A furious row erupted today over the axing of transport and mobility allowances for severely disabled people.
The Government wants to devise a new scheme to replace the existing measures which the Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly ruled were unfair as they were not available to all people with disabilities.
As a result, the mobility grant and the motorised transport scheme for people with severe disability, which is worth €10.6m annually, has been closed to new applicants effective from today.
The 4,700 people on existing allowances will continue to get the payments but only for the next four months, by which point the Government intends to have a new system in place to assist the disabled with their transport and mobility needs.
Disability groups, however, have widely criticised the decision to end the current payments to new applicants, and said they feared a cut in payments was on the cards.
John Dolan, chief executive of the Disability Federation of Ireland, said the Department of Health was "a sick bureaucratic monster" that blamed equality legislation and the Ombudsman for the sudden cut in assistance to the disabled.
"The Government must get to grips with the Department of Health which seems to be coming up with a Bart Simpson approach to everything in that it is always someone else's fault that we have to screw the people with disabilities to the floor," he said on RTE's Morning Ireland. Mr Dolan added that the cut to the schemes had come "totally out of the blue".
"There have been no negotiations with anybody," he said.
Last year, Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly castigated the department for imposing restrictions to mobility and transport allowances, which she said were illegal.
She found the upper age limit of 66 years for the mobility allowance was discriminatory and in breach of the Equal Status Acts.
She also found that no account was taken of the mobility of those with psychological or intellectual disabilities.