OireachtasLeaders' Questions

Dáil live: Taoiseach faces questions on nursing home charges and cost-of living-crisis

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said successive Governments pursued ‘heartless’ strategy


Decision on cost-of-living supports by middle of February, says Varadkar

Dail Tuesday Jan 31st

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there will be an announcement by the middle of next month on the cost of living financial supports. Mr Varadkar said ministers are due to sit down next week and look at the options available to them about which measures might be continued.

The reduced VAT rate for gas and electricity is due to expire at the end of February, as well as the reduced rate of excise duty for petrol, diesel and home heating oil and the ban on energy disconnections.Independent TD Joan Collins said such supports had helped but were not “targeted enough”.

The Dublin South Central TD said her recent gas bill was €780, up from €347 from the same time last year, with the same amount of units used.

Ms Collins said there were a lot of people who “have to worry every day about how they will put food on the table, how they will keep the lights on and keep a roof over their family’s heads”.

In response, Mr Varadkar repeated there wouldn’t be a “cliff edge” at the end of February in terms of the cost of living supports.

“A number of measures that were due to end at the end of February are now under review,” he said.

“We acknowledge that we’re going to need to do something to help people with the rising cost of living throughout the spring.

“We haven’t made any firm decisions on that. The key ministers involved will sit down next week and look at options with a view to making an announcement certainly by the middle of the month so that people have certainty going into March.”

The Taoiseach said that he agreed financial supports “needed to be targeted”.

“There are a number of options that we need to consider and probably wouldn’t be useful for me to speculate on the options now because it might just raise expectations, but it is something that we will discuss next week,” he added.

“I agree that the measures need to be targeted. It might be the case that there are still some universal measures, but generally speaking, they need to be targeted, for those who need them the most and those who are struggling the most and those on fixed incomes.”


Nursing home charges legal strategy ‘sound’, says Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he “must have” been briefed about the State’s nursing home charges legal strategy during his time as Minister for Health but can’t say when or by whom.

Mr Varadkar has said successive Governments and Attorney Generals did not conspire to deny people refunds and that the allegation was “as far fetched as it sounds”.

The Taoiseach said the nursing home legal defence strategy has been “grossly misrepresented” and that it was instead “a sound policy approach and a legitimate legal strategy”.

A protected disclosure made by a whistleblower, first published in the Mail on Sunday, 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. Department official Shane Corr emailed Mr Varadkar on December 22nd, 2019, copying the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, expressing concern that billions of euro in repayments of long-stay nursing home charges were being put “out of reach” of “largely old and helpless people”. Read Simon Carswell’s report on that here.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Tuesday, the Fine Gael leader said the Minister for Health had sought advice from the Attorney General and a detailed written briefing from his officials.

Mr Varadkar said the Attorney General was preparing a report for Cabinet for next Tuesday, which would be published.

He said once the “facts” had been established, there would be statements in the Dáil next week, adding that it would be appropriate for Department of Health officials to make a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health.

The Taoiseach said the strategy was to defend the cases relating to private nursing homes on several grounds, in particular that medical card holders did not have an entitlement to free private nursing home care.

“It was never the policy of the Government nor the intention of the Oireachtas to create such an entitlement,” he said. “Even today, people with medical cards for one reason or another, either choose or are forced to avail of private health care and social care, they don’t get a refund, not even now.

“A limited number of individual cases were settled over the course of 10 years where there were complicating factors. No case ever proceeded to a hearing and if it had the State would have defended its position and had bona fide defences prepared.”

Mr Varadkar said in the case of public nursing home charges, a scheme was put in place which was widely publicised, and €485 million was paid to former residents and their families.

“This sum was considerably less than the estimate of €5 billion put on the potential liability in 2011 by the Department of Health,” he said.

“It was made very clear at the time that this would not extend to people who were in private nursing homes. I want to reassure the House that this is not a current issue that impacts any current nursing home residents nor any residents in recent years.”

He added that he was the Minister for Health between the summer of 2014 and 2016 and “must have been briefed on it”.

“The ministers that went before me and after we were briefed on it so I must have been as well, " he said. “But I can’t tell you when, I can’t tell you by whom, I can’t tell you in what detail or whether it was written or verbal.

“Until I have access to documents from that period, I can’t answer that question today and I don’t have any access to documents from the period, but I have sought them.”

Mr Varadkar said the policy and strategy was devised and agreed to prior to him becoming Minister for Health.

“I don’t specifically know if I was asked to sign off on it being continued but if I had been asked, I would have,” he said.

“This was a sound policy approach and a legitimate legal strategy by the Government at the time and previous Governments and Governments since.

“All ministers from 2005 onwards at all times 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’s exactly how they should act.”


State has ‘ripped off hundreds and thousands’

Dail Tuesday Jan 31st

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said for more than 30 years, the State and successive Governments have “ripped off hundreds and thousands” of elderly citizens and their families “by unlawfully charging them for nursing home care”.

Ms McDonald added that successive Governments had pursued a “heartless, legal and political strategy”, designed by Governments to “draw out cases that they knew they could not win, to exhaust the ability of people to fund their legal challenges, and then settled for significantly reduced awards, all the while keeping things hush hush”.


All documents need to be published, says Bacik

Earlier Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik has said all documents relating to an alleged legal strategy by the State to limit refunds on illegal nursing home charges should be published. Ms Bacik said there needs to be “a full transparent disclosure of all documents” related to to the issue.

She said: “It’s very worrying indeed to see reports that there was a secret strategy for many years across successive health ministers to deny refunds to those who’ve been illegally charged for nursing home costs.

“So we need to see public disclosure of the documents there.” Read the story here >>


Former minister of state in the Department of Health Róisín Shortall has called on the secretary general from the Department of Health to come before the Oireachtas health committee to clarify details about the State’s legal actions in relation to nursing home charges

Ms Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that she was minister of state with responsibility for primary care and did not have any role in terms of nursing home care or long-stay care, and had not been briefed about the reported memo. Read the story here >>