As Tuesday dawns, the political system is rousing itself from its post-bank holiday slumber at a relatively stately pace. The Dáil and Seanad are not sitting until tomorrow, but Cabinet meets this morning at 10am and the Oireachtas committee system is cranking back into life. And, notwithstanding the welcome St Brigid’s Day break, the Government will find that many controversies from recent weeks are patiently waiting.
Chief among these is the Attorney General’s report into the nursing home charges controversy that dominated the first half of last week. This followed revelations in the Mail on Sunday newspaper about a State legal strategy drawn up in the face of claims that private nursing home residents in receipt of medical cards were wrongly charged fees.
If you need a primer on the controversy, Simon Carswell’s Q&A from last week is here.
The Taoiseach asked Attorney General Rossa Fanning to draw up a report into the matter (there’s one bank holiday weekend ruined, anyway), which is due to go to Cabinet and be published afterwards. All the indications - most notably Leo Varadkar’s bullish blanket defence of the legal strategy last Tuesday - are that Fanning will make good on an initial analysis apparently proffered at Cabinet last week, endorsing the legality of the State strategy. However, that only gets the Coalition so far: the strategy may be legally legitimate in the eyes of the Government’s own adviser, but would it withstand a court challenge if one were finally allowed come forward, rather than be settled? Would the Government put its money where its mouth is and run a case? And perhaps most hard to predict, can it win the political argument, never mind the legal one, that it didn’t act overly aggressively against vulnerable and sympathetic plaintiffs?
A controversy that didn’t take a break over the long weekend is the ongoing issue of refugee accommodation and migration, which is rapidly spiralling into a wider issue of protest, race and politics. It’s a heady mix. Conor Pope reports here on a weekend of protest, including outside the offices of The Irish Times and other media groups.
The process of pre-legislative scrutiny is painstaking parliamentary grunt work, but there is a seam of political jeopardy running through the housing committee’s work on the Planning and Development Bill, 2022, which starts today. Like all pre-legislative scrutiny, this will get very detailed and spend plenty of time in the weeds, but the outcome is important, with the Government insistent that the overhaul of the planning system is needed, while a host of Green Party-adjacent NGOs are flagging concerns. Some of these are shared by Green parliamentarians. Whether such concerns can be adequately addressed remains to be seen.
Elsewhere, Green Party TDs were also raising concerns over the weekend about facial recognition technology in Garda-worn body cameras.
The incomprehensible scale and tragedy of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, which have already claimed more than 4,800 lives, is our lead story today.
The bank holiday weekend also saw the death of former minister for education Niamh Bhreathnach, who abolished college fees and was appointed to cabinet on her first day in the Dáil more than 30 years ago. Harry McGee briefly profiles her here, as tributes to the former minister were led by President Michael D Higgins.
Fintan O’Toole meanwhile writes about the State’s formbook of paying out to the strong and harassing the weak.
As discussed above, Cabinet meets at 10am, with Rossa Fanning’s report on nursing home charges the main event. Ministers will also discuss changes to the Local Authority Home Loan, which funds first-time buyers turned down by traditional lenders. Changes including increased income and house price limits for the scheme are to be considered by Cabinet today. Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is bringing that memo to Cabinet - alongside a memo outlining a review of existing guidelines for onshore wind turbines, always a livewire issue for rural Ireland.
No sign of any post-Cabinet media engagements yet, with the AG’s report likely to take centre stage once published.
Elsewhere, there has been progress in key talks between the European Union and the UK on Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements - the talks are continuing.
The aforementioned pre-legislative scrutiny of the planning Bill kicks off at 3pm in a public session of the housing committee. There are private meetings of the same committee, as well as of the health and foreign affairs and defence committees.
The Oireachtas committee schedule is here.
The Dáil and Seanad resume on Wednesday.