A Fianna Fáil minister has criticised a key part of the government’s deal to shore up support from Independent TDs in advance of a Dáil vote on the matter.
The Government plans to allow people in nursing homes to keep 100 per cent of the rental income from their homes in a bid to free up more vacant homes for the rental market. But on Wednesday, Minister for Older People Mary Butler, said she was “disappointed” with the decision, that she hadn’t been contacted about it in advance, and went on to raise a series of concerns.
Ms Butler – whose party colleague Darragh O’Brien is Minister for Housing – said she believed a plan to review the policy next month stood, and that she didn’t want to see the current rules changed.
At the moment people can retain 60 per cent of the income from renting, with 40 per cent going toward the cost of their care. The Government included wording in its countermotion to a Sinn Féin motion to extend the evictions ban indicating it would “move to eliminate remaining barriers” in the area, mirroring language used by the Rural Independent Group in a list of amendments it wanted put in place.
The intervention by Ms Butler now raises the prospect of internal strife in the Coalition and will raise fresh questions about the extent of the work done on policies to mitigate the end of the ban before they were announced.
Speaking to The Irish Times on Wednesday, Ms Butler said: “We have 70 per cent of people in nursing homes that have dementia, there would be capacity issues, they don’t want to be landlords.”
“I would be worried too that there would be a premature entry of people into nursing homes if this rate was reduced to zero per cent,” she said.
“Minister O’Brien is aware of my concerns, as is obviously Minister Donnelly, and I would have articulated these concerns on many occasions before and my position hasn’t changed.”
The rules were relaxed last November to allow people keep more of the income, but she said only 24 people had availed of it since then. The plan was to review the changes again next month.
“I was always of the opinion that we were going to review this in April and we were going to look at it then. Rental income for some people who go into nursing homes is not a solution for them. I know this sector really, really well, I’ve been working with older people since 2016, I know Fair Deal inside out – and the majority of older people who agree to go into a nursing home, because it is their choice, mostly will only go in if, for example, they can retain their home.”
“I’ve raised these concerns before, I didn’t feel that by reducing the amount of rental income that we would see a surge of houses freeing up, and I have been proven right by that.”
She said it was “essential” that the review still stands. “It hasn’t had its desired effect and I will look at it in the round to see what we can do, but first and foremost my main aim is to support the 22,500 people who reside in nursing homes under the Fair Deal scheme.”
She said she heard Mr O’Brien confirm his intent to make the change on RTÉ Radio at lunchtime but “that discussion wasn’t had with me”.
“Do I think by reducing the rental allocation that is considered for Fair Deal, do I think that will have a significant difference? I don’t think that it will, it didn’t have in the last six months,” she said.
She said many individuals in nursing homes would still have adult children living at home, some who were vulnerable or who may have Down’s syndrome, and that many people living in nursing homes return to the home they own at weekends.
“There are many, many people who will not go into a nursing home if their home isn’t made available to them,” she said.