Appalling state care fiasco has tainted those in power

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended legal strategy of the State. Photo: Damien Storan


Errors of judgment go with government. No one gets it right all the time. But willing to be wrong and compounding those wrongs by passing them from one administration to the next constitutes what was once described as an “appalling vista”.

RTÉ’s revelations showing the State denied up to 12,000 vulnerable people their disability allowance payments is another stain on the character of our governance.

The State is there to stand up for its citizens – not to face them down.

The latest report comes on top of the controversy surrounding a legal strategy for dealing with nursing home charges.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended its use to limit the State’s potential liability on private nursing home costs.

He said in the Dáil that it was “legitimate”. Yet Fintan Butler, who contributed to a report for the ombudsman on the right to nursing care in Ireland, took a very different view.

“For the state authorities to treat vulnerable people in this fashion is simply wrong,” he said.

He questioned if it was not also a mistake for the ministers concerned to rely on the advice of lawyers, including the Attorney-General.

In his view, the debacle can only further undermine the public’s faith in the Government.

He also said people will want an explanation as to why the Oireachtas, instead of responding after the fact, had not been able to identify and confront the issue “years ago”.

The Government’s primary role is not to protect state revenue but to prevent wrongs being done to voters.

People should not feel they are entering the lion’s den when it comes to establishing their rights.

Conflicts are heavily weighted in favour of the State, which has a full arsenal of institutional weaponry. People were let down regarding the State’s duty of care. They were sent to private care homes because there were no public spaces avail-able. Nonetheless, they had to pay the full cost, even though it was incurred because of a state failing.

This may be a “historical issue” in that it has been happening for decades, but it is very much a live one today in that it raises fundamental questions as to who we are as a people. Are we really comfortable to treat our older people and our sick and vulnerable in this fashion?

A wholly adversarial approach favours those with money. If you have deep pockets, you can afford to run the gamut of the law. Clearly, this was not the spirit in which our republic was engendered.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the recent controversies reflect how people who can absorb the cost and stress of litigation can secure their “legal right”, while “those who can’t, don’t”.

Social solidarity cannot survive a contest between the haves and the have-nots. The State should certainly not be a driver of it. As stated, being wrong may be acceptable, but staying wrong must never be.