related to to the issue.
She said: “It’s very worrying indeed to see reports that there was a secret strategy for many years across successive health ministers to deny refunds to those who’ve been illegally charged for nursing home costs. So we need to see public disclosure of the documents there.”