The number of claims against the State by members of the Defence Forces who suffered side effects from a malaria medication is to rise following a substantial payout to a Corkman whose career and health were ruined by the drug, writes Caroline O’Doherty
So far 58 serving and former members of the Defence Forces have lodged claims for suffering they allege was caused by the controversial drug mefloquine, known under the brand name Lariam, which they were prescribed while on overseas duty.
But the solicitor who represented former soldier Tony Cole whose case was the first to be heard in the High Court, and who received a settlement before Christmas, said his client’s case had prompted others to come forward who up to now had suffered in silence.
With the Government so far ignoring a Dáil vote to discontinue the use of Lariam, the total cost to the State is likely to run into many millions of euro.
Cork-based solicitor Eamon Murray said: “I’ve had many, many inquiries since Tony’s case was settled and I’m meeting with others whose story is similar to this. There are many more Tonys out there.”
Margaret O’Sullivan of the campaign group, Action Lariam for Irish Soldiers, said they too knew of other potential cases.
“There are other people who haven’t felt able to make a claim but feel now they would be believed. And there are cases which were thought to be statute barred but they’re being looked at again given the State’s response to Tony’s case.”
There was no admission of liability by the State in Mr Cole’s case but no defence was offered either. While details of the settlement were not disclosed in court, Mr Murray described it as “very large”.
“Tony Cole’s life has been profoundly affected. He got substantial compensation with which he is very pleased,” he said.
“Tony was really brave to take this on. He has been a pathfinder for these people. He put everything on the line here. His family home was on the line if he lost his case so he showed absolutely incredible commitment and courage to do what he did.”
Mr Cole has declined publicity and Mr Murray said his priority was to rebuild his life and get back to work. He had bought a taxi and hoped to develop a small business around that.
Use of Lariam has been discontinued or is under review by various militaries around the world because it is known to cause severe neurological, psychiatric and physical side effects in some users.
But despite the Dáil voting last summer to pass a Sinn Féin motion calling for an end to the prescription of Lariam here, the Department of Defence continues to insist it is often the most effective anti-malarial.
Margaret O’Sullivan said the soldiers with cases pending, including her own son, Mark, felt more hopeful about the likely outcome following Mr Cole’s case but she said getting compensation was only half the battle.
“We’ll keep going until they stop prescribing Lariam. We have to stop them creating new victims.”
The Department of Defence said a working group set up to examine issues in relation to the use of Lariam had recently submitted a report to the minister which was under consideration.
However, a 2013 report by the working group has never been published and the minister has told the Dáil he is precluded from commenting while litigation is ongoing.
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