The Irish government is under pressure over claims that up to €12 billion was wrongly charged to nursing home elderly patients or their families over a 30-year period and only €480 million was paid in compensation.
The pressure follows a report in the Irish Mail on Sunday about a failure to provide payouts to families of people who were illegally charged for nursing home stays from the 1970s until the late 2000s. The report is based on a protected disclosure by Department of Health whistleblower Shane Corr.
The paper alleges that since 2011, multiple governments have sought to hide the state’s liability for the charges to prevent a possible €12 billion in payouts to those affected. The strategy was said to be contained in a secret memo that was dated 13 July, 2011.
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In Tuesday’s Irish Times, whistleblower Corr, who disclosed the legal strategy to limit refunds on illegal nursing home charges, was reported to have raised the issue directly with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2019.
Corr was reported to have emailed Varadkar on December 22, 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.”
A spokesman for Varadkar said on Monday, “As the matter related to correspondence to the Public Accounts Committee, it was acknowledged and forwarded to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in accordance with standard practice. It was not brought to the attention of the taoiseach.”
A government spokesman said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly had sought advice from the attorney general and a detailed briefing from the department on the matter. The spokesman said the legal strategy predated 2011 and had been pursued by successive governments. He also said the strategy had been “misrepresented” in reports.
Eight Independent Regional Group TDs have called for a Dáil debate on the issue. Sinn Féin and Labour want all records to be published to establish the facts around the strategy.
The strategy adopted in 2011 followed an investigation by the then Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who criticized the state’s decades-long failure to accept the right of older people to state-funded care and its decision to fight lawsuits taken to recover illegal nursing home charges.
According to the 2011 memo, the strategy was to settle cases for considerably less than the damages sought and to keep the settlements confidential to avoid further cases being taken.
The memo read, “Confidentiality has been a central element of the legal strategy. The fear is that if details of the cases, the legal strategy and settlements were to gain a high public profile, it would spark a large number of claims.”
*This column first appeared in the February 1 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.