OMBUDSMAN Emily O'Reilly has accused Health Minister James Reilly of treating the law as "optional", following her ruling that restrictions to mobility and transport allowances are illegal.
An upper age limit of 66 for the mobility allowance was found by the ombudsman to be discriminatory and in breach of the Equal Status Acts.
She also found that no account is taken of the mobility of those with psychological or intellectual disabilities in the motorised transport grant.
It followed a recent ruling on a a complaint by a severely disabled young man, whose application for a grant was refused by the HSE.
Despite accepting the ombudsman's rulings in both cases, Dr Reilly has refused to change the rules on the grounds that it would create financial costs which the State could not afford.
Ms O'Reilly said: "I do not accept that acting on my recommendations necessarily involves increased spending, but even if it does, this is not an excuse for an illegality. Instead, the minister has continued two schemes in operation in the full knowledge that they are breaching the Equal Status Acts.
"This failure to abide by the Equal Status Acts is now in its 12th year and the department has long been aware of this fact."
Addressing the Joint Oireachtas Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee, Ms O'Reilly said the Department of Health "has a long history of, to put it mildly, carelessness about the law".
She continued: "The decision of the minister to reject my recommendations amounts to an unequivocal statement that the law is optional. The decision... to reject recommendations to render these schemes compliant with the Equal Status Acts is of major significance."
The ombudsman drew attention to the fact that the department has, on a number of occasions in recent years, been shown to have acted contrary to the law in ways which, she said, created very significant liabilities against the State.