Alcohol, kennels, manicures - Hep C group spending revealed

Former director of Positive Action says HSE knew what money was being spent on

A former director of Hepatitis C support group Positive Action has defended the group's spending on items including alternative therapies, alcohol and dog kennels.

Christine Bruton, who was on the board of the group for five years before it closed down, said before her time the Health Service Executive knew of the spending and knew what the money was being spent on.

“They approved of the weekends and they approved of therapies,” she said.

“We were covered for therapies because medically there is not a lot can be done for these women… it is the only comfort some of our women can get.”


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 gave birth.

An internal audit found almost €104,000 was spent on travel to conferences over four years, with some spouses accompanying directors.

Other expenses included €19,450 on supermarket bills, gifts worth €2,223, a courier to transport dry cleaning cost €202 and dog kennels cost €185.

More than €600 was also spent on alcohol at a conference on liver disease, €550 for a member to attend a Dancing the Spiral course.

More than €100,000 was spent on therapies such as angel card readings, angel healing, crystal reading, spiritual healing, aromatherapy and reflexology.

A range of massage and beauty therapies, including facials, manicures and pedicures were also funded and the internal audit found this was not an appropriate use of scarce public funds.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Ms Bruton said members of the group got solace from angel card reading.

She said all members were sent notification and whoever wished to go on weekends applied.

“Our members paid a fee towards the weekend, we only subsidised it,” she said.

Defending directors’ attendance at conferences aimed at specialist clinicians, Ms Bruton said doctors downplayed the seriousness of Hepatitis C and the group had to source its own information.

“There were side meetings ... that were suitable for us,” she said.

“We could take home to our members what new medicines were coming on stream and what trials were going on ... some of our women went on trials as a result.”

She said the committee didn’t get a wage, but if they were in the office for a long time they were entitled to food.

She did not agree with spending on some gifts and she also disagreed with spending on alcohol.

The dog kennel spending was “a once off for a person working hard” for the group, she said.

Separately this morning, the Dail Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) said it will seek to hold an early hearing into the controversy surrounding spending at Positive Action.

Committee chairman John Mc Guinness said it would be contacting the HSE this week about the findings of the internal audit report. Committee member Mr Mc Guinness said he did not know what was left of the Positive Action organisation which was no longer in existence.

Deputy Shane Ross suggested the former directors of the group could also be asked to appear.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou MacDonald said while the committee needed to get to the bottom of the issues, it should be remembered that Positive Action was established in the first place to support women who had been poisoned by the State.

Positive Action, which had been in operation for 20 years, had 727 members at the time the HSE withdrew its funding in March. It had debts of €107,000 when it went into liquidation in April.

Its membership was mainly made up of women who became infected with hepatitis C after receiving anti-D immunoglobulin produced by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service Board between 1977 and 1991.

It had been in receipt of State funding since 1995, and received an average of €600,000 in funding a year between 2006 and 2011, which was reduced to €288,000 in 2012.

The organisation sought in excess of €515,000 in funding from the HSE for 2014 but later signed a service level agreement with the HSE for funding of €138,000.

The HSE took over the running of Positive Action in January after raising what the executive described as “serious concerns” over its governance and management of public money.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist