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Government accused of dismantling watchdogs after heath row


Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O'Reilly yesterday

Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O'Reilly yesterday

Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O'Reilly yesterday

The Government was today accused of systematically dismantling public watchdogs after the Ombudsman claimed health chiefs refused to co-operate with an investigation.

Emily O'Reilly claimed the Department of Health laid a raft of charges against her over the conduct of her latest probe into 1,200 complaints over nursing home fees.

It revealed older people's rights were abused over a quarter of a century because of a lack of State-funded beds.

The Labour Party alleged the Government had obstructed the inquiry and attempted to undermine the Ombudsman's independence for the second time in months.

Eamon Gilmore, party leader, said: "Systematically, your Government has been slaughtering the watchdogs that exist to stand up for the rights of individual citizens.

"You've dismantled the Freedom of Information Act. You've forced the resignation of the chief executive of the Equality Authority (Niall Crowley).

"You abolished the Combat Poverty Agency and this is the second time within a very short period of time where your Government has sought to undermine the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman which is there to stand up for individual citizens and for the people who have a complaint to make against a public authority."

The Ombudsman yesterday lashed the Department of Health and Health Service Executive (HSE) for fighting long, drawn-out lawsuits against older people who believed they were wrongly charged for nursing home care.

More than 1,200 vulnerable elder people complained to the Ombudsman's office, which accused the Government and health chiefs of having an unacceptable disregard for the law.

But defending the Government, Taoiseach Brian Cowen told the Dail that the case examined in Ms O'Reilly's report was being dealt with by the courts, which was outside her remit.

And he said the Department was entitled to put forward its case, which "doesn't undermine anyone".

"That simply is the department putting its view," the Taoiseach said.

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"There was no question of not co-operating."

Mr Gilmore claimed that the Government was a serial offender when dealing with public watchdogs.

An Oireachtas committee last month rejected the findings of a report by Ms O'Reilly on the controversial Lost at Sea fishermen's compensation scheme.

Ms O'Reilly then accused the Government of using the party whip system to act as the judge in its own trial.

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