The investigation into a vaccine trial on children in mother and baby homes, which politicians and Catholic Church leaders are now calling for, has previously been dealt with by the High Court, which declared one invalid in June 2004.
The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, yesterday called for a properly constituted commission to examine issues raised by the discovery of mass baby deaths at St Mary’s mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway – including allegations that medical trials were carried out on children.
The 2004 court ruling followed a challenge to a government order directing an investigation into such vaccine trials, under the aegis of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The challenge was brought by retired UCD professor of microbiology Irene Hillary.
Prof Hillary had expressed concern about the implications for her professional reputation of the establishment of an inquiry into the vaccination trials under the aegis of a commission set up to inquire into the issue of child abuse.
Previously, in July 2003, a unanimous judgment by the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by the late UCD professor Patrick Meenan against a High Court decision which had directed him to give evidence before the vaccine trials division of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.
It concerned vaccination trials on 58 children in 1960 and 1961. Prof Meenan, then aged 86, said he should not have to appear on grounds of his age and ill-health.
The commission was empowered by the government under a statutory instrument of June 2001 to inquire into the conduct of vaccination trials. The trial concerned took place between December 1960 and November 1961. Results were published in the British Medical Journal in 1962.
The 58 children came from mother and baby homes at Bessborough, Cork, at Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, at Dunboyne and Stamullen, Co Meath, at St Patrick's on Navan Road, Dublin, and at Mount Carmel Industrial School in Moate, Co Westmeath.
At the time, Prof Meenan held the chair of microbiology in UCD. He was responsible for importing the vaccines used in the trials and was one of six authors of a study of the results reported in the British Medical Journal.
Finding in his favour, the Supreme Court implicitly criticised the decision to ask the commission to examine the vaccine trials issue in the first place.
Mr Justice Ronan Keane said these trials "appear to have only the most tenuous connection, if any, with the appalling social evil of the sexual and physical abuse of children in institutions, which was the specific area into which the commission was established to inquire".