Calls have to be made as to whether the current generation should pay for historic mistakes and wrongs, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.
Mr Martin said the Government has to make decisions in this respect and “not all of them are palatable or desirable”.
The Tánaiste was responding to Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Thursday in relation to the revelations on the nursing home strategy and the non-payment of disability allowances to people in institutional care.
RTÉ Prime Time reported on Tuesday that the State denied up to 12,000 people their disability payments, and that the government in 2011 was advised that if those disabled persons sued the State for the payments, their cases were likely to succeed. A government memo from 2009 putt the cost at €700 million.
A protected disclosure made by a whistleblower, published in The Irish Mail on Sunday, previously revealed a Department of Health 2011 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.
Mr Martin said over the last 2½ years the Government had already committed €6 billion in retrospective payments in just three or four areas.
The Tánaiste said the Government is updated every six months on sensitive litigation cases, and that there could be 30 cases at any one time.
“The last 25 to 30 years has been about revelations about the twentieth century in Ireland and in many instances significant redress schemes initiated, that’s the reality,” Mr Martin said.
[ Law, money and morality at issue in nursing home charges legal strategy ]
The Fianna Fáil leader added: “We have to make a call on this and every government will in its day. Does the current generation keep on paying for historic wrongs? Or do we concentrate and focus on the needs which are very real today, right across the board in social services and so forth.”
Mr Martin said it was taxpayers’ money being discussed and that “we are all birds of passage here”. He said these were not popular decisions and there needed to be an honest debate about “how far back do we go, how much we do pay, in terms of the wrongs of the twentieth century”.
The Tánaiste said Ireland had real issues, with an expanding and ageing population that need resources and that social care had to be advanced.
Mr Doherty said the strategy of the Government had been to “conceal” in relation to the disability allowance payments.
“The strategy was a deliberate one. It was a calculated one,” he said, adding that the Tánaiste was a member of the Cabinet at the time.
Mr Boyd Barrett asked why successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, many that the Tánaiste was a part of, had “pursued a systematic strategy of denying rights and entitlements to vulnerable people and to people who have been wronged by the State”.
The Dún Laoghaire TD pointed to the disability allowance payments, women affected by the Cervical Check scandal, as well as survivors of mother and baby homes being excluded from the State’s redress scheme and the nursing home strategy.
[ Long list of people who didn’t know what was going on over nursing home charges ]
The issue was also raised on Thursday in the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which heard legal actions relating to the State’s scheme for repaying nursing home fees that were wrongly charged were taken in more than 300 cases of patients who had spent time in private nursing homes.
Asked how many of these cases were still active, HSE interim chief executive officer Stephen Mulvany said the HSE was not currently managing these cases - their handling came under the remit of the Department of Health from 2013 - but the most up-to-date number he had seen for the number of cases was 329.