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Government’s ‘eye off the ball’ on fertility treatment laws

Seán Sherlock, Minister of state for research and innovation

A junior Government minister said he is "not aware of any plans" to legislate in the area of assisted human reproduction (AHR), despite a commitment in the Programme for Government to do so.

Seán Sherlock, minister of state for research and innovation, said he acknowledged that there "is a little bit of taking the eye off the ball maybe by Government" in relation to the lack of regulation of fertility treatments. However, he said he would take the matter up with Health Minister James Reilly.

"There haven’t been discussions between my department and the Department of Health on the issue of legislation for this area, but it is in the Programme for Government," said Mr Sherlock.

"I’m not aware of any plans up to this point in relation to legislating for this area, but it’s something that I will obviously take up with the minister."

Earlier this month, medical law expert Deirdre Madden described the Government’s failure to introduce legislation governing fertility treatments as "unconscionable" and "contrary to the best interests of children".

Ms Madden, who has a PhD on the law relating to assisted reproduction, said that the Government inaction was "exposing families to distress, uncertainty, and protracted and expensive litigation".

Ms Madden was a member of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction who published a report eight years ago where the over-riding recommendation was that a new law was needed to establish a regulatory body to regulate AHR services in Ireland.

However, not one of the report’s 40 recommendations was implemented.

Mr Sherlock comments were made following his announcement last Friday that Infant, the country’s only perinatal research centre, was to benefit from a €13.6m investment to fund research geared at developing screening and diagnostic tests and methods of monitoring both pregnancy and newborns, identifying risk, and enabling early treatment and intervention.

More than half the funding (€7.6m) came from Science Foundation Ireland whose director general, Mark Ferguson, is the Government’s chief scientific advisor.

Prof Ferguson’s dual role has been criticised by members of the scientific community who see it as a conflict of interest.

Prof Ferguson said those who saw his dual role as a conflict of interest were "theoretically" correct, but that "theoretical is the most important word".

"Basically I don’t advise on science policy," Prof Ferguson said.

He said it was time when there was a lot of prioritisation going on in terms of where money was spent and that there was "a lot of congruence between the chief scientific advisor and SFI".