Sinn Féin would compensate residents and their families who were wrongly charged for nursing home care, its party leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.
Ms McDonald said if her party were in government and where the State had acted illegally, the party would be “honourable” and “correct that situation”.
The Dublin Central TD was speaking on RTÉ Radio 1′s This Week programme on Sunday.
A protected disclosure made by a whistleblower, published in the Irish Mail on Sunday last weekend, 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.
When asked whether those residents and their families were entitled to compensation, and whether, if Sinn Féin were in government, they would be compensated, Ms McDonald said they were so entitled, and would be compensated.
“Any government has a duty to protect the taxpayer and the public purse,” Ms McDonald said.
[ Legal strategy on nursing home claims continued after Harris-McEntee ‘review’ ]
[ More than 300 legal actions taken against State over nursing home fees ]
[ Nursing home charges: Tánaiste queries whether people today should ‘keep paying for historic wrongs’ ]
“They also at the same time have an absolute obligation to protect our people, our citizens – particularly those who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances.
“No government has the luxury of saying ‘We will do one at the cost of the other’, and in the end, when the State hounds people as they did Brigid McCole back in the day, and wrongs people as they have done consistently, they don’t actually protect the taxpayer.
“They expose everybody, they expose citizens to hardship and misery, and they expose, in the end, the public purse.”
When the Sinn Féin leader was pressed on whether her party would “open the cheque book” and pay all the people involved or their families, Ms McDonald said “a Sinn Féin government would do the job of government, and where the State has acted illegally and denied people their rights and ripped them off, then yes, the State, the government will be honourable and will correct that situation”.
Separately, Ms McDonald said the former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall made one contribution to her political donations account more than a decade ago, which was fully declared and in line with Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) regulations.
The Sinn Féin leader said he may have also attended fundraisers, and added that at the time there was “no question of Mr Dowdall being a convicted criminal”.
“He now is, correctly; and let me make it also very plain: had I known, had I the foresight or any knowledge or inkling that he would have gone on to behave in the way that he did, he would not have been anywhere near me, anywhere near Sinn Féin, frankly – we would have had nothing, zero to do with him,” Ms McDonald said.
The Dublin Central TD said Mr Dowdall was not a friend and instead a constituency colleague. She said her party would not give back the Dowdall contribution or donate it to a community group affected by gangland crime, as this would be an empty gesture.
“The reality is that as it turned out, and as Jonathan Dowdall behaved, I do not know him, did not know him; would have had no clue, no inkling, no more than anybody else had, of what he was capable of,” she added.
“We now know that, and responsibility for that, and for those actions, rest with Jonathan Dowdall and with him alone.”
Ms McDonald said she had made a mistake in a Newstalk interview last November when she described the donation as going to the Dublin Central constituency organisation.
On the issue of the government jet, Ms McDonald said she would like “a bit of scrutiny” around how and what the aircraft is used for, stating her view that, for the most part, politicians’ work can be carried out by travelling on commercial airlines.
“I also accept that the job of government is extremely busy and you do have to travel and you’re travelling for the purpose of work, so you need to be in good shape to actually represent the country well,” she said.
“But my own view is and my understanding is that other governments and other leaders of government use commercial airlines.
“We know certainly in terms of the carbon footprint and damage to the environment, you are better to use commercial airlines rather than private jets, whether it’s for government or anywhere else. That’s why we made a suggestion for an additional tax on the use of private jets.”