Adjournment Debate. - Paternity Testing Service.

It was reported on RTE this evening that a bus driver who has been attacked with syringes has received several requests from the Blood Transfusion Service Board to donate blood, even though it had advised him not to do so. This latest revelation comes in the wake of the BTSB's apology in recent weeks to two women. In one case, the blood bank sought a donation from a woman infected with hepatitis C and, in the other, informed a donor last week in error that she was infected with hepatitis and no longer required to donate blood.

These revelations raise a major question, that is, if the blood bank cannot be trusted to get donor communications right, how can people have faith in its more complex operations. In its evidence to the tribunal of inquiry, the BTSB made much of its new system for donor screening. However, we saw yet again at first hand tonight that this system is not fail safe.

The Minister needs to act quickly on the recommendations of the tribunal of inquiry on establishing a new blood bank. A new culture needs to be introduced and more staff should be recruited.

The reason for the continuing concern about the BTSB lies at the door of the Minister and the Government. People do not have confidence because there is no reason to have faith in the ability of the Minister and the Government to stem the haemorrhage of confidence in the BTSB. This time the Minister cannot try to pass the buck and get into the despicable political blame game he has tried so often. All these episodes at the BTSB have occurred on the Minister's watch. He is the one who has told us things have changed under the new management at Pelican House. He is the one who is accountable because it was during his tenure, management and supervision that these events happened.

All that has happened at the BTSB has been compounded by the revelation that its former chief medical consultant is involved in a blood testing service and is being assisted by two of its employees. This has angered many victims. Was the Minister aware of this? Did he approve the BTSB's payment in 1995 of a substantial golden handshake — I understand worth £600,000 approximately over 20 years — to Dr. Terry Walsh? Did he insist on any conditions?

The BTSB has to clarify its reasons for co-operating with the service Dr. Walsh is now offering and for allowing its employees to work for it. We will be told, no doubt, that the Minister has yet again hauled in the management of the BTSB which for days has been floundering around in its public comment on the issue. We will be told, no doubt, that the Minister has ordered that the two employees involved must stop assisting Dr. Walsh but why must action always follow media reports or Dáil criticism? The Minister must have been aware of this operation. Why did he not take action without being forced into it?

There is a further serious issue that will not be resolved by stopping some staff from doing some work. The Minister and the BTSB have to specify the terms on which the paternity testing service was transferred from Pelican House some years ago. Was there a tendering process? How could BTSB staff be its directors, for example? Why is it listed in the 1996-7 Irish Medical Directory that the BTSB offers a blood and tissue typing service when it does not but Dr. Walsh does? Why is it that this listing for the BTSB appears in the 1996-7 directory but not in the 1995-6 one? Is the listing connected with Dr. Walsh's departure from the BTSB in 1995?

The Minister has to be aware of this concern about tendering as a controversy was reported in April 1995 involving another BTSB executive who was a director of a medical supplies company which traded with the board. Did the Minister investigate this issue and what were his findings? Did the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, give him information on the matter given that he raised it in the Dáil in 1990?

I reiterate my demand that the Government come clean on its involvement in the despieable legal strategy used in the case of the late Mrs. Brigid McCole. We are told the Tánaiste is set to make a major speech at his party's conference this weekend. Let him use the opportunity to divulge what he knows about this episode and to confirm that he spoke to the Minister in early summer 1996 about the McCole legal action. It is clear from the revelations so far that the Tánaiste acquiesced in the legal strategy employed and the attempts to force the late Mrs. McCole to go to the compensation tribunal rather than admit liability in the courts. If the Government continues to refuse to divulge in full the circumstances in which the legal strategy was devised and to lay before the Oireachtas all the documentation, including the documentation from the Chief State Solicitor's office, the Tánaiste can rest assured that Fianna Fáil in Government will investigate the matter in full.

Limerick East): For the information of the House, I wish to set out the background to this matter. Prior to 1984, I understand a paternity testing service was provided by Professor Masterson, Pathology Department, UCD. The blood samples taken by Professor Masterson were sent to technologists employed by the Blood Transfusion Service Board who were paid a personal fee for the work done. I understand the number of cases each year was limited and no charge was made by the BTSB for the use of its facilities.

Following the retirement in 1984 of Professor Masterson, the Department of Health raised with the BTSB the question of providing this service as part of its overall tissue typing work. In response later in 1984, the Department was informed by a staff member of the BTSB that a group of staff members had formed a limited company, Paternity Testing Services Limited, to provide such a service. The Department was informed that a suitably equipped laboratory outside of Pelican House would be used by the company. It was also the Department's understanding that any work involved for staff members would be done outside of normal working hours.

In December 1991, I understand the board of the BTSB considered the involvement of staff members in the work of this company. While the laboratory facilities of the BTSB were not used by the company, it appears that the then chief medical consultant, who acted as medical consultant to the company, took a small number of blood samples in Pelican House each week. The board decided in December 1991 that samples should not be taken on its premises.

Following the retirement of the chief medical consultant in April 1995, I understand two current staff members at the BTSB have continued their involvement as directors of the company. The BTSB has informed me that, while this is not in breach of its code of conduct for employees or their conditions of employment, both of them have indicated they are resigning as directors of the company and dissociating themselves from it.