Survivors of pregnancy drug reject deal with Minister

 

A MEETING of thalidomide survivors has unanimously rejected a compensation package offered by Minister for Health Mary Harney last month.

The Irish Thalidomide Association met in Dublin on Saturday to consider the package that offered lump sums of €62,500 for each of the 32 people affected, plus an annual lump sum of up to €3,680 each. It also included provisions such as special care packages and financial assistance to assist with transport needs where necessary.

The association’s secretary Finola Cassidy said the group had given careful consideration to the offer before it was “resoundingly” rejected.

She said the package was widely described as “derisory”, and the association’s members felt it only served to add insult to injury.

The association has long been campaigning for compensation, an apology and an explanation for how the State handled the drug scandal in the 1960s.

Children born to women who took the drug while they were pregnant suffered problems including missing or shortened limbs, hearing and sight difficulties and damage to internal organs.

A spokesman for Ms Harney said the package was wide-ranging and had been approved by the Government “in a fair and sympathetic way”, based on the recommendation of the State Claims Agency.

He said it compared favourably with the supports in place in other countries.

A previous settlement for those affected was made in 1975, but campaigners now say it was inadequate because it presumed that survivors would not live long.

Individuals received lump sums of between £6,600 and £21,300 and a monthly allowance for life of between £31.75 and £95.

Cabinet files from 1973 and 1974 indicate the Department of Health failed to immediately warn the public about the dangers of the drug when it was withdrawn by its German manufacturer in December 1961, because “suspicions” about it had not been confirmed.

The Department of Health did not notify doctors and hospitals until July 1962.

Ms Cassidy said the association now wanted an early meeting with Ms Harney to discuss what would happen next. She said survivors were still angry and hurt that Ms Harney had refused access to all documentation relating to the thalidomide issue and the original compensation package.

Ms Cassidy said people at the meeting were also angry that they had made no contribution to the deal put on the table. “We were not listened to in any constructive manner, she said.

“The package was presented to us as a fait accompli. It was a case of ‘take it or leave it’.”

Ms Cassidy said the survivors were also awaiting a response from Ms Harney on questions surrounding the legality of the original package.

She said compensation packages given by the State to minors must be examined and approved by a High Court judge, but her association had found no evidence that the 1975 package had been approved by a High Court judge.

If this was the case, the package would be invalid and survivors could sue the State for compensation, she said.

“The hurt felt by members at the meting was very, very tangible,” Ms Cassidy said. “We have fought for long enough. We will not accept this.”