Former directors of the hepatitis C support group Positive Action have defended the group's spending and criticised the portrayal of them as "ladies who lunch".
Some €2.3 million was allocated between 2009 and 2013 to Positive Action, which was set up in 1994 to support women infected with hepatitis C by contaminated blood products administered to them after they had given birth.
An internal Health Service Executive audit report criticised governance and spending at the organisation, which went into liquidation in April this year.
Catherine Meade, who was a director for nine months before the organisation closed, said she was very annoyed with the portrayal of ordinary members of the group as “ladies who lunch and go off at weekends”.
“People are under the illusion that we got our money and we’re all hunky dory and having a great time, but so many have died and so many are in serious trouble with their health ... I personally have been on treatment that took four years out of my life and I will be attending hospital for the rest of my life,” she said.
“I lost a friend only last year through hepatitis C, another died of liver cancer, numerous women have died already.”
People had forgotten that the Department of Health knew that anti-D, administered to the women who then contracted hepatitis C, was contaminated, she added.
“They were told not to use it; they continued to use it. We were done an awful injustice,” Ms Meade said.
She said she joined the committee as a volunteer to help women because she had received support from the group in the past and wanted to give something back.
“I’m not saying everything was perfect in Positive Action, but the HSE were given a submission every year, they approved this money ... they never queried anything.”
She said while she could not speak for the money spent in the years before she was a director, she was aware the weekends only happened about three times a year and a lot of women “dipped in and out of them over the years”. It gave them support, she said.
“The therapies that were provided at the weekends, I didn’t agree with them all, but it gave some women comfort and it helped them,” she said.
Ms Meade said she was furious when she realised the internal audit report had been leaked to media before members had a chance to read it.
“I was shocked when I heard it was out and I cannot believe the way it’s been portrayed,” she said.
Christine Bruton, who was a director of Positive Action for five years, said she could not condone all of the spending, but a chat at a meal for women, an angel reading or a therapy session, consoled some of the women in the group “who were left with nothing, or who had sclerosis and needed liver transplants”.
“I know it looks bad and I won’t defend everything fully, but these women are so sick and if they got some little joy, aren’t they entitled?”
Ms Bruton said the HSE was well aware of what the money was spent on.
“The slant they have put on it that they were not aware is untrue; we had to submit our projection of spending for the coming year before they approved,” she said.
Commenting on the attendance of directors at international conferences on hepatitis C, Ms Bruton said the group had to seek out information on the condition as they were not being given the information in Ireland.