GSK repeatedly rejected State demands to pay reparations for vaccine trials on children

O’Gorman urged drug firm to accept corporate responsibility for way tests were carried out on mother-and-baby home children

GlaxoSmithKline pushed back repeatedly against demands to pay reparations for clinical trials on mother-and-baby home children after Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman urged the drug company to accept corporate responsibility for the way tests were carried out.

As the Government struggles despite prolonged talks to settle a redress deal with church congregations who ran homes, internal files show GSK ruled out any reparation payments for trial participants before and after meeting Mr O’Gorman.

The same records, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show GSK spurned Government pressure to proactively “share” information on trials with participants or provide health screening to them.

The company provides information on request to survivors, although the Government has been told it identified and confirmed only six trial participants among the 184 people who asked to find out whether they were involved.


The revelations about vaccine and infant milk formula trials decades ago on some 1,148 children without the consent of parents or guardians ranked among disturbing aspects of the January 2021 mother-and-baby homes report.

The Minister has been seeking financial contributions from church orders for an €800 million redress scheme ever since, without any breakthrough despite more than a year of meetings.

Mr O’Gorman is considering the appointment of an external negotiator in a bid to advance the talks but a deal is not imminent. “Negotiations are likely to continue for a number of months,” his department said.

“While the negotiations with religious congregations are ongoing they are being treated as confidential. The Minister has made the parties concerned aware that he is accountable to the Oireachtas and as such will be making a full report available when this process is concluded.”

Although GSK made clear its refusal to pay reparations from the outset, newly-released files show Mr O’Gorman failed to extract any concession when he met the company three months after the report came out.

Mr O’Gorman’s briefing note for the April 2021 meeting placed “emphasis on GSK making reparations” as the first item listed for his approach to the meeting. “There is no doubt there was a commercial interest in the outcome of these trials,” he was told.

“On this basis is it reasonable to stress the corporate responsibility and moral obligation on the company to do the right thing.

“The company had a duty to ensure that researchers to whom test vaccines and baby milk formulas were supplied were fully compliant with all necessary laws. It is difficult to comprehend how any other stance can be justified.”

But GSK Ireland general manager Eimear Caslin wrote to the Minister almost five weeks later to say there would be no change in the stance it first set out the previous March.

“On the broader issue of redress, we fully appreciate the overwhelming public reaction to the publication of the Commission of Investigation report and your request to us to further reflect on our response,” Ms Caslin wrote.

“For the reasons outlined in our letter of March 23rd, 2021, we do not propose additional reparations in response to the issues raised in the commission’s report.”

In that letter, GSK said trials of products for “legacy companies” Wellcome and Glaxo were conducted by deceased Irish researchers and held them “personally responsible” for ensuring compliance with consents required under law.

“While the findings of the commission’s report are extremely upsetting, they do not question Wellcome or Glaxo’s responsibilities and duties in developing, manufacturing and supplying vaccines for the purposes described above. For that reason, we do not propose to pay reparations in response to the issues raised in the report.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times