Private Members' Business. - Hepatitis C Infection: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann condemns the Minister for Health for his failure to accept political responsibility for the mishandling of the hepatitis C affair by the Blood Transfusion Services Board, and for his failure to ensure the accountability of those whose individual actions gave rise to appalling human suffering and to massive liability on the part of the State.

I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Malley.

I am sure that is quite in order.

From the very beginning there has been a tendency for the public to be blinded by science in this whole matter. The substantive issue of the scandal is easily clouded by the terminology of science and medicine. Deputies on all sides of the House have struggled to keep abreast of the extent of the BTSB scandal in so far as we can, given the limited information to which we have had access. Knowledge is power and in this affair all of the knowledge and all of the information has been in the power of the Executive and its agencies. The Dáil has been left to make what it can from the crumbs which have been extracted by way of Dáil questions and debates.

Cynics will claim that by politicising this issue the Opposition can be charged with party political point scoring. It is the oldest taunt in the Dáil and it simply does not wash. If the infection of up to 1,600 people with hepatitis C by a State agency is not a political matter, and if the Minister for Health can evade accounting for the manner in which he has presided over the hepatitis C affair and the legal claims for compensation, then there is no such thing as accountability. If the Dáil abdicates its responsibility of holding the Government of the day to account in such public matters, then it has failed the people.

There has been cover-up of facts in this whole matter from the beginning. Poisonous fumes of concealment are now leaking into the public arena and the air is growing thicker by the minute. The death of Brigid McCole has ironically and tragically brought these matters to a head in the belated admission of liability by the BTSB. It is clear from corespondence revealed by the family of the late Mrs. McCole today that the Minister and the State, representing the people, have played soft cop in the Dáil but hard cop in the court proceedings, particularly in the proceedings of Mrs. McCole. I understand the terms of the settlement in that case are confined to that case. That is illogical, as the Minister has indicated. Equally illogical is the State's stubborn refusal to accept liability. Liability of the State lies at the heart of the cover-up we have experienced.

The Minister's statements on Thursday were immediately curious to me. It was the first occasion where the State sought to distance itself from the BTSB. I have pondered over the reason the State should adopt this particular stand at this late stage. Could it be there is a reason for the State to be still in denial, even after the BTSB has admitted negligence and liability? Could there be another appalling vista of further or potential liability opening up beyond the victims who are infected in this jurisdiction? Is the State being sued by persons in another jurisdiction for defective blood products supplied by the BTSB, or could this be related to an insurance policy? It seems that the State's fingerprints are all over the settlement agreed with the late Mrs. McCole's solicitors. In particular, I wish to reject any suggestion or implication that the Minister was neither consulted about nor approved the admission of liability in advance.

Even more awful than the negligence of the BTSB, now admitted, is the manner in which the State, the BTSB, the other defendants and the Minister have sought to conceal and to cover up information since these matters came to their attention. In so far as we are told, this was in February 1994. There is the wider issue of the blood bank scandal, the truth of which we have not yet discovered, and there is the second but no less important matter of the extent of the duplicity and concealment of information legitimately sought in this House.

There is no dispute that the infection of a large number of people with hepatitis C as a result of receiving a blood transfusion or a blood product produced by a State body is the most serious disaster ever to affect a large group of patients and the public health service. The matter has been debated and questioned heread nauseam and the emphasis has shifted from one aspect of the scandal to another. Most of the emphasis has been on the provision of services for those affected by this tragedy, and the merits and demertis of providing compensation through a non-statutory tribunal, as opposed to through the courts.

Last week's public admission of liability by the Blood Transfusion Service Board in the McCole case, within 24 hours of the tragic death of the plaintiff, has brought the emphasis firmly back to the question of responsibility for this tragic state of affairs and the handling of the matter since it came formally to the attention of the Government in early 1994. It has always been claimed that these matters came to public attention, and to the attention of the Department, and were announced in 1994 following routine research by Dr. Joan Power. Is this the whole truth? Did something much more significant happen in the Department of Health and in respect of the BTSB at the same time?

Up to now, the Minister has not felt able to comment in any detailed or coherent fashion on the question of responsibility; it has been skirted at every opportunity. He has avoided doing so and equally avoided publishing the documents in the case, including the documents before the expert group which was asked to report on it, on the basis that High Court proceedings were pending and that he was a defendant. Apart from the question of offending thesub judice rule, on 1 May 1996, at Volume 464, column 1792 of the Official Report, the Minister claimed:

The High Court proceedings which are fixed to commence on 8 October next will involve a judicial examination of and determination on this matter. In the circumstances, to establish a special judicial inquiry would serve no useful purpose and would be inappropriate.

Equally, at column 1795 the Minister stated:

I think everybody knows that unless liability is established before the courts damages will not be paid and unless negligence is proved there is no liability. I object strongly to this being run in the media to establish a certain atmosphere rather than allowing the courts to examine every aspect.

When asked specifically about the continued use of the product after 1991, after an English hospital had furnished a full report on 1977 samples to the BTSB, the Minister declined to do so on the basis that "that matter is at the centre of the High Court case of 8 October and any comment I make as a defendant is evidential in nature".

On the larger issues, at column 1801 of the Official Report, the Minister stated:

Questions such as who is to blame, if anyone is to blame, whether there was negligence and if there is liability, form the core of the High Court case.

As appears from those quotations, the High Court case was scheduled to begin today, Tuesday, 8 October. A few days before that, and while the unfortunate plaintiff was on the point of death, the proceedings were settled on the basis of an admission of liability by one of the defendants, the BTSB. It is important to recall that this admission of liability constituted avolté face on the part of the board because it had previously denied liability.

The Blood Transfusion Services Board and the State defendants did far more than simply deny liability. They made use of every lawyerly technicality to avoid acknowledging responsibility and to avoid paying compensation on the basis of that acknowledgment. First, the BTSB and the State, in the defences on 15 April 1996 and 18 June 1995 respectively, pleaded the statute of limitations. This may sound a technical point to make but it is quite horrific. It means that the BTSB and the State said they were going to claim that Mrs. McCole had left it too late to sue and they would, if they could, defeat her claim on that basis. That is an astonishing claim to make in view of the gross delays in notifying Mrs. McCole of what had, unfortunately, transpired. This decision was presumably made on the advice of the Attorney General given to Government.

Second, the State defendants actually pleaded that Mrs. McCole was not entitled to adopt the name Brigid Roe in order to preserve her anonymity during the proceedings.

Because she had done so, they claimed her action was not properly constituted. This challenge was pursued on the direct instructions of the Government. This sort of pleading gives the lie to the Minister's claim that the State behaved in a caring and compassionate fashion. Certainly, these claims were open in law and the Minister may have been advised to this effect, but it is for the Minister and the BTSB, not for the lawyers, to decide what defence they would actually rely on. They adopted, calmly and deliberately, an attitude of nit-picking technicality, of legal hardball. I call on the Minister to explain, if he can, how these pleas came to be in the State's defence and that of the BTSB in the name of the people.

This was not the end of the pettifogging. The State's defence denies that the BTSB manufactured or supplied anti-D, even though it must have known at all times that it did. It denied that anti-D was administered to Mrs. McCole as alleged "or at all". It denied the particulars given of Mrs. McCole's state of health.

The State's defence also denied that the BTSB used plasma from a patient who, to the BTSB's knowledge, had been diagnosed as having infective hepatitis. This, of course, is absolutely inconsistent with the admission of liability. The State also denied that the BTSB was negligent and, astonishingly, denied that the BTSB had taken no steps to notify the plaintiff after the fateful communication from the Middle-sex Hospital in 1991. I call on the Minister for Health to explain to this House how these cynical pleas were placed on the record of the High Court with his authority in the name of the people.

One is surely entitled to assume that the admission of liability in the case taken by Mrs. McCole implies that there will be a similar admission in all of the other cases. It is now essential that the Minister should explain to the House the basis on which liability was accepted by the Blood Transfusion Services Board and should himself address, or appoint some other body to address, the question of where responsibility for the facts giving rise to the board's liability lies.

This is essential for two quite separate reasons. First, where a tragedy of this kind occurs, with literally deadly or life-blighting consequences for a large number of citizens, a full and detailed explanation and attribution of responsibility is owed to those citizens and their families and, indeed, to all who rely on the public health service. It would be outrageous to any sense of justice if a tragedy of this proportion could occur in a vital public service without a full explanation and inquiry into responsibility for it.

Secondly, all those with claims now pending before the tribunal will have to decide whether to pursue their claims and receive compensation on anex gratia basis, or to pursue a claim instead before the courts and receive compensation as a matter of right if liability is conceded or established. As the Minister himself pointed out on radio last Thursday, one distinction between the damages available in court as opposed to from the tribunal is that in certain circumstances exemplary damages may be awarded by the court. However, without a firm explanation as to how the tragedy occurred, it would be difficult for those people or their lawyers to assess the likelihood of an award of exemplary damages or the extent of such award.

The fact that liability has now been accepted where it was publicly denied up to a few days ago, raises questions of its own. What caused this U-turn? Presumably the Blood Transfusion Services Board, and its lawyers, thought deeply before deciding, on the facts as known to them, to deny liability. It would therefore appear that the dramatic decision to accept liability where it had previously been denied was taken on the basis of some new fact or facts of sufficient importance to convince the board and its advisers that a finding of liability against it was certain or very likely.

Those affected, and their families, this House and the community generally is entitled to be told what this fact is. Whatever the merits or demerits of the non-statutory tribunal established by the Government, it is certain that, since its awards were to be made on anex gratia basis, the proceedings there could never have led to an establishment of liability. Central to the tribunal was that there was no liability. It was a cash-dispensing body which deliberately skirted the issue of liability, for good reason.

The acceptance of liability is, therefore, wholly due to the courage and tenacity of those who were not content with mere compensation but who insisted on a finding of liability. In saying this, I do not mean in any way to pass judgment on those who brought their claims before the tribunal. The tribunal suited the State far more than it suited the applicants. It offered a shortcut to tired and ill people, people whose defences were down, who could not play the hardball of a State stubbornly defending everything and denying all in court.

Having regard to the attitude of the State and State agencies in denying liability, in forcing those taking court proceedings to proceed in their own names, and in resisting an early date for hearing even in the most tragic circumstances, the attractions of the tribunal must have seemed overwhelming to many women. I reiterate, however, that this admission of liability is a monument to the remarkable courage in particular of the late Mrs. Bridget McCole.

The Minister has made much of the fact that the amount of the McCole settlement was relatively moderate and compared well in this respect with awards given out by the compensation tribunal. This view begs a number of questions. First, the McCole settlement was arrived at in the face of the imminent death of Mrs. McCole. When that occurred, the claim for damages for pain and suffering, for loss of earnings and other special damages into the future, disappeared. It was arrived at in circumstances of express threats of a sort which it is completely unacceptable to offer to any of the claimants in this matter, much less to one who was dying. The settlement was made in circumstances where a metaphorical gun was being held to the heads of Mrs. McCole and her advisers. In no way can the sum of the settlement be regarded as just or appropriate compensation, or as what would have been sought by a plaintiff whose condition upheld to allow her to pursue a full claim.

I listened very carefully to what the Minister for Health had to say in the House and in the media at the end of last week. It appeared to me, and to many others, that the Minister's statements were directed, in part, to distancing himself and his Department from the Blood Transfusion Services Board which has accepted liability. This is unacceptable and a fiction. While noone can blame the Minister personally for what occurred up to the alleged notification to his Department by the BTSB in early 1994, it is nevertheless clear that there must be political responsibility for the BTSB. If the Minister for Health does not carry that responsibility, there is effectively no public accountability for the board. In fact, it is clear that the board is a creature of the Minister's for which he has political responsibility.

While a blood transfusion board has existed since the 1940s, the present board was created by Statutory Instrument in 1965. It was created under the terms of the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act, 1961. This Act provides in section 3 that the Minister for Health "may from time to time by order establish a body to perform functions in, or in relation to, the provision of a health service or two or more health services". The board, therefore, is constituted by an act of a Minister for Health and its functions and the appointment of persons to it is a prerogative of the Minister. The Minister has power to continue the body or to dissolve it. There can be no doubt that the sums of money payable by the board on foot of the admission of liability will have to be provided, through the Minister's Department, by the taxpayer to whom the Minister is responsible.

These supervisory powers of the Minister over the BTSB give rise to some interesting questions. For example, how often did the Minister require that information be submitted in relation to Mrs. McCole's case and the other hepatitis C cases. Article 21.2 of Statutory Instrument No. 78/65 which established the BTSB requires the board to submit to the Minister such information in relation to its performance as the Minister may require. In his speech on Thursday last the Minister consistently used the phrase, "I understand that" in relation to the BTSB's admission of liability. This is wholly misleading given that he had a statutory right to require that the BTSB kept him informed at all stages of the proceedings in the compensation claim.

When it became known as a result of discovery in Mrs. McCole's case that anti-D had been manufactured from the blood of a donor who had been diagnosed in 1976 as suffering from infective hepatitis, did the Minister ask to be informed as to why this document had not been submitted or had been withheld from the Hederman O'Brien Review Group? Has the board requested permission from the Minister to borrow money to fund the damages payable in Mrs. McCole's case? If so, when was this request made? Did any of the Minister's predecessors in the Department of Health ever request information during the 1970s or 1980s as to the manufacture of anti-D? If so, what information was furnished?

The expert group reports that in 1977 the BTSB used blood from a donor with jaundice to manufacture anti-D because of a "scarcity of suitable antibody for anti-D production". Was this scarcity referred to in the BTSB annual report to the Minister for 1977? Was the fact the BTSB had manufactured anti-D from the blood of a jaundice sufferer referred to in that report, or, indeed, any report of the BTSB?

Furthermore, the practice of the board and of the Minister indicates that both parties accept the Minister's ultimate responsibility. The event which triggered the establishment of the first inquiry into this matter was a letter on 25 February 1994 from the BTSB to the Department of Health, belatedly reporting upon the hepatitis C findings. Subsequently, the Minister took a view, and was entitled to take a view, on the question of the continued employment of certain persons, and that view was acted upon. Did the Minister approve the severance packages for those people? Does he now concede that these golden handshakes approved by him were inappropriate in the light of the addmitted liability? Accordingly, it is impossible for the Minister to say because liability has not been accepted by the State or the Department of Health, that he has no further responsibility in the matter, or no responsibility to explain what has occurred and why.

I do not understand him to go quite that far in explicit terms. As I said he sought to distance himself from the BTSB, until on "Questions & Answers" last night, with public pressure mounting, he realised that this position of distance was untenable. He has come around to the view that there are questions to be answered. Where stands his legal advice now? There is a world of difference between legal advice and political advice as the Minister is finding out.

The Minister previously thought, and informed the House, that the High Court proceedings would involve a judicial examination of the entire matter including the question of whether anti-D products should have been given out by the BTSB after 1991, and the question of, to quote the Minister, "who is to blame, if anyone is to blame, whether there was negligence and if there was liability" will not now be determined by the High Court. It is essential that they should be determined in some forum.

I do not know whether such measures would be appropriate in the circumstances of this case. No one inside or outside the House can come to a reasonable conclusion on this topic until there has been full disclosure which has not taken place on the basis that High Court proceedings were pending, that those proceedings would establish what had occurred and whether there was liability. This will not now take place because of the settlement of the case announced last week in public and formally in the High Court this morning. That settlement and the circumstances surrounding it raises further questions about the Minister's conduct of the case. The settlement was proposed in a letter dated 20 September 1996 from the board's solicitors to the family's lawyers. It was accepted by the family in the appalling circumstance of the imminent death of the unfortunate plaintiff, their mother.

The letter offering the settlement makes a narrow and mean-spirited proposal and accompanies it with threats. Furthermore, the terms of the letter make it clear that in offering this settlement regard was being had to the interests, not only of the BTSB but also of the State defendants.

Let us see exactly what was and was not offered. First, the admission of liability was limited to liability for "compensatory damages for negligence". This excludes the plaintiff, who was in no position to refuse the offer, from the possibility of pursuing a claim for exemplary damages. Also, the admission relates to Mrs. McCole only. The Minister must make it clear this evening whether liability will be contested in the other cases.

The letter goes on to invite the plaintiff to drop her claim against the National Drugs Advisory Board and the State. If she does so, it is said, the BTSB will pay the costs of those parties. That proposition in itself underlines the cynical and unrealistic manoeuvring on behalf of the State. The BTSB is in no position to pay the costs of the other public sector defendants, except from the taxpayers' money. This offer, if availed of, would appear to mean that the Department of Health will make a grant to the BTSB to pay the Department's costs. This manoeuvre is straight from the pages ofAlice in Wonderland and is the height of duplicity. The letter goes on to say: “we respectfully suggest there is no justifiable reason for proceeding against the other defendants and incurring unnecessary costs in seeking to prove negligence on their parts”. Why would the BTSB's solicitors make this point except that they had been constrained to do so by the State defendants? It goes on, in the most express terms, to threaten the plaintiff who was then dying. It says: “if your client proceeds with her claim against the NDAB and the State defendants, our client will seek all additional costs thereby incurred from the date hereof...”. It makes the same threat in relation to the costs of her claim for aggravated and exemplary punitive damages and says that if this claim fails they will seek against Mrs. McCole, who was then dying, “all costs relating to the claim for such damages and for an order setting off any such costs in favour of our client against any costs to which our client might otherwise be entitled...”.

The contents and tone of the letter of 20 September, addressed to the lawyers of a dying woman who was anxious to make provision for her family, are shameful. They were made in the name of the people. They were made in the names of me and you and are shameful. They fall below any standards of decency or humanity. From the terms of the letter, it is plain that the Minister is directly responsible for them. The State's fingerprints are all over this letter. Remember the State is the people. Is this the way the people would expect the State to behave in trying to reach a settlement with a dying woman?

There is no explanation for the BTSB's solicitors seeking a discontinuance of the case against the other State defendants other than a cynical ploy on the part of the Minister and the State to allow him to say, as he said last week, that the BTSB is a separate legal entity and that the responsibility is theirs and not his. Because the family have made this letter public, they have done a public service. Chilling as the terms of the letter are from the BTSB's solicitors, they are absolutely in line with the way in which this case has been fought under the Minister's authority. Every attempt was made to coax and cajole claimants into the compensation tribunal, which had no power to make a finding of liability. Crude threats were used to dissuade them from taking the case to the courts.

In 1995, the State authorities informed the claimants that if, despite the scheme of compensation, any of them was advised to ignore the tribunal and pursue litigation, and accept such advice "any resulting litigation will be fully defended by the State, if necessary to the Supreme Court, and will be conducted strictly in accordance with the rules of practice and procedure which govern litigation in the Superior Courts". This is hard ball lawyerly defence.

To a dying woman.

What this means, stripped of its legalese, is that the State will fight the case as if it were a drink driving prosecution. No procedural device was too low for the State to sink to. Under the authority of the Minister, it lived up to its threat in every particular. In the family's letter to the Minister of today's date, they ask for an explanation, among other things, as to why a threat in relation to costs was made if the late Mrs. McCole pursued a claim for aggravated and exemplary damages. This question cries out for an explanation from the man on whose authority the threat was made, the Minister for Health in the name of the State, the people.

As a preliminary and urgent matter, there must be full disclosure of all documents, including those not seen by the expert group, to this House. There must be full disclosure of whatever fact or discovery which caused the volte-face which led to the acceptance of liability. On 1 May 1996, in the situation as then existed, the Minister felt it would be inappropriate for him to produce certain documents on the basis that they had been handed over in the pursuance of a High Court order for discovery and could be used only for the purposes of legal proceedings. This misses the point. Before the documents could be discovered by the BTSB, they had to be in the possession of that board. It is as documents in the possession of the board, and not as discovery documents, that the Dáil is entitled to them. It is not the case that this information was on the files of the BTSB? Who withheld this information from the Hederman O'Brien inquiry? Did this information not exist on other files in the BTSB?

The Minister specifically stated on a number of occasions before the settlement of the case that the establishment of a judicial inquiry was unnecessary because the High Court case would constitute such inquiry. That reasoning no longer applies. The Government motion indicates that the Minister has changed his tack yet again. The Government has announced a judicial inquiry. What was once out of the question is now Government policy. One of the lessons of the beef tribunal — which is constantly held up as a precedent to all inquiries — specifically held by the judge who conducted it was that the tribunal would not have been necessary if there had been full and appropriate disclosure to the Dáil when certain questions were raised here. Yet again the Dáil has shown itself, over a two to three year period, as being incapable of an inquiring role and holding the Government of the day to account. It is absolutely clear that any inquiry must not confine itself to the events of the 1970s, the 1980s or the early 1990s. These certainly must be included but the conduct of the State authorities and statutory bodies, after the revelations of early 1994 right up to the settlement of the case last week, must also be subject to inquiry. The terminus of the Government's proposed inquiry must not stop at February 1994.

The case has been defended, no doubt with great ability, on a purely technical basis appropriate to a drink driving case in the District Court. In the history of the legal case there is no evidence of compassion, no recognition of the special and appalling condition of these plaintiffs. There is instead a determined effort to get them to accept money without admission of liability and to threaten them if they showed signs of seeking such an admission.

I refer expressly to the statement issued on behalf of Mrs. McCole's family today in which they say:

It would have been easier for our mother to accept the rulings of the tribunal. However, all she really ever wanted was a public acknowledgement that a wrong had been done. As it turned out, that decision resulted in a very difficult year for her. Despite the pain and hardship of travelling to and from Dublin for treatment, she never once faltered in her determination to have the truth told.

We owe it to the memory of the late Mrs. McCole and her family, who fought the State to a standstill, literally in the last hours of her life, to ensure that the truth is told. The Minister's compensation tribunal was not set up to find out the truth and cannot possibly do so. The expert committee, valuable though it is, was not set up to decide contested questions of fact and responsibility and did not do so. Of course, it did not have all the information.

The Minister claimed several times in the House that he believed the High Court proceedings would lead to the truth but hoped for no such thing. If that had not been his hope he would not have pleaded the Statute of Limitations, the incorrect constitution of the proceedings, when Mrs. McCole tried to protect her anonymity or made the plaintiff prove technicalities which were not even at issue. Unless the Minister can explain his position in regard to these matters a question arises about his suitability to continue as Minister for Health. I wonder, for instance, if any of his colleagues from the Fine Gael back-benches or from the Labour Party or Democratic Left will stand up in the House and support the Minister's reliance on technicalities in his defence against Mrs. McCole's pleadings.

It is essential that the Minister should now commit himself to the following: (1) admitting liability in each and every one of the cases pending before the High Court with facts similar to the facts in the Brigid McCole case; (2) ensuring that no purely technical consideration, such as the Statute of Limitations or the constitution of proceedings will be allowed to impede or reduce any person's claim for compensation and (3) a full inquiry into every aspect of these tragic events and responsibility for them covering the period from initial infection whenever that may be in the mid-1970s right up to today. This inquiry must be formal with all necessary powers to establish and attribute responsibility where appropriate. Once the principle is conceded, Members should be given an opportunity to discuss the precise form of the inquiry with a view to ensuring its efficacy and controlling the costs which arise from it.

A further question which arises in the ocean of questions, relates to a body of research which was funded by the Minister into the 1,100 women infected by anti-D. Something in the region of £3 million was allocated to the six hospitals treating the women infected. I understand this research has been completed for almost a year but has not yet been published because of a separate legal wrangle about credit for the research. This is vital information, paid for by the taxpayer and it should be published immediately. I understand from a report in yesterday'sIrish Medical News that this research shows that anti-D contamination occured not only in 1997 but also in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Of the 500 liver biopsies carried out in the research, 20 patients had cirrhosis of the liver. Tragically most had the early stages of fibrosis, the precursor to cirrhosis. Some seriously ill women are tragically not responding to treatment and are therefore in the throes of a terminal illness. The scale of this disaster is only now being grasped by an appalled public.

In his statement on Thursday the Minister said: "I have been legally advised that the Department of Health/the State does not have a liability because it acted properly and that is the advice I am following". Was that advice given before or after the review undertaken by the BTSB which, according to the Minister, caused it to admit liability? Is the Minister stubbornly denying liability on the part of the State on legal advice? Will he publish that legal advice? There is no reason he should not, as the legal professional opinion which normally protects legal advice can be waived by the client, i.e. the Minister.

If the Minister really wants the truth to come out he cannot have it both ways. Last night on "Questions and Answers" the Minister was at pains to stress his obligation to protect the integrity of the blood supply and public confidence in it. He cited this as one excuse for being constrained in what he could say in answer to Dáil questions and for the manner in which he has dealt with the hepatitis C affair. It appears to be a legitimate objective from the point of view of any Minister for Health, but it is only legitimate if public confidence in our blood supply is deserved.

The Minister's argument is similar to the accusations of national sabotage leveled at the Deputies who raised questions about malpractice in the beef industry. If the credibility of the blood supply has been severely undermined by the events leading up to the hepatisis C scandal then the proper course in a democracy is to come clean immediately and not to seek to limit the damage by concealment and by stubborn denial of State liability.

This very important matter has been dealt with by the Minister for Health and the Department of Health in a deplorable fashion and I wish I had more time to deal with it.

Within the past hour I listened to the Minister for Health speaking live on an RTE programme. I wrote down some of his points but can only deal with one of them now. He made the incredibly arrogant statement: "I was prepared to allow a case to go to the High Court on 8 October". The arrogance of him to say that he was prepared to allow a case to go to the High Court. The plaintiff has no rights and the courts have no say; he decides what goes to the court and when it goes, and this when 1,600 people are reduced to their present state by a disease which was inflicted on them by the State. It is no accident that this happened to these people; rather it was inflicted on them by the State and by an agency which is the wholly-owned subsidiary of the Department of Health and for which the Minister for Health of the day has to take responsibility whether it suits him.

In the past 18 months I have tried to help a lady whom I will not name but who can conveniently and accurately be described as the second plaintiff — she is the plaintiff whose case follows next after that of the late Mrs. McCole, the Lord have mercy on her. I know something of the agony this woman has gone through having talked to her many times in the past 18 months. I wrote many letters to the Minister for Health. He did not reply to several of them and when he did reply it was often many months later. In my letter of 15 November last year I wrote:

Mrs. X was dissatisfied with the treatment she was getting in Ireland and she is now attending the Royal Free Hospital in London where she is being treated by a specialist in hepatitis. She is incurring considerable expense but feels she has to do this to try to prolong her life as she has eight children, some of whom are very young. They are now aged between 4 and 20.

She feels that in the circumstances the State here should pay the costs she is incurring. She is not going to London by choice but out of necessity for treatment for a disease which was inflicted on her by the State here. Because of the state of her health she is in an understandably distraught state and the refusal to pay her expenses adds to her agitated condition and does nothing to promote her recovery. She is apparently being put on the drug Interferon in London. A three month supply there costs £700 whereas it costs between £2,500 and £3,000 in Ireland. She feels that she is therefore saving the State substantial sums by being treated in London.

As her illness is entirely the fault of the Blood Transfusion Service Board which is State owned it seems to me to be only reasonable that the State should pay her expenses as well as compensating her for the illness which they have inflicted on her.

I would be glad to hear from you in the matter as soon as possible.

Three months later to the day I got a reply from the Minister for Health who said: "There are six hospitals in Ireland where Mrs. X can go if she wants, she has a medical card and she will get certain medicines here free". He went on to say that if she wanted to do anything else that was her own affair. That was the concern shown after three months, for that lady.

This lady wants one thing above all else, that is a guarantee of a clean blood supply for her children, their children and all our children in the future. This woman is being treated in London and the medical description of her, unhappily, is that she is a non-responder. I do not need to spell out what that means. Her statement to claim was filed seven or eight months ago and the Minister and the other defendants have not filed a defence. She has a motion for judgment in default of defence before the High Court next week. She should not have had to bring this motion.

No offer of compensation has been made to this lady. Will she be treated like Mrs. McCole? Will the Minister also wait until the last possible minute in this case? Why has no offer been made to her? She does not want any lodgment made with the defence. She simply wants a reasonable offer which she can accept. Only last week this woman's eight year old child who had been playing on the street said to her: "mammy, I was told you are a drug abuser". The mother said: "I am not a drug abuser" but her child then said: "I was told by one of my friends that you have a disease which was caused by drugs". The reason the other child on the street was able to identify that woman is that in spite of an application for anonymity made by this woman it was opposed by the State and the National Drugs Advisory Board. A wholly owned quango of the Minister, went out of its way to give her name and address to the press so that she could be identified.

That is a scandalous situation. Some years ago we had a tribunal about which I probably know more than most Members. I know how unnecessarily long and expensive it was but that does not have to be the case. Like the Scott Inquiry in England, a tribunal could be operated successfully, expeditiously and without the need for excessive expenditure and a vast number of lawyers cross-examining witnesses on everyone else's behalf. The work of that or any other tribunal to discover what happened could be greatly assisted by the automatic production of documents by the Department concerned and its quangos. During the beef tribunal, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry for hundreds of days sought to conceal the facts by withholding documents from parties, witnesses and the tribunal. I hope that when this tribunal is established, the Department of Health will not act in the duplicitous and dishonest way in which the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry acted in that case.

Limerick East): I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann commends the Minister for Health for the comprehensive series of measures which he has taken in discharging his responsibilities in dealing with the consequences of the hepatitis C infection and in particular confirms its approval to: (1) the Scheme of Compensation published by the Minister for Health on 1 December 1995 which will continue indefinitely as an alternative to court proceedings for persons who have contracted hepatitis C from human immunoglobulin anti-D, blood transfusion or other products; (ii) the proposals set out in the health care document published by the Minister for Health on 1 December 1995 in relation to the long-term health care needs of persons diagnosed positive for hepatitis C which provides statutory guarantees in respect of the future provision of health care services; and (iii) welcomes the announcement by the Minister for Health of the decision of the Government to move a motion in both Houses of the Oireachtas establishing a tribunal of inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, as amended, into the hepatitis C infection of blood and blood products manufactured and distributed by the BTSB".

I reject totally the allegations and condemnations which are contained in the Progressive Democrats' motion put down before the House and the allegations made by Deputies O'Donnell and O'Malley. Since I became Minister for Health in December 1994, I have fully accepted my responsibilities as Minister for Health in dealing with the consequences of a human tragedy which had its genesis in events which occurred 20 years ago. The late Brigid Ellen McCole was infected with hepatitis C as a result of anti-D product which was administered to her from a donor whose plasma was infected in 1976. That occurred 20 years ago and did not take place during my term of office. The anti-D product remained suspect until my predecessor, Deputy Howlin, removed it from the market in 1994. That did not happen during my term either. I am dealing with the consequences of events which occurred before I took office. I stand over my record and I believe I have dealt with them effectively. I have devoted more time to this issue than any other matter arising in my Department. It is the most important issue I have faced. I cannot turn back the clock however. I can only alleviate, as far as is humanly possible, the consequences of this tragedy.

I am being charged with lack of accountability on this issue. I do not believe any Minister has appeared more frequently before this House and answered questions more fully on any particular issue than I have in connection with this matter. I challenge the Progressive Democrats to repeat their charges. They are untrue. The record is established in that regard. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn was present on almost every occasion that this subject was debated and she is aware that I answered any question put to me. Like any Minister, I can only answer questions related to my area of responsibility. I cannot answer questions about matters which are before the High Court because I could enter into conflict with that body as a result. However, I am prepared to answer any questions within my area of responsibility which I am free to answer. I will answer such questions in the same way I have in the past.

I am disappointed that the Progressive Democrats have politicised this issue. I am disappointed that they are attempting to make this a party political issue, particularly in circumstances where the events had concluded long before I took office. I am charged with lack of accountability. One of the main ways to be accountable in this House is to answer questions. I have frequently answered Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn's questions but it is very difficult to provide answers to those who do not table questions. In my view, the Progressive Democrats have identified a party political advantage to be gained. Mrs. Brigid Ellen McCole has died and the Progressive Democrats are trying to gain political advantage out of that tragedy.

If it were not for us there would be no judicial inquiry.

When did the Minister decide to establish a judicial inquiry?

Limerick East): If Members consider the record, they will discover that on 6 June 1996 Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn tabled a priority question on this issue. She also tabled priority questions about the issue on 13 March 1996, 8 February 1996, 24 October 1995 and 29 June 1995. One must consult the Official Report for 19 May 1995 to discover a priority question tabled by the Progressive Democrats' spokesperson——

The Minister is aware that is because priority questions are not answered in those circumstances.

(Limerick East): One must return to May of last year before discovering a priority question in the name of Deputy O'Donnell.

What about other questions?

(Limerick East): If we are discussing accountability, I have a responsibility to provide answers to the House. However, the Deputies calling on me to be accountable have a responsibility to table questions. While many parliamentary questions were put down, the Progressive Democrats, unlike Fianna Fáil, did not make this a priority issue until they saw a political advantage in doing so. They are hypocrites and they should be ashamed of themselves.

The Minister is on the run.

(Limerick East): Shortly after coming into——

On a point of order, I remind the Minister that when I raised the new evidence that came to light in this case on the Order of Business he informed me that I was codding women, that nothing new had arisen and that I should go back and read the report again. He sought to rubbish me.

Shame on him.

We are allowed to table one priority question on each occasion that such questions are taken. I reject the Minister's allegation that we are hypocrites. I reject that out of hand.

That is not a point of order. The Minister will continue without further interruption.

(Limerick East): I checked Deputy Harney's record on this issue and I failed to find a significant contribution apart from soundbites on the Order of business. The Deputy can conduct her business as she sees fit——

When did the Minister find out?

(Limerick East): I believe she is again to run the old Progressive Democrats self-righteous agenda whereby everyone else in the House are rogues and robbers and there is only one set of honest people. I object to that.

I thought that was the Labour Party.

(Limerick East): I will explain what I have done since I took office.

Attack is the best form of defence.

(Limerick East): Shortly after coming to office I was presented with the report of the expert group who, at the request of my predecessor, had undertaken an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the infection of anti-D product and other matters relating to the BTSB. The group was chaired by Dr. Miriam Hederman-O'Brien and within its terms of reference it prepared a wide-ranging and thorough report. The expert group did not have the power to compel witnesses or procure documents. As I said on many occasions in regard to the report, its conclusions and recommendations speak for themselves. I advise Members to reread the report, copies of which were circulated. I know from many of the questions asked in previous debates and again tonight by Deputy O'Donnell, that there is a basic unfamiliarity with the information contained in the report. As many of those questions are answered in the report, Members should read it as a base document before making tendentious statements in the House. Articles reported in the media in the past fortnight were——

The Minister's arrogance is really something.

(Limerick East): Deputy O'Malley also said I was arrogant when he quoted out of context what I said——

The Minister is showing it now.

(Limerick East):——on the news at 6 p.m.

Deputy McDowell is the high priest of arrogance.

(Limerick East): For the past two weeks in particular, a number of articles have appeared in the media as if they were new revelations when the information was available since January 1995. It is contained in Dr. Miriam Hederman-O'Brien's report. Members claim they are not getting answers to questions when they are either in that report or I have already replied to them in the House. At all times I have been accountable to this House and will continue to do so within my area of responsibility.

We know from its terms of reference that the expert group was not in a position to deal with legal liability. It could not encroach on the domain of the courts. Therefore, the issue of legal liability was not fully determined when the report was published. The expert group did a good job within its terms of reference.

I became aware then that claims in the statement of claim put forward in respect of the Brigid McCole case, allegations made in the House and comments in the media called into question the conclusions of the Miriam Hederman-O'Brien report. I defended it on its merits because it did not have the power of the judicial tribunal. I said the contentious matters, which many people are stating as facts but which are allegations, would be determined in the High Court. It is not a question of me allowing a matter to go to the High Court. I said I was not disposed to setting up a judicial inquiry when Miriam Hederman-O'Brien had carried the matter a certain distance and that the contentious items in the case of Brigid Ellen McCole could be the subject of a judicial determination.

What has changed?

(Limerick East): Unfortunately, because Mrs. McCole died, a High Court case will not commence this week and because the BTSB admitted liability I do not know if there will be a future High Court case.

Because of the Minister's connivance. He knew it would admit liability, it got his permission to do so.

(Limerick East): That is not true. I cannot pick up on every inaccurate statement made by Deputy O'Donnell——

Is the Minister saying it was a surprise to him?

(Limerick East):——in a very long speech consisting of a series of questions, charges, political allegations and the general type of mishmash we expect from her party.

Why was the McCole case put back?

Was the Minister surprised that the BTSB claimed liability?

When did he find out?

(Limerick East): I answered——

The public has a right to know.

(Limerick East):——those questions here on Thursday. If the Deputy repeats them I will answer them again.

Let us hear the Minister, without interruption please.

(Limerick East): I am entitled to put my remarks on the record. It is appropriate to mention that 3,000 blood donations are required each week to meet the needs of our hospital services. Blood and blood products are essential to the provision of the health services and are a vital element of most operations. It is incumbent on me as Minister for Health to ensure that there is an adequate supply of blood available for our health services. It was obvious that the publication of the expert group's report on the BTSB might seriously damage the confidence of donors which would have had a devastating impact on our health services and the public in general. To maintain public confidence in the BTSB on the day the group published its report, I announced the assignment of Professor Shaun McCann, Professor of Haematology and Mr. Liam Dunbar, the then chief executive officer of St. James's Hospital, to the Blood Transfusion Services Board to enable it to implement the necessary improvements recommended by the expert group.

Those were the circumstances surrounding that change of power and that is why I had to move quickly and could not risk the matter being held up in the courts for an indefinite period. I was asked about the circumstances surrounding the retirement of the chief medical officer and the chief executive officer on the night in question. The chief medical officer had a consultant's contract. It was I who also had to make the final decision on the only other person with a consultant's contract to be removed from his position. That decision was made following a lengthy inquiry into events at Beaumont Hospital. I was not prepared to allow the Blood Tranfusion Services Board to be bogged down in the courts. I had to move quickly to maintain confidence in the board and I was glad the person concerned retired on the night in question. It allowed me to assign people in whom I could have full confidence and thus maintain confidence in the board.

The Minister could have suspended him.

A golden handshake.

(Limerick East): That is all very fine, but if confidence in the board were eroded——

Does it deserve our confidence?

(Limerick East):——I would have to answer questions here if there were not enough donors to maintain an adequate supply of blood for our hospitals. We would then have another crisis on our hands and I would be pilloried again. I will stand over the decisions I make and continue to be accountable to the House. I will not give ground to the tendentious political charges that are being made by Members of the Progressive Democrats.

How much was paid to get rid of him?

(Limerick East): The Deputy can table a question on that matter.

A question is tabled for tomorrow and I hope we will get a reply.

(Limerick East): The BTSB and its new management have worked well and will continue to do so to ensure there is not a repeat of this type of tragedy. On 5 April 1995, I announced the Government's decision to establish a compensation tribunal to fulfil the commitment in our Programme for Government to pay fair compensation for women infected by hepatitis C. The scheme of the compensation tribunal is well known. The Government's main reason for establishing the tribunal was to provide an alternative to the courts system for persons infected with hepatitis C to alleviate some of the anxieties for persons who might have recourse only to the courts. No person is compelled to apply to the tribunal. It is a matter for each person to decide whether to process his or her claim through the courts or the tribunal. The making of a claim to the tribunal does not involve a waiver of any right of action. It is only if the claimant accepts the award made by the tribunal that he or she is required to waive a right of action which he or she may otherwise have had. If a claimant receives an award from the compensation tribunal he or she has a period of one month to accept or reject it. If an award is rejected — to date no award has been rejected — a claimant may initiate or continue proceedings through the courts.

The scheme of compensation approved by the Government has worked extremely well. It has numerous advantages which I have outlined on several occasions. Any fair-minded legal person or citizen will realise that the compensation tribunal I have put in place is the most advanced and successful and provides the best access to compensation ever provided for any group of victims in this country and the best access to adjudication on the amount of compensation since the State was founded.

This is incomplete information.

(Limerick East): The only one in any way comparable was the Stardust tribunal which I, as Minister for Justice, set up with the then Attorney Genreral, Mr. John Rogers. I will defend that record and I object to the attempts made for political advantage to undermine the tribunal when it is the most effective scheme of compensation ever put in place for victims and does not take away anybody's right to proceed through the courts. If somebody is dissatisfied with an award from the tribunal they may turn it down and go to court.

Why did the Minister put a closure date on it?

(Limerick East): It is clear the Members opposite are not interested in information. They are only interested in political hassle.

Why did the the Minister put a closure date on it?

(Limerick East): We explained that previously. The Deputy should check the record.

To date the tribunal has received 1,631 applications, of which 1,483 are primary claimants, 83 are dependants and 65 are carers. Since it commenced hearings in January 1996 it has made 139 awards — 110 lump sums awards and 29 provisional awards — and one claim has been disallowed. No award of the tribunal has been rejected.

Obviously not.

(Limerick East): Obviously not. However, there are people who still——

Stop talking rot.

(Limerick East):——say that all I was doing in setting up the tribunal was trying to blackguard the victims and cut down on costs. This is not true. No award has been rejected.

They thought they had facts.

(Limerick East): I was also challenged here by the legal eagles who frequent these benches occasionally that the tribunal would not be subject to judicial review. It is now subject to judicial review on one particular case. Point proven. I would like all the legal eagles who said the tribunal was flawed because it would not be subject to judicial review to acknowledge that they were wrong.

Double the costs now.

(Limerick East): We have clever debaters in the House but they are slow to acknowledge when the facts turn out other than they predicted.

The Positive Action women did not want the tribunal.

(Limerick East): One award is subject to judicial review. A further 100 hearings are scheduled up to 15 January and a further 40 claims await a hearing beyond that date. No applicant is compelled to have his or her case heard without agreement to a date fixed by the tribunal. I will not yield to the calls on the Order of Business today to suspend the compensation tribunal. It is an effective scheme and it will continue for those who wish to go to it.

The highest award was about £332,000 and the average was £110,000. The legal costs are working out at slightly less than £11,000 per case or slightly less than 10 per cent of the average award. In terms of the compensation I have always wanted the money to go to the victims and for medical aid. Good lawyers deserve a decent fee and I want them to be paid properly. However, through the tribunal there is a significant saving to be made in legal fees. I do not apologise for making the point that we save legal fees at the tribunal and I hope we will continue to do so.

I have already mentioned that the issue of legal liability has not been fully determined. However, the admission of liability on 20 September by the BTSB clearly indicates that it has been negligent. A judicial determination of that is a matter for a court of law.

When did it tell the Minister it was going to make that admission?

(Limerick East): I have answered that. The Deputy would know that had be been here but he was probably in court when I was answering the questions.

When was it? He did not tell us.

He did not tell us.

(Limerick East): I told the House what happened.

I wish to announce again the Government's decision to establish a tribunal of inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, into the hepatitis C infection of blood and blood products manufactured and distributed by the BTSB. It is my intention to bring forward a motion to both Houses of the Oireachtas next week outlining the terms of reference of the tribunal.

I have some experience of tribunals. I was a witness at the beef tribunal because I was the Minister for Industry and Commerce who first cancelled export credit to Iraq. I did not make allegations at the tribunal. The beef tribunal went on for far too long and it lacked focus because the terms of reference were ill-defined. It became the best show in town and what was dealt with there was what is proper for this House — the question of political accountability. I have no intention of letting this tribunal take the same course.

I will reflect and take advice from anybody in the House on how we will get focus in the terms of reference of the tribunal to ensure it does what we want it to do. The issue of political accountability which interests many Members is, as the Taoiseach said on the Order of Business, a matter for this House. Deputies may ask me any questions they wish and I will do my best to answer them. They may not agree with my answers but that is not what accountability is about. Accountability is about my telling the House what I did and the Deputies and the electorate can make up their own minds.

Will the Minister appear before a committee of the House?

(Limerick East): The Deputy can table the question to me.

Will the Minister come before a committee?

(Limerick East): I have never refused an invitation to appear before a committee.

(Limerick East): The Deputy is more often in the courts than in this House and he is skilled at putting trap questions for civilians such as me.

Will the Minister come before a committee?

(Limerick East): I would answer the question if it came from anybody else in the House but when I hear Deputy Michael McDowell asking it a bell rings in my head to warn me that he has dug a pit for me and covered it with branches. Being a highly paid legal eagle he knows more about these things than I. If he puts down a question I will answer it.

Has the Minister no legal advice?

Will the Minister come before a committee? Yes or no?

(Limerick East): I refuse to suspend the tribunal. Matters may arise from the conclusions of the judicial tribunal which would cause me to amend the terms of reference of the tribunal. As the tribunal is an informal compensation tribunal I can amend its terms at any time and notify the Government. I will always amend if that is in the interests of the victims claiming compensation.

Many issues arise from the infection of approximately 1,400 persons with hepatitis C from blood products. Many people think we are simply talking about the anti-D product alone. Some of the original cohort of women infected with anti-D product became donors and the infection was carried through into the blood supply of the transfusion service. My predecessor put a national screening programme in place and about 60,000 women were screened. I was involved with the targeted "look-back" programme to trace those who got blood transfusions. It was not an easy task but many of them have now been identified.

A national optional testing programme was put in place also because the screening programme was not sufficient to identify everybody.

I remind the House of theex gratia expenses scheme I put in place initially for victims, also the comprehensive health package I put in place on a statutory and non-statutory basis which has the full acceptance of the four representative groups. In particular, I remind it of the Health (Amendment) Act the commencement order for which was signed on 23 September 1996. I remind the House of the secondary care services in place and the provision of specialist liver consultants, hepatologists, counsellors and so on and the annual budget for that.

A question worthy of answer is that asked by Deputy O'Donnell about the data bank in Cork. A research article is ready for publication in one of the medical journals and it will contain the result of that research. Because of this tragedy we probably have the best information available anywhere in the world on hepatitis C. The six main consultants who treated women have fed in information into a data bank in Cork. That information is very valuable to those in the medical field, but, particularly, to women. When that data is produced, it will show that the disease progresses at different rates and there is not any inevitability.

I understand consultants advised many of the victims that the circumstances which applied to Brigid McCole would not apply to a very great number of them.

Not necessarily.

(Limerick East): It is important to give assurances. Positive Action, Transfusion Positive, the Irish Haemophilia Society and the Irish Kidney Association have been funded by me and I have not quibbled at any time about providing them with the funds they need to run their organisations. That they criticise me is not an issue. They are support groups. They are entitled to funding and they will continue to be funded.

That is very patronising.

(Limerick East): We have put a mechanism in place for funding through the Eastern Health Board. There is also the issue of legal fees and some medical advice costs which have gone to the taxing master in respect of Positive Action. We will fulfil our commitment in that regard also. I stand over my record on this issue.

I wish to share time with Deputy Coughlan.

I am sure that is satisfactory.

I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"(1) condemns the Minister for Health for his failure to accept political responsibility for the mishandling of the hapatitis C affair by the Blood Transfusion Services Board and for his failure to ensure the accountability of those whose individual actions gave rise to appalling human suffering.

(2) calls on the Government to immediately set up a judicial inquiry to investigate all the events surrounding the hepatitis C scandal so that the truth of this affair can be fully and finally established; and

(3) while the judicial inquiry is proceeding, thead hoc hepatitis C compensation scheme be stood down and be re-established at the conclusion of the judicial inquiry as a statutory compensation tribunal.”.

It could sometimes be considered unreasonable that a Minister must accept political responsibility for actions of various agents of the State, particularly, as the Minister said, for those that occurred a long time ago. I will not dwell on the tortuous history of what happened but will devote my remarks to the period from 1994 onwards.

The former Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin, set the terms of reference for the report produced. The ink was hardly dry on it when those terms of reference were found to have been ineffective. The tribunal did not have the correct information or appropriate terms of reference and its report turned out to be unhelpful. The Minister, a capable politician should know when to stop digging. We are not legal experts but as a matter of common sense we asked him about the setting up of the tribunal, the cut-off date, the likelihood of what has transpired in the High Court arising and what might occur. I presume the Minister has been able to seek advice from the various agencies, lawyers and battery of experts referred to by Deputy O'Donnell acting on behalf of the people and the State as to what the process involves. He told us he was restricted in answering questions here because of legal considerations. Did he have all the information and, if he did, would he have taken the actions he took? One must come to the conclusion that he would not. In light of the information available, and the lack of information provided through the Dr. Miriam Hederman O'Brien report, the Minister would have decided that something had to be done. Now the Minister has been forced to deal with this matter. He appeared on the news this evening, and on "Question and Answers" last night and irrespective of whether he uses the words "grossly, unfairly, inaccurately" or whatever he led us to believe he was not in charge of dealing with the problem or providing a solution. Now he is faced with the possibility that everything dealt with before the tribunal will be the subject of a judicial inquiry which may overturn what the Minister has done. What will the judicial inquiry produce that is not already known? Because of a discovery in the High Court documentation and information will come from where it should have come on day one. The Minister will set up a judicial tribunal, oversee the tribunal already established and the High Court cases. That does not make sense.

On the financial aspects of this matter, last year we asked why £60 million provided was needed in 1995 and a big debate about that followed. The funds were provided and I do not intend to rehearse the tragic circumstances of the recent happening in the High Court. I am sure my colleagues who represent the area from which the unfortunate and now deceased lady came, can articulate that. Focusing on the logical management of this matter by the Minister, and his predecessor Deputy Howlin, one must come to the conclusion that it was incompetent. The matter was not handled properly and now the Minister is being forced to do what he should have done from the first day.

I appreciate legal advice. It must be said that if legal people are paid enough they will defend anyone. They are expert at their job but experience in this House prior to and since the beef tribunal indicates that the input of legal people should be minimised and there should be as much practical political decision-making in the process as possible. We have ended up using three systems, the worst of all worlds. It is wrong for the Minister to think the legal cost of the tribunal will be the end of the story when we also have the cost of setting up the judicial tribunal with possible knock-on effects. It may be a very expensive exercise by the time it is complete.

The former Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin, handled this matter incompetently from day one and that incompetence was compounded by the Minister. On commercial, bureaucratic or legal advice the Minister has attempted to handle the affair. He did not listen when we asked him to allow the High Court to clarify the issue.

We now have this late discovery of information forced from the State board. Somebody in the Department under the former Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin, should have written a comprehensive list of questions, called in the board and asked that everything be provided to the Minister so that he could answer questions factually and comprehensively in the House. The records, information and documentation have been in the Blood Transfusion Services Board since the 1970s. Paying someone to get rid of an incompetent consultant in a particular situation, instead of bringing in an emergency law within an hour and addressing the matter, should not be boasted about. A competent person should be appointed to get the information and run the Department and its subsidiary body, particularly in the health service. The arguments put forward by the Minister do not stand up. On "Six One News", the Minister agreed to something he should have agreed to initially. He knew the Miriam Hederman-O'Brien report was inadequate and he should have dealt with it on that basis.

The Minister should not think he can run the tribunal. He should get the other body established as quickly as possible, obtain the report and submit it to the House so he can put the full facts before it. This tragic human misery should be addressed and compensated for.

As one of the TDs for Donegal South-West, I express my sympathy and that of all of my constituents to the family of Mrs. Brigid McCole on her sad death.

If the Minister was from Donegal South-West he would be sickened at what has been going on in this House this evening and what the Taoiseach said this afternoon. This is not about beef. Nobody cares about the beef tribunal. This is a tragedy about women, fathers, mothers and children. It cannot be dealt with by political blows or bullying — I do not agree with what was said about arrogance. It is sad that a person who suffered for almost ten years had to give in at the end. People obviously knew they were to blame for something yet they tried to prevent the truth from emerging. Oceans of "whys" still remain. We all want answers and agree the women deserve their compensation but we still do not have the full facts.

The Minister introduced the tribunal, which we wanted. It was based on the facts that we and he thought were available at the time. We now have additional information. From a layman's point of view how can the BTSB now claim responsibility, when they could not do it a number of months or years ago? Nothing has changed, which is an awful tragedy. Women were bullied into going into the tribunal, which had a cut-off date. It was a case of "like it or lump it". Yet there were many who had the tenacity and forthrightness to pursue what they felt was an injustice. Many questions were asked by all parties. People would not give up on this issue. It would have been easy to shove it into a tribunal where nobody would know what was happening or who was responsible. If people did not pursue the matter, perhaps we would not have ongoing debate and the lack of real information and fact.

Today the family of Brigid McCole asked the Minister for five answers. I assume he will give those five answers clearly and distinctly. Following the scandal and publicity regarding this awful tragedy, why were eight doses still administered between February and September 1994? The product was known to be contaminated. The Minister is aware of the five questions. They should be answered and I hope he will give a guarantee to the family that they will obtain the full information on this occasion.

If I was sick, which luckily I am not, I would find it galling if all the full facts were not made available and there was no admission of liability. I do not think the people are stupid. How can a State agency, under the control of the Minister's Department not be responsible for this matter? How can that connection not be there? It is also particularly galling for many people when they see the money that has been made available. People deserve the money and it is probably not enough for the suffering people have endured — the personal tragedies, the family tragedies and the huge expenses. One of our colleagues mentioned additional expenses in travelling to London. That will never be compensated for, but at least the compensation would be acceptable in the full knowledge that people knew what happened, why it happened and who will take responsibility for it.

The Minister came to the House today and took the situation personally, as if it was his responsibility. It was stated that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were in Government at the time. I do not remember anyone saying that Deputy Noonan, the Minister for Health, was personally responsible for this matter, but he is personally responsible as the Minister for Health, on behalf of the people. We are not yet satisfied with regard to this matter.

We welcome the Minister's change of mind in introducing the statutory tribunal. I am sure we will learn from the mistakes made over the last number of years regarding costs and full disclosure. We do not want another merry-go-round. We want a situation whereby the inquiry takes place as quickly as possible, The terms of reference are appropriate, and we get to the bottom of this matter. The Minister's speech in the House today was almost a reproduction of many of the speeches he has made here. We welcome many of the matters he has introduced and many of the compensations he has made available. We do not have to make him a martyr because he gave money to Positive Action to do their work. He can do it and let it be. He says he has given this money to Positive Action and is a hero.

(Limerick East): We are accountable.

The Minister is accountable but we do not have the full facts. He has bullied the people into doing what he wanted. Perhaps he was afraid of what was going to come out of this situation.

(Limerick East): If I did not tell the Opposition about the money, they would say I was concealing it.

I never said the Minister was concealing anything. Obviously, somebody did not tell Dr. Hederman-O'Brien the truth. The Minister is now basing his tribunal on the facts regarding the inquiry, which is now flawed. I cannot understand how we can progress with the tribunal because we now have new information and people are concerned.

The Minister said we had to ensure public confidence in relation to blood donations in particular. We were all in a farcical situation where we always believed there was nothing as good as the BTSB in this country. We spoke about Americans getting paid for their blood and asked how they could run a system like that. We were blind. We want to have complete confidence in blood donations and the Blood Transfusion Service Board but this will not happen after each case we find other facts. We must have the full facts. I hope on this occasion there will be no bullying and that the unfortunate McCole family will obtain the truth.

Debate adjourned.