The House will have an opportunity tomorrow to discuss the current position regarding Northern Ireland so I will not raise that issue today.
At the close of the Order of Business last Thursday, the Tánaiste made a significant announcement to the House about the dropping of charges in public nursing homes for people aged 70 and over. The House had no opportunity to debate that matter or discuss it further with the Tánaiste after she made her announcement.
I understand the Government is now considering the introduction of draft legislation on this matter today. Will the Taoiseach say if legislation has been approved and if so, when it will be published? Why was this issue not addressed by the Department in the first instance and by the previous Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, in 2002, when it was first raised? What was indicated by the legal opinion obtained by the health boards and provided by the Department of Health and Children in 2003? What did it say? Does the Government intend to repay the charges drawn down illegally? Given the Tánaiste's statements that these charges would cost the health boards approximately €8 million per month, does this mean that the cost of repaying the illegal charges of approximately €300 million could be much greater than has been estimated to date? If the new legislation is to be drafted or introduced, will it make any reference to the treatment of patients in private nursing homes?