Cork-based nuns selling ointment online told to remove medicinal claims

The West Cork nuns were selling a black salve ointment which was claimed could cure 'abnormal skin growths'.
Cork-based nuns selling ointment online told to remove medicinal claims

Sr Irene Gibson with Sr Anne Marie from the Holy Family Carmelite Hermitage, Leap, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

Two Cork-based nuns who recently breached Covid-19 restrictions by attending an exorcism of the Dáil were recently ordered to remove medicinal claims about an ointment they had been selling.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) confirmed that the claims had been removed from social media about a black salve ointment which was claimed could cure "abnormal skin growths".

Mother Irene Gibson, of a group called the Carmelite Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus, has been ordered to leave a compound at Corran South near the village of Leap in West Cork by next June along with her colleague Sr Anne Marie. 

Sr Irene Gibson after she appeared at the district court Skibbereen, Co Cork, with Sr Anne Marie. Picture: Dan Linehan

Sr Irene Gibson after she appeared at the district court Skibbereen, Co Cork, with Sr Anne Marie. Picture: Dan Linehan

The pair are hermits. They have been ordered to leave the site following a 2019 conviction for breaching planning regulations in relation to the premises which she set up as a religious retreat in 2016.

However, they have managed to raise more than €78,000 for a new property on a GoFundme web page, with individual donations as high as €4,575.

A complaint was made to the HPRA about the sale of the ointment and a cough syrup, both online and in Skibbereen in November. 

The products are on sale on eBay. The authority has since ordered that claims about the medicine to be removed from the internet.

A statement to the Irish Examiner read: "The HPRA can confirm that following the receipt of information related to this matter, it recently requested the removal of social media content containing medicinal claims in respect of products sold by the Carmelite Sisters of the Holy Face of Jesus in West Cork. This online content was subsequently removed.

"Claims that a product can prevent or treat any disease are medicinal claims. 

Medicinal claims can only be made for products which are authorised as medicinal products or certified as medical devices and must be appropriately justified. 

"The HPRA takes appropriate action as deemed necessary where there is any concern in relation to products that could pose a risk to public health."

The US Food and Drug Administration has warned against the use of salves, particularly ones which use ingredients such as bloodroot. It says that such ingredients "can destroy the skin and result in permanent disfigurement, tissue necrosis [death of cells in living tissue], and can result in infection".

"Furthermore, using salve products such as black salve for serious conditions like skin cancer can result in delayed cancer diagnosis and cancer progression," it has stated.

Separately, the HSE says that an investigation into the nuns' selling of homemade jams has concluded. One complaint was made before Christmas under food safety regulations. The HSE said that it could not say what action was taken with regard to the sale. The Food Safety Authority regularly publishes the findings of its investigations, though none has been listed as yet.

"All complaints are investigated under relevant food safety legislation and appropriate action taken if required," the HSE stated. "The HSE Environmental Health Service can confirm that it received one complaint forwarded by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in relation to this business.

"This complaint was investigated under relevant food safety legislation and the investigation is now complete. The HSE does not comment on the outcome of individual investigations."

Sr Irene and Sr Anne Marie were among a group of people who took part in an exorcism of the Dáil before Christmas, as reported by The Irish Examiner on Monday.

Sr Irene did not respond to a request for comment.

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