Before calling on Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn to move her motion, may I remind Members of the revisedsub judice rule which provides, inter alia, that a matter should not be raised in such an overt manner that it appears to be an attempt by the Oireachtas to encroach on the functions of the courts or the Judiciary. Accordingly, Members should exercise caution in making their contributions on this measure and should not stray into the merits or detail of the case before the High Court.
Private Members' Business. - Hepatitis C Compensation Claims: Motion.
It is not my intention to encroach on a case that might be before the courts. I have never done that and I can assure the Chair that I do not intend to do it this evening.
It is a precaution that the Chair felt it should take on the occasion.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Hughes.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is an historic evening in which the Opposition has won a major vote in the Dáil and the Government has been defeated. Perhaps the Minister for Health. Deputy Noonan, might be generous in case another defeat may be in the offing tomorrow night.
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Minister for Health to extend the deadline of 17 June 1996, for victims' compensation claims to thead hoc hepatitis C tribunal until three months after the final court judgment is delivered in the first hepatitis C compensation case.
This is the twelfth time in the past five months that the hepatitis C controversy has been raised in this House by the Opposition. It has been raised through every device available, by way of motion, priority questions, Private Members' Business and on the Adjournment. No other health issue has occupied more Dáil time in recent years.
The reason hepatitis C has been raised in this House so frequently is because of the dissatisfaction with the Minister's handling of the issue. The Minister has taken a minimalist approach and has seldom shown any flexibility or goodwill in the hepatitis C affair. Progress has only been achieved after struggles and has never been granted voluntarily. The victims have felt on many occasions they have been double crossed by the Minister. He promised them justice and fairness but instead they met opposition and inflexibility. They have been made to feel they are responsible somehow for contracting the virus rather than being victims of a State agency.
The victims certainly believe the Minister for Health has not listened to them at key times because, irrespective of their concerns, he went ahead and unilaterally implemented change. The result has been that the issue has had to be raised many times here and at the end of each debate and Question Time one hoped there would not be a need for a next time. One hoped on these occasions that finally the Minister would acknowledge the wrong that was done to these victims and would give them a full explanation as to how this affair occurred. That has not happened and at every turn the innocent victims have been short-changed and forced to beg for concessions and explanations. The Government's measures have been presented as benevolence rather than the victims' right, given the State's responsibility in poisoning their lives.
Every change in the proposals for the compensation tribunal and every alteration to the plans for health care have been wrenched only after months of lobbying by the groups representing victims and by debates and questions in this House. That is not how it should be, given the damning evidence of the State's culpability in this affair. This evening we find ourselves in a scenario where the Minister is steadfastly refusing to budge on an issue of major importance to the victims, despite the clear wish of the majority of the victims for an extension of the deadline for applications to the compensation tribunal.
There are many reasons for extending the deadline, not least is the fact that only one third, or just over 600 victims have applied to the tribunal even though the deadline is next Monday. While I imagine some of those who have not applied to date are awaiting the outcome of this debate to see if Government Deputies will honour the private commitments given to victims about supporting the extension of the deadline, many applications will remain outstanding after the 17 June deadline has passed. That will be a serious indictment of the Government's plans for compensating the victims and will have to be regarded as signalling the failure of those proposals. It will signal also that victims lack confidence in the compensation tribunal and in the deadline applied.
I do not doubt that the Minister tonight will try to disguise this failure. He has already been building up to it. Last week we were told in the House — when the Minister was particularly sensitive on this issue at Question Time — that the number of hepatitis C victims who might be eligible for compensation was in the region of 1,400. However, three weeks previously when the Minister addressed the Select Committee on Social Affairs he said there were 1,600 victims. There appears to be a clear case of disappearing numbers, depending on the day and the time. Is the Department telling some solicitors or victims who telephone it that based on the details supplied the victim would not have a case? Does the Minister want the total to be as low as possible so that the number of applicants on 17 June looks even slightly respectable?
There is a compelling case to extend the deadline from 17 June until after the final court judgment is given in the case before the High Court. That case is being taken by a mother of ten in her late forties who is seriously ill with hepatitis C. Her case which will begin in October is expected to throw light on some of the many outstanding issues in this affair and is likely to determine an issue that has a key bearing to other victims, whether the Blood Transfusion Service Board was negligent in the hepatitis C affair and if so, if the woman is entitled to damages for that negligence. Under the tribunal, victims are not entitled to such damages and liability is not admitted by the State in this affair. Therefore, the victims going before the tribunal do not know whether they are taking a major gamble by going that route and whether they will have any resourse if the High Court finds the Blood Transfusion Service Board negligent.
The Minister appears determined, no matter what, to get the hepatitis C victims before the tribunal. There is much evidence to back up this statement. He has written to all hepatitis C victims endorsing the tribunal. He did this at the time application forms were issued. This endorsement of the tribunal route was an abuse of office. Rather than representing the public interest and maintaining balance in this affair, he immediately put one option above the other. It could be called subtle psychology. Officialdom was signalling that this was the route it wanted people to go.
This was the start of the brow beating of victims which has continued with incessant advertising in the newspapers. Although the Minister told us last week that both he and the Department know all the victims from the national blood screening programming, the targeted look back programme and the optional testing programme, he still has blanket advertising of the tribunal in the media. This advertising is well on the way to costing £1 million, the bulk of which has been spent in less than four months on advertising aimed at people who already have received the application form through the post and all sorts of reminders since. One can only conclude that the purpose of the heavy spend is to soften people into acceptance, constantly remind them of the tribunal and woo them through advertising.
One of the nastier ways an attempt has been made to brow beat victims is through the Chief State Solicitor's Office. Any victim who has entered a High Court case against the Blood Transfusion Service Board has received a letter from the Chief State Solicitor which states:
In the light of the numerous benefits and advantages of the scheme of compensation, as opposed to court proceedings, it is difficult to understand how your client could choose to ignore the scheme in favour of the uncertainties, delays, stresses, confrontation and costs involved in the High Court litigation ... If, despite the scheme of compensation, your client is advised to ignore the tribunal and to pursue litigation and your client chooses to accept such advice, the resulting litigation will be fully defended by the State, if necessary to the Supreme Court.
This letter amounts to intimidation. It is scandalous that the State should act in such a heavy handed fashion. It forces one to ask why it is so desperate to ensure victims go to the tribunal.
The Minister's argument has been that the only reason he is urging the tribunal route rather than the courts is to save money on lawyers. Would he be happy to make a major decision without getting legal advice or trying the court option also? He was not slow to retain an expensive lawyer to represent him at the beef tribunal.
(Limerick East): That is not true. I retained nobody. I was represented by the State's solicitors at the tribunal.
As a former Minister for Industry and Commerce, the Minister retained the State's solicitors at the tribunal.
(Limerick East): I did not.
The interruptions should cease.
(Limerick East): I made no allegations and was called as a witness. The Deputy is wrong and should not make such allegations.
Has the Minister developed a problem since with lawyers? He has made many disparaging remarks in the House about the legal profession in connection with this affair. For example, at Question Time last week he suggested that a deadline was needed as otherwise solicitors would never complete the paperwork or get applications in on time.
There is an example that I wish to cite of the misinformation fed to victims in a bid to get as many as possible to apply to the tribunal. In recent weeks the Minister has tried to argue that, even if people send in their applications to the tribunal now, it could possibly be a year before they come up and that by then the test case in the High Court will have ended. He has also urged people to send in applications without supporting documentation.
Both claims are not founded on fact. There is a great danger, if people make applications without supporting documentation, that this will create a major disadvantage for them down the line and could come against them in the future. Many victims are having difficulty in getting their medical records from the Blood Transfusion Service Board and hospitals. This is particularly the case, as the Minister acknowledged, for those infected with hepatitis C through a blood transfusion.
One of the reasons there should be an extension of the deadline is to give these people time to get their records together. Many of these people's records have been destroyed or lost during the past 25 years, in some cases because of hospital amalagamations. Some records have just disappeared while others appear to be findable only if a court order is obtained, as has been the case with the Blood Transfusion Service Board and the Department of Health. Some victims fear that their documents have been destroyed deliberately — I have no evidence of this — to protect certain parties from legal action.
If a person makes an application without supporting medical documents now and is not successful later in finding those documents, what will happen to their application? The Minister said that they will have to supply the documentation six weeks before the case is to be heard. What if, six weeks before the case is to be heard, the documentation cannot be found? Will the case be heard on this basis and could an award be made on an unsupported application? Could the application be rejected on this basis and would the applicant be able to turn anywhere else at that stage? Will their documents be more findable in this way or would they stand a better chance of getting all their records if they got a court order? To date, getting a court order would appear to be the more effective route.
I also have to question the manner in which applications are being taken in the tribunal. We have all read media reports that applications could be made by phone, that slips of paper and even names on a list would be acceptable. That seems to be a remarkably lax approach to a most serious matter. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to deny these reports. That would be a dangerous scenario and something that should not be encouraged or acceptable in any circumstances.
The other claims made by the Minister that I wish to challenge relate to the time within which actions will be heard. In the Chief State Solicitor's letter to victims it is made abundantly clear that hepatitis C actions in the courts will be taken all the way. The Minister confirmed that at Question Time. Therefore, the State, if it loses in the High Court, is bound to appeal the current case to the Supreme Court. How long will that take? Will the case be fast-tracked? Could it be several years before the matter is finally legally resolved?
There is every reason to believe that there will be little co-operation from the State in the matter. It has obstructed the case every step of the way. For example, the woman's desire to use an alias rather than her real name was challenged. That was a despicable act forcing her hand. It also seems to be intent on contesting admission of liability in her case, even though there is a damning report of inquiry by the expert group on the Blood Transfusion Service Board. It has dragged its heels in entering a defence of the action delaying the case for several months.
All these facts indicate that there will not be a speedy end to the Bridget Roe case, as it is known. It also makes a mockery of the claim that victims will be treated equally and fairly, whether they go to the tribunal or the courts. There is every reason to believe that applications made now could come up before the case is resolved. There is also reason to believe that all applications could be heard sooner rather than later.
At Question Time last week the Minister appeared to be signalling that, because the tribunal is so slow, he might consider appointing more personnel to the body or a parallel tribunal to speed up the hearing of applications. If he were to do this, does it not mean that cases would be heard much faster and that applications could come up in October or November rather than next year? If a case currently scheduled has to be postponed, will one of the current applications not be slotted into its place?
It is most unsatisfactory for the Minister to make claims about the hearing of applications that cannot be adhered to. It smacks of the onging campaign which has taken many forms to corral, intimidate and pressurise victims to go to the tribunal. However, the worst tactics employed have to be the ones employed in the Bridget Roe case. If these road blocks are being constructed to defend the State, the State is not acting in the best interest of its citizens. I do not agree with the tactics being used to minimise the State's liabilities, and I object to the offices of the State being used in such a mean-minded, oppressive fashion. The inevitable conclusion is that, because the Minister and the Government are defendants in this action, the public interest is no longer being represented. All parties — the Minister, the Department of Health, the Cabinet and the Blood Transfusion Service Board — appear to have been sucked into a cover-up. Nobody can break the silence or object to the tactics being used. Questionable procedures also apply to the tribunal. There is "cherrypicking" of cases to appear before the tribunal. Some of the most important cases are being heard first. This creates an impression that big money is on offer on the assumption that victims will go before the tribunal if they hear they can obtain large settlements there. Some of the awards made in cases heard to date will not reflect future awards. Why are they being hyped up? At an early stage in this saga, before the Compensation Tribunal was established, the Minister for Health informed the Dáil that once the tribunal began making large awards, the cases would roll in. Certainly, the awards being made by the tribunal are being trumpeted from the rooftops.
There is an amazing coincidence in this public relations work on the tribunal awards. The firm of solicitors that has taken many of the cases to the tribunal has hired a firm of public relations consultants strongly associated with the Minister's party. Those consultants, as is their right, circulated information to the media on behalf of the solicitors. I asked the Minister about this matter on a previous occasion and still believe part of the information circulated to the media could only have come from his Department.
The Minister made great play of the fact that the tribunal sits infrequently. It is deliberate Government policy that the tribunal sits infrequently and has such a limited membership. In this way, it can only hear 12 cases a week and, therefore, the £60 million granted by the Minister for 1996 will last much longer. The Minister has not given a valid reason the deadline should continue to apply. Last week in the Dáil he suggested there are benefits for the administration, establishment and financing of the tribunal in adhering to the date. What about the victims? Do they not matter? Is this just an administrative exercise for the Department of Health?
In the absence of the Minister for Health agreeing to establish an inquiry into the continuing revelations in this hepatitis C controversy, the importance of the Bridget Roe case is immense. It is important for several reasons, but I am dismayed that this woman's personal case has become the official inquiry. That is unfair to Bridget Roe and represents an abdication of responsibility by the State. One of the very significiant reasons for extending the deadline until there is an outcome to the Bridget Roe case relates to the determination of negligence that will be made. That will have a very significant bearing for victims.
An award for negligence or aggravated damages is not provided for under the tribunal. Many victims are, therefore, keenly awaiting the outcome of the case. However, they face a dilemma. Under the rules of the tribunal, once an award is decided an applicant has four weeks to decide on acceptance. When the award is accepted, the applicant must drop all other claims against the State and other rights to action. A claimant is expected to gamble on which is the better course without having full knowledge of the consequences. It is uncaring of the State to put its citizens in such a dilemma.
The other significance of the Bridget Roe case relates to the disclosures that will be made at the trial on how the hepatitis C scandal occured. As many people are aware, it began for most of those infected, with anti-D immunoglobulin, a blood product that is routinely administered and given without consent to rhesus negative blood group mothers. Others were infected through blood transfusions during organ transplants, operations, etc.
Anti-D has been administered in Irish maternity hospitals since the early 1970s to prevent rhesus incompatibility in new-born infants. It is an extremely important product which has prevented death and serious illness for thousands of infants since its introduction in 1970. It is ironic that a product which was designed to save life is the one that has led to so many lives being currently under threat. Anti-D was manufactured from 1970 to 1994 in Ireland by the Blood Transfusion Service Board. Women receiving plasma exchange treatment during pregnancy were a particular rich source of antibody for the production of anti-D.
Plasma from one such women was used to produce anti-D between September and November 1976. The woman became jaundiced and the Blood Transfusion Service Board ceased using her plasma. She tested negative for hepatitis B and appeared to make a full recovery after a few weeks. The Blood Transfusion Service Board then decided to recommence use of her plasma in the anti-D programme.
Until work began on the Bridget Roe case, and based on the report of the expert group that investigated the scandal, I, and others, believe the Blood Bank had not been aware of the problems with anti-D until it received notification from Middlesex Hospital in December 1991. I was happy to believe what had happened was an awful mistake. However, I no longer believe that. There was a deliberate and calculated cover-up which should be investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I have requested such an investigation on a number of occasions in this House to no avail.
When I believed this matter was just a mistake, I was shocked and appalled that the Blood Bank did nothing about the letter from Middlesex for more than two years and that many more people were infected as a consequence. However, now it has emerged, in this court case, that the Blood Bank knew in 1976 that the donor who was the source of the infection had been clinically diagnosed as suffering from infective hepatitis but failed to act, and appears to have perpetrated a cover-up.
I would like Government Deputies to bear in mind during this debate the serious nature of hepatitis C infection. It is not a simple infection. It is a vicious, uncertain disease, with one in five victims developing cirrhosis of the liver. It also causes many other diseases unrelated to the liver such as rheumatoid arthritis. Hepatitis C almost universally recurs in a newly transplanted liver. Hepatitis C infection changes lives irreversibly and people meet problems with, simple, every day issues such as mortgage protection and life insurance, with, for example, mortgage insurance loading being doubled due to hepatitis C infection.
Had full information become available in 1994 about the extent of the cover-up and the disease, court terms should have been offered at the Blood Transfusion Service Board rather than golden handshakes. The Bridget Roe case has also thrown light on how the original donor was infected. I am sure many people have thought about the original donor who, I understand, is still alive. I have often thought she must feel guilty, as she and everyone else were led to believe she was the source of the infection. The expert group that investigated the scandal was led to believe and concluded that the donor had a history of jaundice. However, the information that has come to light during this court case points to the fact that it is most likely that Donor X was in fact infected by the Blood Transfusion Service Board. The case also raises many questions about why the Blood Transfusion Service Board made anti-D from blood plasma from a patient they knew to have infective hepatitis. Why did the Blood Transfusion Service Board not do other tests after their diagnosis? Why did it cover up the clinical diagnosis of infective hepatitis? Why were the files disclosing this information only discovered following the issuing of a court order? Why did the board break its own rules for donor standards? If the expert group had this information, would its report have been different?
I am a member of the Select Committee on Social Affairs which wrote to Dr. Miriam Hederman O'Brien in relation to the report of the expert group. In response she replied:
The question in your letter "Did the expert group ask for all relevant documents?" we found somewhat surprising. To have failed to do so would have been negligent on our part. I can state that we not only made such a request to the Blood Transfusion Service Board but also to the other parties involved.
I have no doubt, nor did I have at any time, that the expert group asked for all relevant documentation. One must surely ask now whether the particular documentation which came to light as a result of the court order was ever made available or shown to the expert group.
I know the members of the expert group do not want to enter the controversy because a court case is pending but it is clear that even though they asked for all relevant files — as confirmed by their chairperson — the crucial file involved was not shown to them. It is clear, therefore, that the assumptions it made about the actions of the Blood Transfusion Service Board were not made in possession of the full facts.
If the Minister were genuinely interested in being fair to the hepatitis C victims, and he has said consistently in this House that he is, he should reconvene the expert group and present all new information that has come to light. He would also act on the point the group raised in its letter to the Select Committee on Social Affairs about documents being withheld. The full truth of this affair is not known and, until it is, justice will not be done.
I detect from the Government side of the House a keenness on the part of many Government Deputies to have this debate over as soon as possible so that they can go back to victims and say the Dáil has decided the matter. For many of those Deputies, 17 June cannot come fast enough so that the hurdle is passed and the pressure is off. I believe there is a Government agenda to shut the door on this problem and hope that it goes away but in the programme for Government there is a promise to pay fair compensation to those infected with hepatitis C. On the basis of that commitment, is it fair to rush victims into decisions on which route they take for compensation? Why has the word "fair" been forgotten?
Many Deputies on the Government side of the House have, privately and publicly, expressed support for the extension of the deadline. I must single outThe Examiner for praise as being virtually the only national newspaper that has consistently followed this controversy, thanks to the efforts of its political correspondent. The newspaper recently quoted a number of Deputies — and I am delighted to see Deputy Ahearn in the House — who want the Minister to accede to the request for the extension. It is crucial that he does so in the light of so much uncertainty. At the Select Committee on Social Affairs there was unanimous agreement among all parties for the extension of the deadline and a letter to that effect was sent to the Minister.
I read in today's newspapers that some Government Deputies were hoping that a last minute deal might be worked out between the Minister and the groups representing victims, but I do not think the Minister will meet them.
Yesterday, one of the representative groups was told that the Minister has a very busy schedule — I have no doubt it is — but that he would try to meet its members at the end of June, early July or whenever his schedule allowed which would certainly be well after the 17 June deadline has passed. That is regrettable.
At the outset I had serious reservations about thead hoc tribunal. One of my greatest concerns was that it would be silently wound up somewhere down the line. The Minister told me this could never happen but it happened with the ad hoc Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, set up in 1974 in the wake of the terrorist bombings, which was quietly wound up. It would have been much better to have a statutory tribunal, especially given the difficulties many victims will have in proving on the balance of probabilities that their infection was caused by a blood transfusion or a blood product.
Because of the way the terms of thead hoc tribunal have been set, there is a great danger that bona fide and deserving claimants may not be able to prove their case because of an obligation to establish that blood was contaminated in certain circumstances that cannot be proved because records are incomplete, missing or simply do not exist.
The Minister made an allegation here last week that people inside and outside this House were encouraging victims not to go the tribunal route and giving them advice. I am not one of those people but I have consistently said I have difficulties with the tribunal. The people who have been giving the advice are members of the legal profession and they would be far closer to the Minister's side of the House than to this side.
What happens if the Bridget Roe case is lost? Will the victims be left without a penny because the deadline for the tribunal has passed? If the Bridget Roe case is won, will people feel in years to come that they have been grossly under-compensated? Both these possibilities point to the necessity for the Minister to show flexibility and to extend the deadline.
The truth must come out in this affair and that will take further time. Unless the deadline is extended and victims are treated sensitively, they will remain dissatisfied with the State. To continue to refuse to extend the deadline would be unjust and unfair. I ask Deputies on the other side of the House to use their considerable influence with the Minister to extend the deadline. That is what the victims want and that is what they should be granted.
Order. There must be no intrusion from the Public Gallery into the Chamber of this House. There is a stipulation in the Public Gallery that silence must prevail, and so it shall be.
I thank my colleague for sharing her time with me. I understand the rulings of this House, which have been created over many years of experience, but I also understand the response that has just been given by the people in the Public Gallery.
I commend my colleague who has persistently pursued justice for the victims in this case. In her excellent contribution, she did not make any extravagent claims, nor did she show any political bias. She put forward a reasonable, balanced case and I do not believe that can be lost on the Minister or the Deputies opposite.
Six months ago, on 12 December 1995, my party tabled a Private Members' motion condemning the Government for its failure to establish a statutory tribunal to deal with hepatitis C claims. Since then it has acknowledged that over 600 victims have made application to thead hoc tribunal. In addition, a substantial number of victims have opted, at their own expense, to initiate High Court proceedings.
At the outset many of the victims did not have any confidence in the scheme for compensation set up by the Minister for Health. These people, infected through contaminated Anti-D product, are the innocent victims of gross negligence on the part of officials of this State. Rammed down their necks is a scheme which many have rejected. Daily public advertisements in national and local press have constantly conveyed the message that victims have only until 17 June to lodge their claims.
Because of chaotic delays in the High Court and the expense of mounting a High Court case, many victims are in an invidious position. On the one hand there is an informal tribunal whose rules and procedures are more relaxed, flexible and speedy and which promises an early settlement with the opportunity to get on with their lives despite the fact that some of them will be adversely affected by this scandal. With an average payout of £106,000, which includes compensation for loss of earnings, many claimants properly feel they are not getting fair compensation and a full award given the uncertainty in regard to the progression of the disease in some of the victims.
Victims are entitled to the highest amount of damages, as is the norm, whether their case is heard by the tribunal or the High Court. While the tribunal's rules and procedures have a substantial effect on saving legal costs and outlay, it would be a travesty of justice if the victims who had their claims processed by the tribunal were to subsequently find that the level of compensation they received from the tribunal was considerably less than that to be awarded by the High Court in subsequent cases it will hear.
If there is the slightest bit of humanitarianism in the mind of the Minister, he will have no hesitation in supporting this motion. We are talking about many hundreds of victims for whom the State is responsible and who are entitled to the highest possible amount of compensation so that the remainder of their lives is subject to the minimum degree of stress and worry.
The Minister's refusal up to now to extend the deadline for compensation beyond next Monday for compensation claims to thead hoc tribunal places the victims in a situation they do not deserve. It is mean and insensitive because it is forcing on them a decision which they could, in effect, regret for the rest of their days. They must choose between the tribunal and the High Court. Whichever way they choose, the alternative might be the better way.
I cannot help comparing the position of these people with certain television game shows where the element of chance is paramount. The competitor is given the option of accepting an amount of money or opening the box and possibly ending up a good deal worse off. The lottery show also comes to mind where one of the participants spins the wheel and wins either £10,000 or £250,000. The victims of hepatitis C deserve something better than to be part of a lottery. Will I reject the tribunal award and go to the High Court where I might do better or even a good deal worse? This is the kind of choice a victim may be called upon to make after next Monday. One gets the impression that some adviser of the Minister has adopted the role of a bookmaker who is calculating the odds. In this case the advice would be to remove the option of real choice and thereby save money. There can be no other logical reason for the Minister's attitude.
I appeal to Deputies on the opposite side who followed this scandal closely to consider the implications of voting against the motion. I have no doubt whatsoever that the hearing of the case in the High Court which is pending will create a situation where many victims who are having their case heard by the tribunal will regret that they did not have the option of extending the deadline beyond the period being suggested.
Limerick East): I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann affirms the compensation tribunal as an alternative to court proceedings to provide fair compensation to persons who have contracted hepatitis C from human immunoglobulin anti-D, blood transfusion or other blood products.
I thank Deputies Geoghegan-Quinn and Hughes for their contributions.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to move the Government's amendment to the Private Members' motion put down by Fianna Fáil in relation to extending the deadline of 17 June 1996 for claimants to the compensation tribunal. I welcome the opportunity to reiteriate the Government's firm commitment to fair compensation, to outline the numerous advantages of the compensation tribunal as opposed to court proceedings and to provide up to date information in relation to the operation of the tribunal.
All Members carry a responsibility to ensure that people with hepatitis C who are listening to this debate do not have their anxieties and concerns increased by inexact information or by statements which are not in accordance with the facts. I am conscious of the stress and trauma which can be experienced by persons with hepatitis C. With this in mind, I granted £235,000 approximately to voluntary groups to provide a support network to their members who are positive for hepatitis C and their families. A total of £130,000 has been granted to Positive Action to support its members who were anti-D recipients and who have been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C. I would be very concerned if Positive Action is unnecessarily giving rise to additional stress by giving inaccurate and misleading information and advice to its members.
The tribunal to provide compensation to certain persons who have contracted hepatitis C from the use of human immunoglobulin — anti-D, whose blood or blood products as a result of receiving a blood transfusion or a blood product within the State was established on 15 December 1995.
The tribunal is dealing with applications from persons who have been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C antibodies or virus resulting from the use of human immunoglobulin — anti-D, blood transfusion or other blood products within the State; children and partners of such persons who have been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C antibodies or virus; any person responsible for the maintenance of any such persons who has incurred financial loss and/or expenses as a direct result of providing such maintenance; and any dependent of such persons who have died as a result of having contracted hepatitis C.
No person is being compelled to apply to the compensation tribunal. It is a matter for each person to decide whether to pursue his or her claim through the courts or through the compensation tribunal. The making of a claim to the tribunal under the scheme does not involve a waiver of any right of action. It is only if the claimant accepts the award made by the tribunal that the claimant is required to agree to waive any right of action which the claimant may otherwise have had. If a claimant receives an award from the tribunal the claimant will have a period of one month to either accept or reject it. If an award is rejected, and no award to date has been rejected, a claimant may initiate or continue proceedings through the courts.
Negotiations between my Department and interested groups, including Positive Action, in relation to the tribunal scheme took place during November 1995. It is not true to say that no changes were made to the terms of the scheme arising from the negotiations with interested groups. I remind the House of the amendments to the scheme which the Government approved following on my consultation with the groups during November 1995: the scheme was extended to include transfusee claimants who have been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C antibodies/virus; the children and partners of transfusee cliamants who have been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C antibodies/virus were also included; the time within which claimants must apply to the tribunal — this was agreed with the interest groups — was extended from three to six months; in the case of minors and persons of unsound mind, the claims can be made within six months of the cesser of their legal disability; the purpose of the scheme has been extended to include that the scheme shall continue indefinitely; no claimant by virtue of the statutes of limitation will lose their legal right to initiate proceedings because of making a claim to the tribunal; the discretion of the tribunal to hear oral evidence was extended; the making available of medical and other expert reports to claimants is explicitly incorporated into the scheme; a claimant to whom an award has been made by the tribunal "shall be awarded the legal costs and expenses associated with the claim"; and the report of the tribunal in so far as is practicable shall not identify any claimant.
During the course of negotiations in November 1995 it was agreed between my Department and interested groups that the time within which a claimant must apply to the tribunal would be extended from three to six months, as is now the case in the tribunal scheme. In accordance with the tribunal scheme, claimants must apply within six months of the date upon which they first become aware of the fact that they have been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C antibodies or hepatitis C virus or within six months of the date of the establishment of the tribunal, whichever date is the later. In exceptional cases the tribunal may in its absolute discretion extend the time limit and shall do so in the case of any claimant whom it is satisfied was under a legal disability by reason of minority or unsoundness of mind at the time at which such claim should otherwise have been made and who applies to it within six months of the cesser and that legal disability.
It is not my intention to extend the time limit for applications any further as there is no valid reason to do so. The closing date for receipt of applications by the tribunal is next Monday, 17 June.
Since its inception the tribunal has accepted application forms unsupported by medical data and or records. The tribunal records the applications when received and the claimants or their solicitors are requested to supply outstanding documentation as soon as it becomes available. The recent addition to newspaper advertisements to the effect that the application form is accepted by the tribunal without the supporting medical data and or record was made to ease concerns expressed by claimants and solicitors who may be experiencing some difficulties in obtaining medical records or reports before the closing date. The Compensation Tribunal had indicated that it has "made awards in claims where the claimant has received a blood product but was not in a position to match the blood given to particular batches supplied by the Blood Transfusion Service Board". Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn will see from that that the interpretation of the balance of probabilities, in terms of the connection between the virus and the blood product, is being looked at and adjudicated on by the tribunal in a very fair way and not the rigid lines she has suggested. The tribunal has also stated that "medical reports submitted to the Tribunal should, in cases of doubt deal with the exclusion of other causes for the contracting of the condition of hepatitis C".
Cases before the tribunal are heard in accordance with the terms of the scheme. The claimants' cases are decided on the balance of probabilities. The tribunal relies primarily on written medical reports in its consideration of individual claims. The claimant must, no later than six weeks before the date fixed by the tribunal for the hearing, submit in writing, reports prepared by doctors or other health care professionals who have treated or examined the claimant, and relevant reports prepared by other experts, on which the claimant intends to rely.
The tribunal has been hearing a maximum of 12 cases each sitting week and I am informed that the hearing of the cases in respect of the applications received to date will carry its workload into 1998. Claims can be listed for hearing before the tribunal on lodgement of all the relevant documentation. I have been informed by the tribunal that any application for a priority hearing has been and will be dealt with sympathetically by the tribunal.
To ensure all potential claimants to the tribunal were aware of the establishment of the tribunal and the time within which claimants should lodge their application, the tribunal placed advertisements initially in the national and provincial newspapers on a monthly basis. As and from the week ending 5 May 1996 advertisements were placed weekly to heighten awareness of the approaching closing date of 17 June 1996. In addition, to ensure that all solicitors representing claimants are aware of the closing date, the tribunal also placed an information insert in the April-May 1996 edition of theLaw Society Gazette. Such coverage is essential to ensure, as far as possible, that potential claimants are made aware of the tribunal as an alternative to court proceedings to provide fair compensation to persons who have contracted hepatitis C from blood transfusions or blood products.
For the information of the House, the total number of persons with hepatitis C who had received a blood transfusion or blood product who have been identified to date is 1,356. The compensation tribunal has to date received 766 applications and I have been informed by the tribunal that a substantial additional number of applications is expected before the closing date. Since its commencement the tribunal has heard 69 cases. The awards made to date by the tribunal range from £15,500 to £324,321. A sum of approximately £7.3 million has been awarded to date by the compensation tribunal and no tribunal award has been rejected. Payment of an award is made within 28 days of receipt by the tribunal of notification of acceptance of an award. The tribunal is running smoothly, fairly and efficiently, as I have envisaged, and at this stage it has hearing dates arranged until 31 July, 1996.
While Deputies have been responsible in their approach to hepatitis C issues, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn has acted irresponsibly. This is particularly true in relation to the charges she made against the Minister of State, Deputy O'Shea, inside and outside the House. It was suggested, inside and outside the House, by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn that as the expert group did not see a particular file, which had been discovered under a court order, it was, therefore, not fully informed on the clinical diagnosis of infective hepatitis of the donor to the plasma pool used in the manufacture of the anti-D product in 1976-77. The clinical diagnosis of infective hepatitis of the donor in question was presented by them as a new revelation. This was not a new revelation. As I previously stated in the House, at the time of establishment of the expert group the Department of Health, the then Minister for Health, the Government and the members of the expert group were in no doubt that the donor to the plasma pool had an episode of infective hepatitis.
It was suggested that the expert group report was based on incomplete information and that the group might have reached different conclusions or made different recommendations if certain documents had been made available to the expert group. The chairman of the expert group, Dr. Miriam Hederman O'Brien, following a request to attend the Select Committee on Social Affairs, wrote on 27 May 1996 to the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Pattison. In her letter to the committee, which she subsequently published, Dr. Hederman O'Brien stated that, neither the other members of the expert group — Professor Alistair Bellingham and Dr. Caroline Hussey — nor herself had received "any information to cast doubt on the correctness of the conclusions" in the report nor were they "in doubt about the validity of the recommendations which they made to improve the Blood Transfusion Service Board and medical practice generally relating to blood and blood products in Ireland". In the light of this letter, I call on Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn to make a personal statement to Dáil Éireann to explain why she attacked the good name of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Shea and why, despite the fact that Dr. Hederman O'Brien's letter has been published for over two weeks, she has not yet offered an apology to him.
I would like to remind the House of the terms of reference of the expert group: To examine and report to the Minister for Health on the following matters: all the circumstances surrounding the infection of the anti-D immunoglobulin product manufactured by the Blood Transfusion Service Board; and the systems and standards in place for donor selection, the manufacturing process and use of the anti-D immunoglobulin produced by the Blood Transfusion Service Board, to make recommendations to the Minister for Health on the above matters and any other matters relating to the Blood Transfusion Service Board which the group consider necessary. It is clear, therefore, from the contents of the letter forwarded by Dr. Hederman O'Brien to the Select Committee on Social Affairs that the expert group is satisfied that it fully addressed its terms of reference and stands over its conclusions and recommendations.
The scheme of compensation approved by the Government offers numerous advantages as opposed to court proceedings. It is worth outlining again for the benefit of potential claimants the main advantages the tribunal affords applicants. It offers speed, informality, flexibility and privacy; negligence need not be proved; the right of court action is completely preserved unless and until an award is accepted; the scheme is optional and imposes no disadvantage; the concept of a provisional award, which is not available in Irish law, allows a claimant to return to the tribunal for future specified unexpected consequences of the hepatitis C infection. This is a particularly important option for claimants given the uncertain nature of the infection.
I would like to deal with other criticisms of the tribunal which are without foundation but continue to be recited by Positive Action and Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn and continue to be published in the media. In relation to provisional awards, Positive Action raised concerns in relation to a contract between the claimant and the State if a provisional award is accepted by a claimant. In this regard, I have been advised by the Attorney General that the terms of any award made by the tribunal would be enforceable before the courts. When a provisional award is made the tribunal will issue a letter to the claimant specifying that the award is Provisional and that the claimant may make a further application to the tribunal in the event that a particular serious consequence or consequences occur and will specify the time period within which the claimant may apply. This letter to the claimant will support the legal contract which arises following the acceptance of a provisional award. The claimant may request the tribunal to approach a claim on the basis of a provisional award. It has been claimed that the tribunal will use its discretion against the making of awards on a provisional basis. I would like to inform the House that all claimants to date who have sought a provisional award in the tribunal have been granted a provisional award.
Positive Action also raised the question of judicial review of the proceedings before the tribunal. I have been advised by the Attorney General that proceedings before the compensation tribunal will be subject to judicial review. It was also claimed that the tribunal would not hear the oral evidence of the claimant. I understand that in all cases heard by the tribunal the oral evidence of the claimant has been heard and that the tribunal has advised the legal profession and other interested parties "that claimants shall be entitled to give oral evidence".
I will now summarise the reasons I will not extend the time limit within which applications can be made to the tribunal: (i) It is in the best interest of potential claimants that they get legal advice at the earliest possible date on which course of action they should pursue. A time limit within which an applicant must apply focuses the attention of the legal representatives, solicitors and barristers, on the cases of persons who have been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C; (ii) The indefinite extension of the date within which a claimant must apply to the tribunal, will lead to uncertainty for potential applicants in regard to the compensation issue.
A closing date for receipt of applications to the tribunal should avoid the administrative delays that may arise in some solicitors' offices. In negotiations with interested groups. I agreed to extend from three to six months the time limit within which a claimant must apply and this is now included in the scheme. Sufficient time has been afforded to potential claimants who wish to pursue claims in the tribunal to lodge their applications. It was agreed by Positive Action in November 1995 that six months was an adequate period for this purpose. I have been assured by the tribunal that an applicant will not be compelled to have his or her case heard without agreement on the date fixed by the tribunal for the hearing and Members should note that point. Consequently, whether a person applied six months ago or applies now or next autumn, the date for the tribunal hearing can be arranged only with the consent of the applicant and solicitor. Therefore, the issue of extension does not arise. If applicants wish to wait they may do so, nobody will force a hearing on them on a particular day.
Following the closing date, I will have a reliable picture of the full financial implications of the compensation tribunal for budgetary policy reasons. It is essential that the likely demand on the Exchequer is determined to the maximum extent possible. Members may believe this is not of any consequence, but they will recall that I asked the Minister for Finance for £100 million last year to cover the 1996 costs of the tribunal. A sum of £60 million has been provided, £30 million of which we expect to be expended. We need to know the full picture so that sufficient money can be set aside each year to meet claims and that is what I intend to do. As taxpayers will have to fund these costs, they are entitled to know we are proceeding in the normal way when the Dáil is requested by the Executive to endorse the expenditure of major amounts of money.
The compensation tribunal is operating successfully, thus ensuring that the Government's commitment to provide fair compensation for persons who have contracted hepatitis C from blood products or blood transfusion is being honoured. The scheme will continue indefinitely as an alternative to court proceedings and will serve the best interests of persons who have contracted hepatitis C. As I already stated, the closing date for receipt of applications to the tribunal is 17 June 1996 and claimants who wish to pursue claims to the tribunal should ensure their applications forms are lodged with the tribunal on or before that date.
The operation of the tribunal is subject to review. If I have evidence or am convinced at any time in future that its workings are not serving the best interests of claimants, I will use my powers under the scheme to ensure that at all times it meets the needs of persons infected with hepatitis C.
Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn referred to difficulties being experienced in tracing records, particularly by persons who have been infected by blood rather than blood product and who are represented by Transfusion Positive. When this issue was raised by Transfusion Positive with my officials it was asked to forward names. It forwarded ten names of persons experiencing some difficulties. My Department has helped to trace the records in two cases and ongoing inquiries are being made in respect of the other eight. While that is an important issue for those eight people, we are not talking about hundreds of applicants, as suggested by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn. In case she or Deputy Hughes do not believe what I say about the tribunal being fair, just and efficient, I will quote from a letter received in my Department from Mr. Brian O'Mahony, chairman of the Irish Haemophilia Society which states:
I confirm that approximately 25 persons with haemophilia have to date attended the hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal. All those who have attended have been pleased by the informal nature and thorough manner in which cases have been heard. All the individuals have accepted the awards to date and indicated their satisfaction with the entire process.
That organisation knows how to justly process compensation claims because it previously represented persons with HIV. Members will recall the circumstances of the 1989 election and the measures put in place subsequently which provided fair compensation for members of the Irish Haemophilia Society. An endorsement of the tribunal's proceedings by the chairman of the Irish Haemophilia Society is very welcome. As I said when I inherited this traumatic affair, I set up the compensation tribunal as an alternative for persons who do not want to pursue their actions in the court. I am not taking away any person's right to pursue his or her action through the court. Applicants who receive awards through the tribunal will have a month to decide whether to accept them. If they reject them they are free to continue to process a court action already commenced or to initiate such an action for compensation. If they go the route of the High Court they will be treated fairly and justly, similar to the way applicants for compensation for personal injuries are currently treated. However, they will not have the advantage of provisional awards because they are not part of Irish law. By establishing the tribunal on a non-statutory basis we were able to insert a provision for provisional awards, of which applicants who take that route can avail. Ultimately, this is a matter for individual applicants, their families and legal advisers. I ask Members not to try for party political reasons to unduly influence people's decisions, which must be made freely and without undue pressure. There are two fair and just routes available to them, the tribunal and the High Court. I do not have a preference on which course applicants should follow. I could make a good political case for applicants to take the route of the High Court, which would be to the advantage to the Government. If applicants pursue their cases through the High Court the Government would not have to pay the compensation because the bulk of it would arise long after the next general election.
The Minister recognises the political reality that he will not be in that position after the next election.
(Limerick East): By setting up a compensation tribunal we will incur major liabilities, but we promised in the programme for Government that we would pay fair compensation and we are taking the necessary measures to do so. We will continue to pay fair compensation. I ask Members to stop playing for party political advantage. Everything that has happened occurred before I became Minister for Health. I am putting the solutions in place. The Deputy who led the charge against me tonight was in Government when this was discovered.
What did she do?
We reacted by setting up the expert group.
The then Government did not provide medical care for those concerned.
The Minister has two further minutes and he should not be interrupted.
(Limerick East): Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn speaks tonight in a very concerned way——
Is the Minister saying I am not concerned?
(Limerick East):——but when she was Minister for Justice she was responsible for fair play and justice and, despite the good work of Deputy Howlin, the Administration of which she was a member made no extra provision for the health care of the victims or compensation for the injuries inflicted on them. I have put in place a full health care package which has the agreement of the four interest groups. The Final Stages of the relevant Bill will be taken in the Seanad tomorrow and it will be through very shortly.
Even though there are outstanding difficulties, 766 applications have been made and we are informed by solicitors that a large number of applications will be made in the next three or four days. Some 69 people have received compensation from the tribunal — nobody has rejected compensation — and they and their legal advisers are satisfied with it. I appeal to Deputies to moderate their desire for electoral advantage and not mislead people about what is happening.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Moffatt.
I am sure that is satisfactory. Agreed.
The Minister has made a very stout defence of his trust in the tribunal and has given the reasons he believes people have confidence in it. He should, however, allow the High Court to make awards before saying that the awards granted by the tribunal are equitable and fair. For a variety of reasons, 69 people, out of 1,356, have accepted the awards granted. We all know people who are affected and there is great pressure to agree settlements. It is impossible to make judgments on the workings of the tribunal at this juncture. All we are asking is that the Minister extend the deadline, at least until the High Court adjudicates on cases before it. Until that is done he cannot stand over the workings of the tribunal. He can then come in here and talk about the fairness of the tribunal and the financial settlements made. The Minister may be correct in what he says, but equally he may be incorrect. He should ensure that the High Court speedily deals with cases before it so that there is a positive outcome for the people involved.
What is the great rush for a deadline? The Minister said tonight that, through his trojan efforts, he succeeded in getting £60 million in this year's Estimates. He went on to say that he will not need £60 million, that he will spend £30 million in 1996. He said that the tribunal will work on processing claims until 1998. If that is the case, why is there panic for a deadline? Why can the date not be extended to allow those who believe that the High Court is the more equitable route to take that course? Having gone through the tortuous procedure of having claims processed through the tribunal there will then be a cut-off point. That is the reason for the objections to the Minister's actions. The people affected are not agitators or people who will attend protest meetings and they do not wish to get embroiled in the political arena. They are reliable citizens and tragically for them the State has let them down. They find themselves in tragic circumstances because of the actions of an arm of the medical service. The Minister is confronted with a major problem. An arm of the medical service let down the Establishment because it did not handle its affairs properly, and that has resulted in the present serious problem.
The expert group, set up when Fianna Fáil was in office, reported on this matter. The Minister is taking a liberty with his supposed explanation in this regard. Neither he nor Dr. Hederman O'Brien stated that they saw the file that was produced in the High Court. That information was not made available and we do not know whether the file would have had an impact on the deliberations of the expert group.
The argument competently put by my two colleagues is not unreasonable. The Minister will call in his colleagues from the various Government parties to push through the amendment to our motion and the date will not be extended. Because of the extent of the work of the tribunal and the time it will take, there is no justification for refusing to extend the deadline. I suggest an extension at least to the end of the calendar year to allow some of the High Court cases to be processed.
About half the total number of people involved have made application and the Minister said that information from solicitors and others is that there will be an inflow of applications before the deadline. A substantial number of people who make application to the tribunal will want to have their case heard in the High Court and should be entitled to do so. There is a perception that the bureaucrats are dictating the trend in this instance and that the Minister, the political master of affairs in the Department, must accept the rigid guidelines laid down. He is defending the indefensible.
I contacted the Minister previously about matters such as this where health organisations such as the Eastern Health Board made decisions that were not acceptable and that had to be modified later. I would like to think there will be some degree of understanding and flexibility in this case. People have requested an extension of the date and in view of their circumstances that is not an unreasonable request. The Minister said that he will seek funding for 1997 and 1998. There is, therefore, no urgent need for a deadline. The cut-off point should not be decided until the High Court has made decisions in the matter.
The Minister said that the tribunal is making settlements of between £15,500 and £342,000. The people involved are entitled to the choice of having their case processed through the tribunal or the High Court. It is unacceptable that they be put through the torture of a tribunal and if they decide after a period of time that the settlement is not equitable they must embark on a long and protracted High Court case. People are entitled to see the settlements which emerge from the High Court before deciding that the tribunal is fair and equitable, as the Minister says it will be. Given the tragic circumstances in which so many people find themselves, that is not an unreasonable demand so, on behalf of those making this request, I urge the Minister to grant the extension. I see no reason for not granting it, as it is being put forward in a balanced way.
I support the motion, proposed by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, to extend the time limit for application to thead hoc tribunal on hepatitis C while keeping the legal venue and option open. The House has discussed women's health on a number of occasions this year and all Deputies were at one in calling for something extra to be done. We also discussed health regulations for travellers. Despite these discussions, we are quibbling about a short extension of time for the ad hoc tribunal. This does not add up. I ask the Minister to be gracious in this instance — it will not cost anything to give people more time to make up their minds on this issue.
Women have borne the brunt of the hepatitis C problem. There were difficulties with immunoglobulin, transfusions and transplants, and some children may have inherited hepatitis C from their mothers. This unfortunate mistake by the Blood Transfusion Service Board should never have happened. The Government has accepted certain liabilitysecundum modem— after a fashion — and this is where the problems arises. I do not see why the Minister will not extend the time to make up one's mind given that, as he said, the legal route is still open.
The problem is not primarily compensation; although that issue arises the women affected are not anxious about itper se. The main problem is that we do not know the extent of the crisis or what will happen to these individuals in the future. The Minister said Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn did nothing about the issue when she was in office but the problem had then only arisen — it took time to evaluate it and to put in place proper methods for dealing with it.
To take the present position, if a person is suspected of having hepatitis C, she has an initial blood test and, if required, a follow up test to confirm the disease. If the PCR test is positive, it may be necessary to have a liver biopsy. That may not be the end; the first liver biopsy may prove inconclusive and a second or a third may be needed within a number of months. This is not a case where one can make one's mind up quickly — even heppatologists cannot decide overnight — and this is another reason we should not introduce a definitive cut off date. People should be allowed time to make up their minds as they gain more knowledge about their cases.
The Minister has accepted that treatment may not be successful in every case and may only work in a small percentage of cases. It is therefore most important that we see how cases evolve. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn mentioned the high number of sufferers who develop cirrhosis of the liver and that others may develop carcinoma of the liver. We are facing a virulent hepatitis problem, a viraemia which has many implications for the future. People who do not have all the knowledge at present may wish to weigh up their future health status before deciding whether to go to thead hoc tribunal or through the courts system. They are entitled to more time and it should be made available to them.
The Minister should reconsider the matter and look at the evidence. He should give women every possible chance and not rush them into hasty decisions. They may eventually decide to go to the tribunal but they should be given the chance to evaluate all the evidence and the likelihood that they, their husbands and their families, will encounter problems in the future. Not alone will they suffer liver difficulties, they may also face psychological problems, chronic ill-health, rheumatoid arthritis, vision difficulties and chronic fatigue syndrome. From the medical viewpoint, we should not rush them into anything.
The Minister also said he would like to get this matter straightened out as quickly as possible so that he would be in a position to know how much it will cost the Exchequer. However, he has the option of making provision on an annual basis for hepatitis C costs — he does not have to give all the money in one or two years and he does not have to finish all dealings with it while he is in office, as long as there is provision for continual care. He has already provided for and extended primary care and I laud him for that. He has examined the consultative aspect and given women every chance to see their own hepatologist. He has also provided for other modes of treatment should women wish to use them. These are all welcome but the problem is so extensive that, to hark back to my main point, it is no harm to be generous. Not everyone knows in the initial stages how the disease will progress and in many cases not even a hepatologist can give a definitive prognosis as to the likely outcome.
The other problem which may arise is that records of blood transfusions may be incomplete and it may take some time to gather them all. As our spokesperson said, it is therefore worthwile allowing extra time to do so, as a proper defence cannot be mounted unless the records are available. The Minister said that only 25 to 30 people have sought a definitive records search to date but there will be many more as time goes on and they should be afforded more time to look at the matter.
Other Deputies have raised the bullying nature of this approach, if I may put it that way — an applicant must either accept the process or take her chances. People should not be threatened by the legal aspects of the case.