Department chief faces grilling over grant cuts

An Oireachtas committee has asked the Department of Health’s top civil servant to appear before it following the axing of the mobility grant, as it is “increasingly concerned at the difficulties in the relationship between the Ombudsman and the Department of Health”.

The chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the Department of Health “is constantly failing to learn from past mistakes” and requested Dr Ambrose McLoughlin to attend the committee next week.

“The mobility grant scheme is not the first scheme that the department has failed to roll out properly. It just can’t seem to get the design of schemes correct. Look at what the Ombudsman had to say about the nursing home scheme,” Mr Mac Lochlainn said.

The Ombudsman’s Office previously described the Department of Health’s nursing home scheme as “marked by confusion, uncertainty, misinformation, inconsistency and inequity”.

And earlier this week, the Government decided to scrap the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant, paid to approximately 5,000 people with disabilities. The Department of Health blamed the axing of the two schemes on the burden it would put on the exchequer if they were to operate in accordance with Equal Status Acts.

The department had been repeatedly warned by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly that by putting an upper age limit — 65 years — on the schemes, they were in contravention of the legislation. Ms O’Reilly also recommended the broadening of the definition of disability under the schemes.

In a letter to the Department of Health, committee members also expressed concern that the ministers for health, James Reilly and Kathleen Lynch attended the committee to discuss the Ombudsman’s findings less than three weeks ago, yet never made them aware of the department’s plans to axe the grant. Mr Mac Lochlainn described this oversight as “displaying a lack of respect for the committee”.

“At a meeting on 6 February, we heard the complexities around maintaining both these schemes. The committee was advised that a thorough review of both schemes was underway, based on consultation with current beneficiaries. Committee members expressed disappointment that we were not informed, either at that meeting, or in the intervening period, that the suspension of the schemes was being contemplated,” he said in the letter.

“Committee members stand ready to contribute to a workable, realistic and lawful solution... with the intention of publishing a report with recommendations to the minister on how a pathway can be found to ensure any new schemes are centred on fairness and compassion for those citizens most in need”.

A Department of Health spokesman said they had received the committee’s letter and it was “being considered” by the department.


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