Former Health Minister Micheál Martin has insisted that he did not know until late last year that the levying of charges on those in long-term State care was illegal.   

Mr Martin was speaking in a special Dáil session on the Travers Report.

He rejected Opposition suggestions that he had seen a file flagging the problems in December 2003. Mr Martin said there was no record of his having seen the file because there was no reason for him to have seen it at the time.

Earlier, current Health Minister Mary Harney told TDs that the Government had been acting on inaccurate and incomplete information from the Department of Health when framing emergency legislation.  

She had subsequently had to correct the record of the Dáil, and said that was regrettable.     

Ms Harney admitted there might have been lapses of judgement by ministers down the years, but she insisted the main failures had been administrative.

Earlier she told the Seanad that 315,818 people were illegally charged for long-term residential care. Ms Harney said only about 20,000 of them are still alive. She said the Government would consider applying the statute of limitations to claims for patients who have died.

But the Opposition maintained its attack on her predecessor.

Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte asked Mr Martin, who is now Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment, if he acknowledged that he was a dead man walking as far as being a member of the Cabinet was concerned.

Mr Martin did not answer the question directly, but said Mr Rabbitte was applying different standards to him than he was to his own party's previous ministers. ‘Why am I supposed to be different to anybody else?’ asked Mr Martin.

He said Mr Rabbitte had written a fanciful script before the Travers Report was even published. The Labour leader said Mr Martin had left the taxpayer with a €2 billion bill.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Mr Martin got a briefing that should have alerted him to the seriousness of the issue, and that he did not act.

The Green Party TD, John Gormley, said the report is an indictment of the administrative and political culture of the Department of Health. He said the report exposes a litany of poor decisions, fudges and errors.

Copies of 'missing' documents on file

It was earlier confirmed that copies of documents contained in a missing Department of Health file mentioned in the Travers Report remain on record at the department.

Copies of a 2004 draft letter for the Attorney General and a position paper on the charges have been made available.

Ms Harney said the letter sent by her to the Attorney General late last year seeking advice on the legality of charges is a copy of an original letter which was never sent.

Yesterday, the Travers Report said the letter and paper had gone missing. The copy documents had been seen by Mr Travers and were referred to in his report but not appended to it.

In his report, Mr Travers said the letter and background paper were essentially those prepared and contained in the missing file.

The material for the missing file was prepared by a senior official at the department and copies were sent in a file to the now departing Secretary General, Michael Kelly, on 24 January 2004.

Mr Kelly claims he would have brought the file to the attention of Mr Martin. The Travers Report supports Mr Martin's view that the minister was never fully briefed on the affair.

Read the full Travers Report here.