Does Attorney General’s report bring nursing home charges controversy to an end? Not quite

Inside Politics: Coalition still has to justify its next steps not just legally or intellectually, but politically

From the moment Leo Varadkar issued his blanket defence of the State’s legal strategy on historic nursing home charges last Tuesday, the air went out of the Attorney General’s report on his office’s advices on the issue. “This was a sound policy approach and a legitimate legal strategy by the government at the time, by previous governments and by governments since,” he told the Dáil, saying all Ministers from 2005 onwards “acted in good faith, in the public interest, in accordance with official advice and in accordance with legal advice from the Attorney General and that is exactly how they should act”.

No Taoiseach would do this in a fit without knowing they had the full backing of their Attorney General – and so it came to pass, with Rossa Fanning issuing a muscular defence of his office and the actions of previous governments on Tuesday which, in language not dissimilar from the Taoiseach’s last week, found the advice was “sound, accurate and appropriate”.

So, controversy over? Not quite. For one, there’s the question of what to do on historic disability payments that were wrongly withheld from those in State care – Fanning found there was no legal obligation for redress but the State’s legal position for 13 years was deficient. On nursing home charges, the controversy has always proceeded on two parallel tracks: legal and political. The Fanning report offers about as tight a legal defence as can be imagined, but it is the nature of politics that it doesn’t play by the rules of other less volatile trades.

The first step will be to defend Fanning’s report in the Dáil on Thursday – with the assertive, at times almost combative, tone of the AG’s report likely to feature. If that hurdle is cleared, Oireachtas committees may demand their pound of flesh in the three-month period before Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys revert to the Government with suggestions on what it should actually do about the matter.


The Coalition still has to justify its next steps not just legally or intellectually, but politically.

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Pat Leahy on the politics of that AG report. Read it here.

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Leaders’ Questions begins the day in the Dáil at 2pm, and Taoiseach’s Questions comes at 3.05pm. Sinn Féin’s motion on Mortgage Interest Relief is just before 7pm, followed by topical issues.

In the Seanad, the second stage of the Central Bank (Individual Accountability Framework) Bill is at 3.45pm, and Senator Victor Boyhan has a motion on a National Forestry Fund at 6.15pm.

It’s a busy day for the committees. The welfare and safety of workers and patients in the health service is the subject of a health committee session at 9.30am, with automatic enrolment in pensions being examined by the Joint Committee on Social Protection at the same time. Paschal Donohoe and junior minister Ossian Smyth are with the finance committee at 1.30pm, with Catherine Martin and Thomas Byrne also in on revised estimates at the tourism committee at the same time. Norma Foley has the same duty at 5.30pm, as do Charlie McConalogue and Roderic O’Gorman at their respective sectoral committees.

The parliamentary party meetings are scheduled for later this afternoon and into the evening.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin is in Washington, DC. He will give a speech to the Atlantic Council in the morning on Northern Ireland and other matters. He is meeting national security adviser Jake Sullivan in the White House and then travels on to Capitol Hill where he is meeting the Friends of Ireland caucus, among others. He will also be meeting US state department officials.