The HSE has been told to give up attempts to force almost half of the officials receiving lucrative top-ups to give up the funds, as those involved will win any court case resulting from the move.
The latest setback to the year-long fight to remove the payments from officials was confirmed by the HSE’s deputy director general, Laverne McGuinness, and national director of human resources, Barry O’Brien, yesterday.
Speaking at the last Oireachtas health committee meeting before the end of the Dáil term, the officials told the cross-party group that of the 143 individuals attempting to continue receiving the extra payments, just 47 have seen them cancelled to date.
A further 15 are still being discussed with the HSE, including eight payments relating to officials at the Central Remedial Clinic which is part of a “separate process”.
The HSE hopes to resolve these issues by the end of September, despite setting a July deadline to bring the top-ups issue to an end at the start of this year.
However, Ms McGuinness and Mr O’Brien said the HSE has been told by its own legal experts to give up any hope of canceling 67 of the remaining 81 top-ups, as the individuals involved have provided clear business cases showing they are contractually entitled to the additional funds.
Discussions are continuing over a further 14 cases, which may fall into the same category — meaning as many as 81 cases have to be allowed to continue, despite months of outrage over the issue.
While both HSE officials stressed yesterday that these outstanding cases will be “red-circled” — a situation which guarantees the top-ups will stop when the individuals involved leave the position — Mr O’Brien stated repeatedly the HSE’s hands are legally tied.
“We’ve been absolutely unequivocal in terms of seeking absolute compliance,” he said. “But when the legal advice you get says you are likely to lose any resulting case, it is not prudent [to remove the funds]. You need to mitigate the risk.”
On a number of occasions during the two-hour meeting, Mr O’Brien repeated that the HSE’s legal team have warned attempting to unilaterally cancel these outstanding top-ups — the recipients of which have not been revealed — risks “significant legal costs”.
He insisted the advice given is “that we would lose” and that there is no other option than to allow the unresolved top-up cases to continue.
While accepting the difficulty the HSE is facing, health committee chair Jerry Buttimer asked if the situation “makes a mockery” of long-standing attempts to remove the top-ups.