The Irish Blood Scandal

By Irish America Staff
June / July 2002

Haemophilia sufferers across Ireland are awaiting the outcome of the Lindsay Tribunal, which was set up to investigate how blood products were contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C.

But while Judge Alison Lindsay deliberates on one of the greatest scandals in Irish life, a deal has finally been hammered out to compensate the victims of the HIV blood scandal, 64 of whom have already died from AIDS.

A decision has been reached on a new compensation package to replace the miserly £8 million agreed with the Society in 1991. Families will be able to seek damages from a compensation tribunal, and it is expected that up to Euro 100 million will be paid out.

The move follows threats by the Irish Haemophilia Society to serve weekly writs on the Minister for Health and Children in the run-up to the general election.

The main government party, Fianna Fail, has had an atrocious record in its dealings with the victims and could not face another election with the scandal hanging over it. In 1989 the Fianna Fail government led by Charles Haughey collapsed when he refused to set up a hardship fund worth just £400,000 (punts) for those who had been infected.

The Lindsay tribunal is expected to issue its findings in the weeks following the election. It examined how the country’s haemophiliacs were infected and the response of the health authorities and politicians to the crisis. It should make grim reading for successive Health Ministers as well as the blood board who for financial reasons delayed bringing in heat treatment which kills bacteria in blood products.

During the tribunal it was revealed that some of the blood products used were collected from donors on skid row as well as from gay men and prisoners in the U.S. Questions remain about the role of U.S. drug companies in the scandal and there have been demands for another tribunal to investigate the issue.

Health Minister Michael Martin commissioned a report from a leading barrister into the wisdom of setting up such a tribunal. He traveled to the U.S. before Christmas and has hired New York legal firm Simpson, Thatcher and Bartlett to assist him in his investigation. But the Minister has yet to publish the report or give a definite decision on whether he believes the State should pursue the companies.

In all, 79 haemophiliacs have died and hundreds more are infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. ♦

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