Thalidomide survivors in court actions

Mon, Jul 9, 2012, 01:00

Thalidomide survivors have announced that they are to take legal action against the State.

The Irish Thalidomide Association said the decision was prompted by the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Health “weaselling” out of a commitment to ensure they were properly compensated for the problems they face as a result of the drug.

The association today announced that its 25 members were lodging applications with the Injuries Board and that they expected authorisations to be promptly issued to allow their actions to go before the courts shortly.

The group said it had received legal advice that suggested there were significant concerns about the fairness, adequacy and appropriateness of a 1975 compensation deal agreed with the-then government and the manufacturer of the drug.

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

The Thalidomide drug was taken by pregnant women to combat morning sickness but resulted in many children being born with deformities, including missing or shortened limbs.

The public was not immediately warned about its dangers when it was withdrawn by its German manufacturer in December 1961 with the Department of Health not notifying doctors and hospitals until July 1962. The drug was also licensed in several other European countries but not in the United States.

The programme for goverment states: “We will reopen discussions with the Irish Thalidomide Association regarding further compensation for victims of Thalidomide.”

The association met Minister for Health Dr James Reilly about the matter last summer and said he had offered to begin a medical review but not on a statutory basis, which the association was not willing to accept.

Austin O'Carroll, spokesman for the association, said the health of Thalidomide survivors, who are mostly about 50 years old, was deteriorating with time and that it was an “intolerable failure” that the situation had not been addressed.

In a statement, the Department of Health said it fully respected the rights of the survivors of Thalidomide “to persue their concerns either by the courts or by the any other means”.

It said Dr Reilly was has been trying to make progress on reaching an agreement that takes account of their concerns and needs. “Central to his key concerns is to provide for the health and personal social care needs of the persons involved.”

The department said the Minister was also prepared to consider a financial gesture of goodwill.

Dr Reilly's predecessor, Mary Harney, in 2010 offered to make a once-off ex-gratia payment of €2 million (€62,500 each) to be divided equally between the 32 Irish survivors, as “a practical expression of the government’s sympathy”.

Survivors would also be paid an annual lump sum of up to €3,680, in the most severe category of disability, in addition to their current payments. The sum was equivalent to an annual payment that started for German survivors in 2009.

It is understood this offer has not been removed from the table. However, the association described the offer at the time as derisory.

Fianna Fáil whip Seán Ó Fearghaíl called on the Government this evening to ensure there was a speedy resolution to the issue, despite the breakdown in talks.