The Minister for Health has promised to rationalise what she says is the unnecessarily complicated system of providing care for older people.

Tánaiste Mary Harney was speaking as she welcomed the referral to the Supreme Court by President Mary McAleese of a bill that seeks to legalise charges for those in long-term State care.

Both the Government and the Opposition welcomed President McAleese's decision this morning to refer the Health Bill to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court judges must decide on its constitutionality within 60 days.

Were it to be approved by the court it would go back to the President for signature and could not subsequently be challenged.

Ms Harney said the Supreme Court would provide the clarity she had sought for the legislation, which seeks to retrospectively legalise deductions from the social welfare entitlements of those in long-term State care.

She said she was committed to improving services for the elderly, and promised an initiative in the New Year to deal with what she described as the unsatisfactory patchwork quilt of eligibility limits, entitlements and means tests. 

Plans to give over 20,000 residents of long-stay institutions an ex gratia payment of €2,000 will proceed, as they are not affected by the decision to refer the legislation.