Serious questions over Health Minister James Reilly’s handling of the €2.2bn Hepatitis C/HIV Compensation Tribunal have emerged following a clean-out of its members.
The Department of Health has denied party political considerations are factors in a process set to see 13 new members appointed to the 15-person board in a radical change-over poised to cost the taxpayer €130,000 in “golden hello” fees.
In another unusual move, Mr Reilly has not yet officially told many of the outgoing members their contracts were not being renewed — with four of them only learning of the fact when contacted by the Irish Examiner with details supplied by the department.
A source close to the outgoing board said: “This is quite a sweep-out — I suppose a new government wants new people in, but this has not been dealt with well.”
Another source said: “The tribunal has been doing a good job, there’s no logical reason for change on this scale. I think Dr Reilly needs to explain himself and his reasons.”
The legal figures on the tribunal, which consists of a chairperson and 14 members, earn a daily rate of €845 and receive a one-off appointment fee of €10,000.
Due to Mr Reilly’s changes, the tribunal now has eight members — six of whom are new and eligible for the “golden hello” fee.
With seven positions still vacant, it is believed when the process is completed, only two of the outgoing members will still be in place.
A department spokes-person denied party political considerations had been involved in the sweep-out.
“Board members are appointed on the basis of having the necessary skills and experience to fill the positions.
“The term of office of seven of the ordinary members expired on Oct 10 and the department will write to these members as soon as the minister has made a decision on the appointments to fill those positions.
“The vacancies on the tribunal do not affect the operation of the tribunal, which continues to hear cases on a regular basis,” the spokesperson said.
The tribunal was set up to deal with compensation claims from people who contracted hepatitis C or HIV from contaminated blood products. Official estimates forecast its final cost could reach €2.23bn.
Payments have been made to more than 3,200 claimants, but the tribunal is expected to continue for some years as up to 800 cases remain to be heard.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said he would be raising the matter in the Dáil.
“I am very concerned at the shoddy way this has been handled,” he said.
“We need to know why so many new people have been brought in at such a cost to the taxpayer.”
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