Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to do “whatever is legally required and morally just” following revelations that thousands of people were denied disability payments.
At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Mr Varadkar said the Government will “get to the bottom” of the historic disability payments issue and “do whatever is legally required and morally just”.
He also said all the facts will be gathered before any decisions are made and that “leaked draft memos being selectively quoted do not tell the true story of what may have occurred in the past”.
It was revealed by RTÉ this week that the State denied up to 12,000 people their disability payments, and that the Government in 2011 was advised that if those disabled people sued the State for the payments, their cases were likely to succeed.
Mr Varadkar has said the State “does not have a leg to stand on” over the decision not to pay the Disabled Persons’ Maintenance Allowance (DPMA) to vulnerable people in residential care, according to legal advice.
Mr Varadkar also spoke about the ongoing controversy over the State’s legal strategy on containing potential legal costs for private nursing home patients. He said he has sought a report from the Attorney General and the Government was “seeking all documents” but he “remained confident that the Government had acted lawfully to protect the taxpayer and the budget for essential health services”.
Mr Varadkar advised that politicians should “wait before making judgment until all facts have been gathered”.
Mr Varadkar also came under pressure from his backbench TDs to extend a series of cost of living measures beyond the Spring.
At the parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night, there were calls for Mr Varadkar to extend the cut on fuel excise duty which is due to expire in the coming weeks.
It is understood that talks between the Coalition leaders and the Minister for Finance Michael McGrath are due to get under way next week in advance of an announcement on a number of measures.
The reduced VAT rate for gas and electricity are due to expire at the end of February, as well as the reduced rate of excise duty for petrol, diesel and home heating oil and the ban on energy disconnections.
TDs also called on the Taoiseach to ensure that businesses are aware of their entitlements under the scheme set up to help SMEs with spiralling energy costs, the Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme (TBESS).
In response, Mr Varadkar dampened expectations and said one of the decisions that “equipped the country well to ease the cost of living was by not having a mini-Budget in the middle of 2022, as called for by the Opposition, as it resulted in more financial resources available for last Autumn’s Budget and for the winter when it was most needed”.
At the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, a wide-ranging discussion took place on the scale of the challenge in accommodating refugees arriving into Ireland from Ukraine and beyond.
A number of TDs – including Jim O’Callaghan, Robert Troy and Eugene Murphy – raised concerns about the State’s response, while some questioned why hotels are being left waiting months for large sums of money they are owed by the State as part of their contract to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers.
Two sources said that the Tánaiste accepted the point being made that a better system of processing payments was needed. Concerns were also raised in the meeting about the rise of the far-right and their role in protests around the country. Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman will likely now be asked to appear before a future parliamentary party meeting to address the issues raised.
Mr Martin also announced to the meeting that he has appointed Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Super Junior in the Department of Transport Jack Chambers as directors of elections for next year’s local and European elections. Mr O’Brien will be the director of elections for the EU elections while Mr Chambers will oversee the local campaign. Mr Martin told the meeting he planned to steer Fianna Fáil into a position whereby the party would gain seats in both.