Member of child abuse commission says documents from vaccine trials inquiry still available

Commissioner says ‘a lot of information’ was collected before inquiry was suspended

A member of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has said that a significant amount of work had been done and documentation collated when its vaccine trials inquiry was suspended in 2003 due to legal action.

The inquiry, set up as a module of the commission by government order in June 2001, was to investigate the use of children from mother and baby homes, orphanages, reformatories and industrial schools in three such trials.

Dr Kevin McCoy had been chief inspector of the Inspectorate of Social Services in Northern Ireland, before his appointment to the commission in 2000.

Last night, he told The Irish Times that before the vaccine trials inquiry "ran into the ground" due to legal action, "a lot of information had been collected and work done".


He believed all such documentation remained among the commission’s records which, as reported here two weeks ago, are to be housed in the National Archives for 75 years before limited access to them is allowed.

The work of the vaccine trials inquiry was suspended when in July 2003, a unanimous judgment by the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by 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.

The government order directing the vaccine trials inquiry was declared invalid in June 2004, following a challenge by retired UCD professor of microbiology Irene Hillary. She expressed concern that the establishment of an inquiry into the vaccination trials, under the aegis of a commission set up to inquire into child abuse, would have implications for her professional reputation.

The particular vaccine trial involving both academics took place between December 1960 and November 1961. Results were published in the British Medical Journal in 1962.

The 58 children on whom the vaccine was tested 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.

Upwards of 300 children were involved in the three trials it was intended to investigate. As well as the 58 above, 69 children from St Anne's Industrial School in Booterstown, Co Dublin, were vaccinated in a second trial in 1970, as well as a further 23 from the Killucan area of Westmeath. Its results were published in the Cambridge Journal of Hygiene in 1971.

The third trial it was intended to investigate took place in 1973 and involved 53 children from Dublin mother and baby homes at St Patrick's, Madonna House, Cottage Home, Bird's Nest and Boheennaburna, as well as 65 children living at home in Dublin.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Independent councillor Victor Boyhan, who was raised in the Protestant-run Bird's Nest Home, yesterday called on the Government to set up "a new and comprehensive investigation . . . into the alleged drug trials undertaken on children in care homes".

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse’s vaccine trials division was to investigate those three instances as well as “any other vaccine trial found by the commission to have taken place in an institution between 1940 and 1987 based on an allegation by a person who was a child in that institution that he or she was the subject of such a vaccine trial”.

In November 2006 then minister for health Mary Harney announced there would be no further examination of vaccine trials due to the successful court actions of 2003 and 2004.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times