Labour to publish bill to ensure AG is empowered to represent public interest
Questioning Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil today, Labour leader Ivana Bacik called for a review of the functions of the Office of the Attorney General.
Highlighting the practices of illegal charges to older people in nursing home care and the removal of disability allowance payments from vulnerable people in institutional care, Deputy Bacik said that the State’s litigation strategy must have regard to the public interest.
Deputy Bacik said:
“As the recent revelations show, the State approaches litigation in a manner which is indistinguishable from any faceless private corporate entity – it is a war of attrition against those who dare to sue it.
“We see it in special educational needs cases; in immigration; in medicolegal cases. It’s in the approach to those excluded from state redress – those who suffered sexual abuse in schools and those affected by the appalling Thalidomide scandal.
“The context changes but the results stay the same.
“There must be a change in approach. There is a clear and compelling case for splitting the Office of the Attorney General in two, to separate the task of defending the interests of Government Departments from that of representing and defending the public interest.
“Labour will publish a bill later this week to reform the office, to ensure that any legal advice provided to any government will also have due regard to the vindication of people’s rights, something that has clearly has been absent for too many years.
“The AG is not in the same position as a commercial law firm. Defence strategies for litigation against the State have to be prepared with a proper consideration of the public interest.
“This must be a watershed week in Irish politics. We must make the necessary changes to stop vulnerable people being let down by the system. The most effective way to reprioritise the public interest over “cost containment” is to empower the Office of the AG to draft strategies to defend the public interest just as doggedly as it currently pursues the more narrow interests of Government Departments.”