The Tánaiste and Minister for Health has told the Dáil that the Government welcomes this morning’s Supreme Court decision on the Health Amendment Bill.

Mary Harney was speaking as she opened a Dáil debate on the ruling. She told the house that the decision had brought clarity and finality to an issue which had been allowed to fester.

The minister said that the bill had been tested in the way which was least financially burdensome to the relatives of people in care. She conceded that it exposed poor public administration and added that payments would now be made by the Goverment in the region of €500m.

She also said that the ruling proved that there is no constitutional prohibition to charging in the future for inpatient services.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Ms Harney said that there was no question of people owed money arising from today's ruling on the Health Bill having to fight to secure it.    

She said the Government now had to put in place a mechanism to identify those people who are due money.     

She said she accepted that the Government would be paying substantial compensation and said that the issue was how it was to be paid back.

The Opposition accused her of arrogance and failing to heed warnings about the emergency legislation struck down by the Supreme Court.

In a ruling this morning, the Supreme Court found that the retrospective provisions of the Health Amendment Bill are unconstitutional.

The provisions would have prevented those who had charges for residential care unlawfully deducted going back over a 30-year period, from suing the State.

However the seven-judge court upheld the constitutionality of provisions allowing for the imposition of charges in the future.

The Health (Amendment) (No 2) Bill was referred to the Supreme Court by President Mary McAleese under Article 26 of the Constitution, and today the court delivered its decision in an 88-page judgement.

It means the State cannot prevent the elderly or their descendants from suing it for payments unlawfully imposed for residential care dating back 30 years.

The court accepted that the State's liability could now be substantial but it was by no means clear that it could be described as anything like catastrophic.

The constitution provides protection even for modest property rights. In particular, it protects when the persons affected are among the most vulnerable sections of society and might more readily be exposed to the risk of unjust attack.

Because sections of the bill have been found to be repugnant, the bill in its entirety falls.

Opposition criticism follows ruling

The ruling prompted a wave of criticism of the Government from Opposition parties.

The Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, said it was proof that the Government's legislation was flawed.

Liz McManus of the Labour Party said the court ruling raised serious questions about the political judgement of Ms Harney.

The leader of the Green Party, Trevor Sargent, said that the Government had rushed the legislation, while Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that the arguments presented by the Opposition had now been vindicated.