The State needs to offer a “heartfelt and sincere apology” to the victims of the morning sickness drug thalidomide for delays in alerting women to its effect on unborn children, the Seanad has heard.
Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward also called for a fair and equitable compensation scheme for people affected by thalidomide and an end to the State’s “unnecessary” fight in the litigation taken by 29 Thalidomide survivors.
He referred to claims by the State, that the discovery process alone would cost €24 million.
Mr Ward said he could not work out how they arrived at that figure, and suggested that if they were dealing with 29 people “€24 million can’t be far off what they would be getting in compensation anyway, if successful”, and it was time to end the bureaucracy.
The State was defending taxpayers’ money but “it seems to me that the type of fighting that is going on is unnecessary”.
Calling for an apology he also said a meeting with the Minister for Health postponed in January because of Covid-19 should be rescheduled.
Mr Ward also called for a revised medical scheme because some of those affected have “significant incapacitation, and many don’t know how bad their condition is going to get in the coming 20, 30 or 40 years”.
Thalidomide was a drug manufactured by German company Grunenthal and was available in Ireland in the late 1950s and early 1960s for women badly affected by morning sickness.
The Fine Gael barrister pointed out that in 1961 the manufacturer became aware of concerns about the effect the drug had on the unborn child and in January 1962 warnings were sent out to pharmacies and doctors in Ireland.
“However, the Department of Health did not issue a public warning until June 1962. This means there was a period of approximately six months in which women continued to take thalidomide without being aware of these effects.”
There are up to 37 people affected by thalidomide and the associated disabilities range from a missing or disabled limb to substantial incapacitation and some people required 24-hour care and are in their early 60s.
Mr Ward said that the Irish Thalidomide Society and the survivors of thalidomide in Ireland are looking for an apology.
“The Irish Government failed in its duty to its citizens by not issuing a warning in advance of June 1962,” he said. He acknowledged the legal action and that the Minister for Health might be “hamstrung” by that but he said “it’s not about apportioning blame; it is about accepting responsibility”.
He said the State has apologised for “crimes and failings of the past” and it was “the very least that these people could expect”
Replying for the Government, Minister of State for Health Mary Butler said the State provides ongoing supports including ex gratia monthly payments to 29 people worth annually between €6,175 and €13,313 each for each individual, depending on the level of thalidomide-related injury.
They also receive monthly payments from the manufacturer through a foundation, annual special payments since 2009 and annual specific needs payments since 2017.
She added that each survivor “is provided with health supports including a medical card on an administrative basis, regardless of means, in addition to appliances, artificial limbs, equipment, housing adaptations and access to a full range of primary care, hospital and personal social services”.
Referring to the proposed apology and the call for a meeting with survivors, Ms Butler said “I will raise both issues directly with the Minister”.
Source: Irish Times