Haemophiliacs face fight for justice

HAEMOPHILIACS found themselves facing yet another fight for justice after a meeting with Health Minister Micheál Martin yesterday.

They were disappointed but not surprised when the minister refused to make a special case for those inadequately compensated by the State as a result of contracting hepatitis C from infected blood products.

The minister told representatives of the Irish Haemophilia Society yesterday that to discriminate between one category and another would be unconstitutional and that the existing hepatitis C compensation framework must be maintained intact.

The society has claimed that 79 of their members were prevented from appealing compensation awards to the High Court.

Some were extremely ill now and feared they would be unable to support their families.

The society had met with the minister in a bid to persuade him to introduce legislation to give infected members the right to appeal to the High Court.

After the two-hour meeting, however, the minister declared that the tribunal’s appeal system, recently confirmed by the Supreme Court, was and continued to be a comprehensive and fair response to the tragic consequences of the infection.

IHS chairman Michael Davenport said the tribunal was supposed to make awards in line with High Court awards.

This had not happened as the court had consistently doubled awards made by the tribunal for those that did appeal:

“Once again our members who have been infected as a result of the acknowledged negligence of a State body must fight with the State for justice.”

The society’s executive committee will now meet to decide on the next stage of their campaign.

“The minister cannot leave things as they stand because there are too many people involved that have not received fair and equitable compensation,” he said.

Mr Davenport also accused the minister of using legal argument to avoid tackling the issue.

“Lawyers cannot dictate how the State should deal with its citizens who have been infected with hepatitis,” he insisted.

Positive Action, who represent around 1,000 mothers who contracted hepatitis from infected Anti-D, said it was outrageous and a scandal that the minister was standing over an obvious injustice.

The group pointed out that, although the tribunal was established and hearing claims by November, 1997, it was to take almost a year before rules of appeal to the High Court were announced.

“This delay placed many sick people under significant strain and, in effect, dictated that they should accept the awards made to them rather than await the delayed appeal,” the campaign group said.

This was unfair and those awards in fact constituted unfair and inadequate compensation for those claimants who accepted their awards at the time.

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