A Fine Gael TD and health spokesperson was found “guilty of misconduct in his practice as a solicitor” for misleading a client suing the state over the ongoing nursing home fees scandal.
Cork North-Central TD Colm Burke, who is also a partner in Colm Burke & Co. Solicitors, by 2006 had initiated legal proceedings on behalf of more than 70 similar clients. He was a Fine Gael councillor at the time.
Burke, now a Fine Gael health spokesperson who sits on the Oireachtas Health Committee, refused to comment to The Ditch when asked about a 2014 case in which the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found he had misled one of these clients. Burke failed to tell a client he couldn’t represent her until she legally wasn’t permitted to take it.
The Irish Mail on Sunday last weekend published a story detailing how the state devised a secret plan to force people illegally charged private nursing home fees into accepting payouts smaller than what they were entitled to. “As a result of this strategy”, said the Mail’s story, “compensation was denied to anyone who did not have the resources to fight legal cases.”
A misled presumptive client
Among Colm Burke’s first clients affected by the nursing home scandal was a Munster couple, who wished to remain anonymous, who’d been wrongly charged more than €100,000 in private nursing home fees.
Commenting on the case at the time, Burke told the Irish Independent, "This certainly is one of the most high-profile cases that we have," telling the paper that, “Since November cases have been flooding in.”
By 2006 Burke was representing more than 70 clients pursuing the state for damages. In 2007 he was elected to the European Parliament for Fine Gael.
A number of Burke’s cases representing clients illegally charged by the state for nursing home fees ran into 2015, at which time he had been in the Seanad for four years, having been appointed by Enda Kenny.
Burke in 2014 was found guilty by a professional legal body for misleading a presumptive client wishing to take a case against the state.
On 1 July 2014 the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal ruled Burke “guilty of misconduct in his practice as a solicitor” for leading the applicant to believe he was acting on her behalf when in fact he wasn’t.
The tribunal found Burke “should not have led the applicant to believe he was acting for the applicant if he was of the view he was unable to carry out instructions” and that he “therefore misled the applicant”.
The case involved Burke’s failure to inform the person in writing that he was unable to pursue her case. Burke waited until after the person’s case was statute-barred to do so, meaning she could no longer pursue the state.
Burke at the time said though he didn’t adequately inform the person in writing, “I am satisfied I verbally communicated the correct legal advice... at all times. I acknowledge the verbal advice was not followed with a written communication.”
He was censured by the tribunal and ordered to pay €3,000 to its compensation fund, as well as pay the would-be client €500.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appointed Burke Fine Gael health spokesperson in late 2020. The Cork TD on his appointment said,‘’This is an area in which I have had a particular interest for a long number of years.”
When questioned by The Ditch on the number of similar clients he represented and the fees they paid him, Burke declined to comment. He also declined to comment on whether the outcomes of these cases were favourable for his clients and on whether he was aware of the state’s strategy for dealing with these cases.
He wouldn’t say whether any of the cases are ongoing.