Haemophiliacs want US drug firms investigated

HAEMOPHILIACS have been waiting almost two years for the Government to come up with a formula for examining the role played by the US-based pharmaceutical firms in the blood contamination crisis.

Administrator of the Irish Haemophilia Society, Margaret Dunne, said the society was running out of patience and precious time.

"Our members are being compensated by the State but compensation alone is not the answer.

"Seventy-eight people have now died as a result of contracting hepatitis C and HIV, mostly from contaminated blood products imported to this country," she said.

Ray Kelly's son, John, became infected with HIV at the age of four in 1983 and died nine years later.

His family never told him that he had the virus. "It was awful," Mr Kelly recalled. "You see your 13-year-old son like an old man, fading away."

Mr Kelly's hopes of an investigation into the role played by the international pharmaceutical firms are also fading. "It's very frustrating but it looks as if the Government just isn't interested," he said.

He believes Ireland should join a number of European countries now involved in a class action being taken against the pharmaceutical firms by a prominent law firm in the US.

"The Government should at least try to get back some of the money used to compensate infected haemophiliacs and their families," he said.

In September 2001, Health Minister, Micheál Martin, said he was sympathetic to an appeal by the Irish Haemophilia Society for the terms of reference of the Lindsay Tribunal to be broadened to allow an investigation of overseas drugs companies.

Three months earlier, the chairperson of the Lindsay Tribunal, Judge Alison Lindsay, ruled that under its existing terms, the tribunal was not entitled to investigate the US-based pharmaceutical firms.

When the Lindsay Tribunal concluded its public hearings in November 2001, Mr Kelly said: "There will never be an end to the tragedy unless the international pharmaceutical firms, whose blood products were imported into this State are investigated."

In November 2002, two months after the tribunal published its report, Minister Martin announced the Government was "likely" to launch an inquiry into the actions of US-based multinational pharmaceutical companies whose products infected the vast majority of Irish haemophiliacs with HIV and hepatitis C.

Earlier this month Mr Martin told the Dáil he still believes it will be possible to mount a "useful investigation" but warned that there could be difficulties. There would, he said, be no guarantee that US authorities would provide judicial assistance to an Irish tribunal, either in relation to enforcing the discovery of documents or compelling the attendance of witness.

His idea of a useful investigation would be able to access publicly available material and seek the assistance of persons and bodies willing to co-operate with it.

The minister said other legal avenues were also being explored in consultation with the Attorney General and the legal representatives of the Irish Haemophilia Society.

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