Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 May 1997

Vol. 479 No. 2

Private Members' Business. - Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Limerick East): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of a tribunal on a statutory basis to be known as the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal to award compensation to certain persons who have contracted hepatitis C within the State from anti-D immunoglobulin, other blood products or a blood transfusion and to provide for connected matters. A non-statutory compensation scheme for persons who have contracted hepatitis C from the use of anti-D or other blood products within the State has been in place since December 1995. It is acknowledged by the representative groups, Positive Action, Transfusion Positive, the Irish Haemophilia Society and the Irish Kidney Association that this scheme has been effective in its objective of dealing sensitively and efficiently with the claimants who have gone before it.

The non-statutory tribunal was established to fulfil the Government's commitment to fair compensation for women infected with the hepatitis C virus as contained in the policy document, A Government of Renewal. I published the scheme of compensation in June 1995 and on 5 September of that year the Government decided to extend access to the non-statutory tribunal to blood transfusion recipients. The non-statutory tribunal has provided an alternative to the courts system for persons infected with hepatitis C and alleviated many of the anxieties which might arise if claimants only had recourse to the courts which are adversarial by their nature.

As with the non-statutory tribunal, the Bill provides that the making of a claim to the tribunal does not involve a waiver of a 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. Should a claimant not be satisfied with the tribunal award made to him or her the claimant can initiate or continue court proceedings.

The Government resolved that the operation of the non-statutory tribunal would not be disrupted or delayed while the legislation was being prepared to place it on a statutory basis. As I stated previously in the House, I am determined that any advantages conferred by the enactment of the Bill will also apply to those claimants who have already had their cases processed by the non-statutory tribunal or those who in the interim will process their claims. I have made provision for this in the Bill.

Deputies will be aware that following the publication of the report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board the Government embarked upon a full reappraisal of the non-statutory tribunal. The reappraisal was required principally because the state of knowledge was significantly altered by the publication of the report. For this reason the Government has decided to place the compensation scheme on a statutory basis.

When I spoke in the Dáil on 20 and 25 March I made a number of commitments in respect of the non-statutory compensation scheme. These were that it would be placed on a statutory basis, that the prohibition on the payment of exemplary or aggravated damages would be removed, and that there would be a right of appeal to the High Court on awards made by the tribunal. I am glad to inform the House that these commitments are being fully honoured and are reflected in the Bill with many other new provisions which improve the scheme for claimants.

In line with the terms of the motion agreed by both Houses of the Oireacthas on 25 and 26 March, I engaged in a process of consultation with the four representative groups and the chairman of the compensation tribunal in relation to the reappraisal of the compensation scheme. As set out in the motion, the reappraisal had to take account of any necessary legal advice.

The Bill has been prepared exceptionally quickly, particularly when one considers its many innovative provisions and the significant legal complexity of many of the issues involved. The positive experience of members of the representative groups at the hearings before the non-statutory tribunal and the extensive consultation process on the Bill formed the foundation for the draft legislation.

The purpose of the extensive consultation process was to ensure the Government's legislative proposals would take account of, in so far as is possible, the views of the representative groups. A number of difficult and complex issues were raised. As far as possible, the views of the representative groups have been incorporated in the Bill.

The consultation process commenced in late March, early April. On 16 April a copy of the draft heads of the Bill placing the compensation tribunal on a statutory basis was presented to the representative groups. This was followed by numerous meetings with the representative groups which made submissions, both oral and written, to assist my Department in preparing the Bill. The representative groups put forward suggested amendments to the draft heads of the Bill.

The following are some of the more notable amendments which have been incorporated in the Bill which were not included in the non-statutory scheme of compensation, many of which have been included at the request of the representative groups: provision for aggravated or exemplary damages to be assessed by the compensation tribunal and that a claimant may rely on the facts found in the report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board or any other fact in relation to their case for such damages; provision for the establishment of a reparation fund from which 20 per cent of the total amount of an award of general and-or special damages or 20 per cent of the settlement of a claim be paid to applicants; provision for a claimant's right of appeal of any decision of the tribunal to the High Court; provision for oral evidence by a claimant to the tribunal or his or her medical practitioner or both — in the non-statutory scheme the tribunal had discretion in this regard; provision for a person who has had a claim for compensation determined by the non-statutory tribunal to apply to the tribunal to hear evidence, at its discretion, which was not made available to the non-statutory tribunal in calculating the award made to that person; provision for the Minister to make arrangements to provide for the settlement of claims in respect of general and special damages; provision for a claimant to compel a witness to attend and give evidence; provision for a claimant's right to discover documents; provision for the tribunal to sit in divisions to hear claims, that is, more than one tribunal can hear cases simultaneously; provision for a dependant of a person who has died as a result of having contracted hepatitis C or whose hepatitis C was a significant contributory factor to the cause of death to make a claim to the tribunal.

I pay tribute to the work of the four representative groups and thank them for their assistance which has significantly contributed to the expeditious preparation of the Bill. They played a major role by their attendance at numerous meetings with, and the submissions they made to, my Department. I also thank Mr. Justice Seamus Egan, chairman of the tribunal, for his contribution to the consultation process on the Bill.

I turn now to the detailed provisions of the Bill. Section 1 is the interpretation section and defines the terms used in the Bill. Section 2 is a standard provision which provides for the establishment day for the purposes of the Bill. Section 3 provides for the establishment of the tribunal on a statutory basis. It also provides that the tribunal may sit in divisions, for the appointment of members to the tribunal and for the appointment of employees. It further provides for the compellabillity of witnesses and the discovery of documents by the tribunal on its own behalf or at the request of a claimant. This provision is to meet a particular request of the representative groups.

The section provides that the tribunal shall determine its own procedures and, in so doing, shall as far as is practicable adopt procedures which are informal. The groups were anxious to ensure that the informality of the procedures of the non-statutory scheme, which has served its purpose very well, would be preserved. The section further provides for hearings to be held in private and that written reports which the tribunal is primarily relying on will be made available to claimants. The section precludes the cross-examination of any claimant.

Section 4 defines the categories of persons who may make a claim for compensation to the tribunal and provides that negligence need not be proved by the claimant in respect of his or her claim for general and special damages. It also provides for legal representation for the claimant at the tribunal and deals with the requirement that a claimant may have to compel witnesses or discover documents. It extends from six months to three years the time limit within which a claimant can make an application to the tribunal. This extension to the time limit was a requirement about which the representative groups expressed strong views. The section also provides that a claim to the tribunal does not involve the waiver of any other right of action by the claimant.

Section 5 provides for awards in respect of aggravated or exemplary damages. It provides that an award of the tribunal to a claimant shall be made on the same basis as an award of the High Court calculated by reference to the principles which govern the measure of damages in the law of tort and any relevant statutory provisions and including consideration of an award on the basis which reflects the principles of aggravated or exemplary damages. This section also provides that an appeal shall lie to the High Court by a claimant in respect of any decision made by the tribunal and such appeal may, if the claimant wishes, be heard in private. Both of these provisions meet key requirements of the groups.

The section provides for the making of a provisional award which heretofore has not been available under Irish law. This gives the claimant the right to return to the tribunal in a situation where her or his hepatitis C condition has deteriorated. While this provision is a feature of the non-statutory scheme, the payment of a provisional award is at the discretion of the non-statutory tribunal. The groups requested that a claimant should have the absolute right to a provisional award if she or he so requested an award on that basis, and I am now providing for this in the Bill. The section also provides for the period within which a claimant must accept an award and that, if the claimant so chooses, the tribunal may direct that the award be paid in instalments. In addition, it provides that reasonable costs and expenses incurred by the claimant will be awarded by the tribunal.

Section 6 provides for the dissolution of the non-statutory tribunal on the establishment of the statutory scheme. It also provides that the tribunal may hear evidence of a claimant which was not available to the non-statutory tribunal in calculating that claimant's award and also that such claimants may apply to the tribunal for aggravated or exemplary damages or for an amount to be paid to her or him from the reparation fund.

Section 7 is a general provision which empowers the Minister to make regulations. Section 8 provides that the Minister may make arrangements for the settlement of a claim in respect of general and special damages by a claimant. The Government has decided that mechanisms for settling claims be devised in co-operation with the Attorney General and this will be facilitated by the provisions of section 8. Section 9 provides that the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, by regulations extend the class or classes of persons who may make a claim for compensation before the tribunal.

Section 10 provides for the establishment of a special account, to be funded from moneys provided by the Oireachtas, to be used to pay awards made by the tribunal, statutory and non-statutory, and to pay their administration costs. A supplementary estimate provided for £60 million under the Appropriation Act, 1995. A further £50 million will be included in the Estimates for 1997. Section 11 provides for the establishment of a reparation fund to enable payments to be made to claimants as an alternative to applying to the statutory tribunal to assess aggravated or exemplary damages. The amount paid out of the fund to a claimant will amount to 20 per cent of the total amount of the award of general and-or special damages or 20 per cent of the settlement of a claim. The fund will contain £22 million in the current year.

Section 12 provides for the submission of reports by the tribunal to the Minister and the laying of these reports before each House of the Oireachtas. Section 13 is a standard provision which deals with the laying of regulations made by the Minister under the Bill before each House of the Oireachtas. Section 14 is a standard provision dealing with the expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of the Bill. Section 15 provides for the Short Title of the Bill.

A small number of amendments to the Bill have been suggested by the representative groups and the Opposition. These amendments are being actively considered and I will, as far as possible, take account of them on Committee Stage.

I wish to take this opportunity to update the House on the non-statutory compensation scheme. To date it has received 1,686 applications, of which 1,530 are primary claimants, 87 are dependants and 69 are carers. Since it commenced hearings in January 1996 — regular hearings commenced in March 1996 — it has made 326 lump sum and provisional awards, while no award was made in two cases. No award of the tribunal has been rejected. Further hearings have been scheduled up to end 1997, with further claims awaiting hearing beyond that date.

In order to reduce the waiting period for a hearing at the tribunal the Government has decided to expand the tribunal to include a second division. In this regard, I have recently appointed two additional ordinary members to the tribunal. As already stated, the Bill provides that the tribunal may sit in divisions to hear claims before it. The Government has also decided that mechanisms for settling claims be devised in co-operation with the Attorney General and this will be facilitated by the provisions in section 8. I have always believed that claimants should have speedy access to the tribunal and these measures will undoubtedly reduce the waiting period for hearings.

The total amount of the awards made to date is approximately £38 million, excluding administrative and legal costs. The average amount of awards made to date is £116,481.19, while the awards have ranged from £15,200 to £453,904. A claimant to whom an award is made is entitled to the legal costs and expenses associated with the claim.

I thank the officials of my Department who have worked tirelessly on all matters in relation to this issue. I very much appreciate their hard work. The priority over the past four-five weeks of the small section of my Department which has the expertise to deal with these issues has been the legislation which is before the House tonight. They and the staff of the Attorney General's office and the parliamentary draftsman's office, who have assisted them, are to be commended. I am confident that the Opposition parties will co-operate in ensuring the speedy passage of this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

This Bill has been sought for a long time and is to be welcomed. Its introduction has meant the Minister for Health has had to do a head stand on endless somersaults. He has been opposed for more than two years to a statutory tribunal. In bringing the Bill before the House the Government has made a significant concession. It has conceded something which, as a matter of policy and principle, it refused to concede since this débâcle began under the stewardship of the former Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin. The Bill is a major victory for the victims who have had to suffer as a result of the criminal negligence of a State agency. However, it is not a proactive, generous response by this Government. Even at the Finlay tribunal, Minister Noonan was still denying the granting of a statutory tribunal and said there that, as a matter of policy, he would not concede it. The statutory tribunal has been dragged out of him as every other concession has had to be dragged out of this Government.

The hepatitis C victims first sought a statutory tribunal in November 1995 as they believed it was the only way the complex issues involved could be satisfactorily dealt with. Positive Action drafted its own Bill for a statutory tribunal and, even though the work was done for him, the Minister refused to accept it. He denied them one of their fundamental requests for more than two years.

From the outset, Fianna Fáil favoured a statutory tribunal. We recognised that this route was the best one and we have been calling for it since the end of 1995. We went so far as to draft our own Private Members' Bill to provide for a statutory tribunal. However, due to the rules of the Dáil we, as an Opposition party, are not entitled to bring forward legislation that would put a charge on the Exchequer. We were then left with a toothless Bill so we sought to raise the matter during six different Private Members' debates, by way of priority questions, through debates on the Adjournment and other political devices. On each occasion the matter was voted down by the Government parties who are now presenting this statutory tribunal Bill.

Minister Noonan established an ad hoc compensation tribunal despite the opposition of victims and the promise in the rainbow coalition's programme for Government to pay fair compensation. He unilaterally announced a scheme of compensation while he was still in negotiations with the victims. At the time he made that announcement, he never mentioned health care which was and remains a primary consideration of victims. The Minister continues to believe that this was all about money and lawyers. It was a flawed belief on his part and explains much of his mishandling of the affair.

The compensation scheme continues to fail a fairness test on many counts but the Minister has resisted, despite numerous Dáil debates and calls from victims to make any substantive changes. This Bill at last delivers on the promise in the programme for Government to pay fair compensation, but it is only happening now, over two years and four months on, in the dying days of this administration.

The hepatitis C victims are well used to Minister Noonan's failure, or slowness, to deliver. They remember many commitments that have not been honoured. They remember his promise to consult them before publishing the health care Bill for hepatitis C — that never happened. They also remember that he announced the ad hoc compensation tribunal while he was in the middle of negotiations with them on it.

In welcoming the Bill, Fianna Fáil nevertheless has some concerns. Section 4 states that those who may make a claim for compensation to the tribunal include persons who have been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C resulting from the use of human immunoglobulin anti-D "within the State". The scheme which was originally published did not confine the giving of compensation to persons who had become infected within the State only. This was added in at a later stage to the scheme which currently operates. That is repeated in this Bill.

At meetings with the Department of Health it has been pointed out by victims that there are circumstances where an individual can be and has been sent abroad for treatment due to the fact that the necessary medical facilities were not available at a particular time in this jurisdiction. This could be for reasons of lack of finance, expertise or facilities resulting in a long waiting list. There is one specific case of which I am aware. It relates to a man who was sent to England for bone marrow treatment in the course of which he received an infected blood product. He was referred by the Mater Hospital and his expenses were paid by the Eastern Health Board. He had no choice in the matter and no say as to where he would be treated. This individual, who suffers from the virus and whose condition is well advanced, has the hepatitis C medical card and is entitled to all of the services to which hepatitis C infected persons are entitled. However, because he received his treatment in a foreign jurisdiction at the behest of the State, he is now wholly excluded from any possibility of receiving compensation. There are few people in this category and circumstances such as this should be provided for. I will be proposing an amendment to provide for this on Committee Stage.

One of the constants in this affair has been the Minister for Health's use of legal manoeuvring to short-change victims. We have seen this in the McCole case and again recently in relation to the admission of liability. It is also apparent in the Bill before the House.

Section 4(14) provides that an application may be made to the tribunal within three years from the date upon which a claimant is diagnosed positive for hepatitis C or within a period of three years from the date when the claimant first became aware of the fact that he or she had been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C. We see no reason why a somewhat different wording than that already included in the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 1991 should be included in this Bill, possibly giving rise to a different interpretation in hepatitis C cases and those to which the 1991 Act applies.

In section 4(15) there is a provision for the extension of time where a person suffers from a legal disability such as being under-age or of unsound mind. The normal provision under the statute of limitations is that, where a person is injured or entitled to sue in some respect and is a minor at the time the right of action arises, the limitation period provided by law only begins from the date upon which that person attains majority. In other words, if a person under 18 years of age is injured, the three year period within which proceedings must be issued if personal injury is suffered begins only from the date the person attains 18 years. Under section 4(16), such persons only have six months in which to claim. This is at variance with the general principles which should apply and I will be putting forward amendments to deal with both these anomalies.

When the heads of the Bill were first circulated some weeks ago, Fianna Fáil was concerned that Minister Noonan was attempting to limit the scope of awards for aggravated damages to only some categories of victims. This arose because of the reference in the draft documents only to the Finlay tribunal. This has improved somewhat in the Bill but there is still no reference to the upcoming tribunal to investigate HIV, haemophilia, renal and transfusee issues. The Finlay tribunal solely investigated matters relating to anti-D. I will be proposing that section 4(13) should include a reference to any other tribunal of inquiry into the BTSB.

Section 5(17) deals with the situation where a person wishes to appeal against a ruling of the tribunal. Strangely, it requires that the claimant must agree to waive any right of action which the claimant might have against any party, and to discontinue any other proceedings. The norm in all of these cases is that High Court proceedings are issued on behalf of the claimant and an application is also made to the tribunal. This facilitates cases where not only are proceedings issued as soon as possible to ensure the person is not outside the limitation period, but where an individual might be able to prove a case in the High Court, that individual would then have the choice of either going to the tribunal, accepting or rejecting the award and, if rejecting it, maintaining a case in the High Court.

The appeal introduced in this Bill against an award of the tribunal is not equivalent to taking a High Court action. It is merely an appeal against the ruling by the tribunal, whether as to amount or entitlement. In law and in substance, it is the tribunal award which is being appealed to the High Court, and it is not a court action of any nature which is being submitted to the High Court for review.

We see no logic in requiring a person to waive any other proceedings pending just because that person wishes to appeal an award of the tribunal. It would be better to have a wording which provides for situations where, if a person accepts the outcome of the appeal to the High Court against the award of the tribunal, that person discontinues any High Court action but is at liberty not to accept the outcome of the High Court appeal and to continue any court proceedings he or she might wish to take. I will propose an amendment to this effect on Committee Stage.

I ask the Minister to clarify if the Bill provides for the payment of legal costs in respect of High Court appeals. This does not appear to be included in the Bill. Section 5(4) provides that where the tribunal makes an award, it shall award any reasonable costs and expenses. Strangely, there is no provision to provide for any award of costs upon appeal.

It has also been a concern of transfusees, where their medical records are destroyed or where donors have not returned since 1 October 1991 when testing was introduced, that they are not in a position to prove in the normal fashion that they positively received an infected blood product or an infected transfusion. This is something about which Transfusion Positive lobbied extensively before the ad hoc tribunal began its hearings. The ad hoc tribunal has worked in a satisfactory manner to date for transfusion victims in relation to the manner in which the standard of proof is applied, that is, the balance of probability. I am concerned that the Bill might attempt to change this. To ensure there will be no discrimination against this group of victims and no change in the manner in which that standard of proof must be administered when the Bill becomes law, I will propose an amendment to ensure the rights and benefits which have already been established for the ad hoc tribunal cannot be diminished by the Bill.

One of the heads of the Bill, which were circulated some weeks ago, was clearly directed at creating an entitlement in those who had already been before the tribunal to "the benefit of any adjustments to the compensation scheme provided for under this Bill". Regrettably, section 6 does not reflect that and I will propose an amendment to address this matter also. The Bill does not refer to persons who have died since the termination of their claim before the tribunal. It is necessary to include a provision for a personal representative to be able to hold powers under section 6 in the instance of such a death.

This side of the House will co-operate in the passing of the Bill. It is important to deal with Committee Stage as the aims and objectives of a statutory compensation tribunal were articulated during the many debates in the House while the controversy raged. Now a Bill is before the House with whose aims and objectives one would agree since it seeks to address many of the issues raised by the representative groups concerned. On Committee Stage we must ensure all angles are covered and no anomalies are left open in the transition from an ad hoc to a statutory compensation tribunal. In a number of amendments there is the prospect of further generosity on the part of the Minister and the Government in seeking to address particular matters for a limited category of persons who are suffering to the same degree as those who are obviously covered by the provisions of the Bill.

I welcome the Bill. Its provisions are largely satisfactory to the victims' representative groups. It is helpful that there was plenty of consultation with those groups before drafting the Bill. Some technical amendments are required and they have been communicated to the Minister by the groups concerned.

The Bill represents yet another step in what has become a tortuous trek towards justice for the victims of a major public health scandal. The compensation tribunal is to be established on a statutory basis and the victims will be entitled to an award of aggravated or exemplary damages, with provision for appeal to the High Court. These objectives have been sought for a long time by the persons concerned and have been advocated by the Opposition on many occasion. This latest concession gives effect to the long-standing wish of the people concerned and their families to have the tribunal established on a statutory basis. Sadly, it has been a feature of this Administration's handling of the matter that all concessions have been wrung from it and we have not seen a generosity which derived from the Government's own sense of moral or legal responsibility to the victims. It has been a long journey to this point for all concerned.

This is the Administration which, despite its denials, has collective political responsibility for directing the legal strategy whose aim was to intimidate, frighten and wear down the unfortunate women who were simply seeking justice and the truth. It is remarkable that the Government still seeks to avoid taking political responsibility for that strategy. I accept that members of the Government parties have great sympathy for the McCole family. However, the legal advice which was given to the Government over a long period of time was politically naive and that is why the Minister and the Government are so politically embarrassed by this affair.

The legal strategy was a major contributor to the grievance of the women, particularly the late Mrs. McCole. It is a significant element of the claim for aggravated damages. Yet the legal strategy and its impropriety and cruelty to the victims was deliberately excluded from the terms of reference of the tribunal of inquiry. As a result of its exclusion, the chairman of the tribunal was able to use the word "adequate" to describe the actions of the Ministers concerned. There is no doubt that had the tribunal been apprised of the conduct of the defence and the battle engineered by the State through its legal teams against the women, the judge's finding would have been scathing about the people who had political responsibility for authorising it.

When the Finlay tribunal was established I suspected there was a danger that the political responsibility of Ministers would be shelved or buried or specifically excluded from the terms of reference. I had earlier anticipated that the role of the Ministers would be examined in great detail under the terms of reference and I believed the Official Report would be scrutinised and conclusions drawn about how the Dáil was obstructed by the evasion of parliamentary questions. However, no such analysis took place.

There was no coherent or satisfactory trawl of the Official Report for the progression of the matter through the Dáil. The Ministers would not have emerged from a review of their conduct in that regard with flying colours.

At the time of the establishment of the tribunal, the Minister said he would account separately to the tribunal and the Dáil. However, this appears to have been an empty and hollow statement. When I asked the Minister in October 1996, before the tribunal's terms of reference were announced and debated in the Dáil, if he expected the establishment of the tribunal to mark the end of his being questioned about the matter, he said that would not be the case. When I put it to him that it suited him to transfer the matter from the political arena to the tribunal, he denied it. We now know that political responsibility for the legal strategy has been avoided. It was filleted from the tribunal's terms of reference and we have not had full accountability to Dáil Éireann either. It is bad enough that the tribunal's terms of reference ensured that the strategy would not be reviewed, but the Dáil has now been thwarted in that regard as well. This was made clear by a unconvincing letter last week from the Chief State Solicitor representing himself and the Attorney General to the Select Committee on Social Affairs. That committee had unanimously sought an account of the legal strategy.

It is not surprising this Administration would seek to avoid political responsibility for that strategy. It is politically indefensible. The same harshness which motivated that strategy was revealed in the Minister's carefully scripted statement to the House on 16 October 1996 when he asked if Mrs. McCole's solicitors, in selecting a test case from the hundreds of hepatitis C cases on their books, could not have selected a plaintiff in a better condition to sustain the stress of a High Court case. These words and others, for which the Minister was later forced to apologise, indicate and convey the coldness which lay behind the State's attitude not merely to the late Mrs. McCole but to all hepatitis C sufferers. If, as the Minister clearly wished, a healthier woman had chosen to fight the Minister through the courts, there would have been no tribunal of inquiry, no admission of liability, no statutory compensation tribunal and none of the political embarrassment which the Minister and the Government are now suffering.

From the beginning the State presented to the victims a cold and emotionally bankrupt face. In court or across the table when, with great difficulty, the women negotiated, the attitude of the State was minimalist and begrudging. The women were treated as a cohort, referred to by batch numbers, questioned about their lifestyles, badgered about medical bills. They were cajoled into the compensation tribunal which, against their wishes, was not statutory. They were urged to accept ex gratia payments rather than the aggravated damages to which they were entitled. They were denied an extension of the closing date for receipt of applications, and they were threatened with the full defence of any court action. The late Bridget McCole was bullied until her death to accept damages with no admission of liability. Even when liability was conceded in her case, there was no apology or admission of liability for the other women victims.

One woman, whose case is pending, has been treated in similar fashion. She refused to go to the tribunal. She refused a medical card and demanded private treatment of her choice outside this jurisdiction, so devastated is her confidence and respect for this jurisdiction by the manner in which the State treated her as an injured citizen. She had to go to court to get her records. She has had to harry officials to pay her bills for medical treatment abroad. The State also refused her anonymity as it did the late Bridget McCole. Her prognosis is not good; time is not on her side.

Although the Minister said that, generally, there was satisfaction with the ad hoc tribunal among most persons who appeared before it, the transcript of one case before it showed that a certain amount of nit-picking went on regarding, for example, pharmacy bills and the amount of money that would be awarded for home help. I found it embarrassing to read because there was a certain lack of generosity in the manner in which certain bills were being scrutinised and questioned as to their legitimacy. The chairman was most anxious throughout to avoid any discussion of punitive damages or liability, precluded as he was by the terms of reference of the ad hoc tribunal. When counsel for one of six women, first infected in 1977, put it on the record that the BTSB had been informed about this woman's infection in 1977 by her medical consultants, the chairman was quick to excise that line of evidence. Responding to a statement by Mr. Rogers for the woman that her complaint and the source of her complaint was adverted to and brought to the attention of the BTSB, that her infection was related to anti-D and this was something which the chairman should take into account in the woman's case, the chairman retorted: “Not by us. Are we back to punitive damages now? Under our scheme we cannot deal with that aspect.”

This telling exchange took place on 12 September 1996 before the ad hoc tribunal.

Crucial to the argument for aggravated damages is the disgraceful behaviour of the wrongdoer in this scandal. In 1991 the Supreme Court described aggravated damages as follows: Compensatory damages increased by reason of (1) the manner in which the wrong was committed involving such elements as oppressiveness, arrogance or outrage; (2) the conduct of the wrongdoer after the commission of the wrong, such as a refusal to apologise or to ameliorate the harm done and the making of threats to repeat the wrong; or (3) conduct of the wrongdoer and-or his representative in the defence of the claim of the wronged plaintiff up to and including the trial of the action. The terms "aggravated", "exemplary" or "punitive" are interchangeable and derive from the nature of the wrong committed and-or the manner of its commission, which are intended to mark the court's disapproval of the defendant's conduct in all the circumstances of the case and its decision that it should be publicly seen to have punished the defendant for such conduct by awarding such damages, apart from its obligation where it may exist in the same case to compensate the plaintiff for the damage.

It is truly amazing, given the facts revealed in the tribunal, that the Government has held out so long against permitting an award of aggravated damages. How could the State, the BTSB or anybody else concerened in this matter have a leg to stand on in the light of the following: the knowing use of plasma from a donor who had infective hepatitis to make anti-D and the continuing use of anti-D even after six women became jaundiced in 1977 as a result of receiving anti-D; the ignoring of the 1991 Middlesex letter which confirmed the link between anti-D and hepatitis C; the failure to report that fact to the Department of Health until 1994; the failure to tell donors who tion; and the giving of misleading information to an expert group established by the Minister to examine the whole matter.

Added to this disgraceful and culpable behaviour, the victims had to endure the hardball legal strategy employed by various State legal teams in defending their claim. The manner in which a defendant presents a case in any court case can be the subject of an award for aggravated damages. However, even when this statutory tribunal is considering an application, for example, by the McCole family for aggravated or exemplary damages, it seems it will be precluded from considering the State's legal strategy in their mother's case. Compensatory damages is what the ad hoc tribunal offered. The reason the late Mrs. McCole was so determined right up to the end was that a finding of aggravated or exemplary damages in her case would have marked the court's and the people's disapproval of the defendant's conduct in all the circumstances of this dreadful case. Unfortunately, Mrs. McCole died with the threat ringing in her ears that if she pursued her claim for aggravated damages her family would be penalised by the costs. It is truly ironic that the person who brought this whole affair out into the open and ultimately succeeded in wrenching this final concession of aggravated damages from the State for other victims was herself denied aggravated damages.

The difference between compensatory damages and aggravated damages is that aggravated damages implies an element of culpability way beyond that of mistake. Such culpability can arise from one individual's acts or omissions or from the collective acts or omissions of a State authority or of various State bodies or the State itself. Conveniently, the Finlay tribunal was not asked to review the strategy adopted by the State or the BTSB in the courts against the late Bridget McCole. There was cherry-picking of the open letter by the family of the late Bridget McCole of 20 September 1996. The McCole family sought an answer as to why the BTSB had threatened their mother with costs if she pursued her claim for aggravated damages. They made public the harsh, narrow, threatening and intimidating terms on which a settlement was offered to them. The tribunal was not asked to explain this strategy. The Minister will not account for it, although the relatives of Mrs. McCole still require an explanation.

Similarly another victim, whose case is pending, is being threatened with costs by the NDAB if she pursues her claim for aggravated damages against them. It would appear those women who exercise their constitutional right to have their cases heard before the courts are being treated less favourably than those who go before the tribunal. Those who go to the tribunal at least have the dignity of anonymity, a dignity denied to those who opted to go to court.

The same hardball was played with the Positive Action women when they were being cajoled to go to the ad hoc compensation tribunal. A letter of 21 July from the Office of the Chief State Solicitor warned of the “uncertainties, delays, stresses, confrontation and costs involved in High Court litigation” and stated that “should they pursue litigation it would be fully defended by the State, if necessary to the Supreme Court”. These threatening terms were used when the State and the Minister knew full well, since 1995, that there was no defence to the action.

One has lost count to the Dáil debates — Deputy Cowen said this is the thirtieth debate. It has been a most traumatic, frustrating, parliamentary exercise for everybody concerned. The women and their families who have been central to the exposure of this scandal, many of whom are sick and traumatised as a result of being so badly treated by the State and its agencies who did the original wrong to them, have had to endure a very long trek towards justice. Heaped on top of the original wrong was what turned out to be a cover-up of the events. It is no thanks to the BTSB that there are not 60,000 women infected with hepatitis C. Sixty thousand women were screened, but many have not been screened. Some infections may be dormant, or transient, or may have cleared. We know that 1,600 women are infected. Testing is continuing. I am informed that some women are confused because they are not being informed as to why they are being retested. Has the Minister been informed the BTSB is testing women who are presenting with another strain of hepatitis, called hepatitis G, or whether there is a possible link between hepatitis G and anti-D manufactured by the BTSB? It appears some women have live disease but are not testing positive for hepatitis C. The haemophiliacs and those infected by blood transfusions await justice. The scale of the wrong is almost too great to contemplate and it may not be over yet. One of the disadvantages of a group or class approach to this matter is that the stories of individual women have not been told.

Calls for a tribunal of inquiry were stoutly rejected until one woman died and the full facts were revealed by her case. The public realised the scale of the scandal only when they saw the thin, pale and agonised face of the late Brigid McCole and her beautiful daughters on our television screens, when a public letter sent to the Minister and the legal strategy was exposed. The documents discovered in one case were the key to the solution of all cases. In many ways it was a triumph for individual human rights in that one case which provided the key to vindicating the rights of all the other victims.

Under the Bill aggravated damages can be obtained in one of two ways. The victim can attempt to establish a legal entitlement to such a claim before the tribunal or can have her or his award for general damages topped up by 20 per cent from the reparation fund established under section 11 without having to prove that aspect of the claim. It appears from section 11(5) that a victim who has a claim for aggravated damages turned down by the tribunal can still opt for the 20 per cent top up from the reparation fund, but a victim who is awarded aggravated or exemplary damages cannot opt for the reparation fund if the award from the tribunal is less than 20 per cent. I fail to understand the basis for this distinction. Will the Minister elaborate on this on Committee Stage?

It is obvious the Government does not like people referring to the McCole family. Given all that has happened, surely this Bill must also be judged on what it does for the McCole family. By way of the BTSB, the State has paid £175,000 for the death of the late Mrs. McCole. Under this Bill it appears the McCole family will be able to apply to the tribunal for £20,000 for injury or mental distress to share between them. They may also be able to apply for a financial loss or expense as a direct result of providing care for Mrs. McCole. They can also apply to the top up fund for an extra 20 per cent of these amounts, not 20 per cent of the £175,000 paid to their mother. That is not a great amount of money, but of course no money could compensate for the loss of a beloved mother in such circumstances. Alternatively, they can apply to the tribunal for aggravated or exemplary damages. One of the factors a court takes into account in deciding whether to award aggravated or exemplary damages is the conduct of the wrongdoer or his or her representatives in the defence of the claim. However, the only claim before the tribunal will be the application for compensation. It appears the conduct of the Minister and the State agencies in court proceedings will be excluded from the terms of the compensation tribunal just as the Minister and this Administration sought to exclude them from everything else.

It is interesting to note that a victim who claims aggravated damages from the tribunal rather than from the reparation fund will still have to establish negligence. Even at this stage — I may be wrong in this observation — the Minister is not prepared to concede that the BTSB was negligent. Section 5(6) allows the tribunal to make a provisional award where there is a possibility that a claimant may suffer particularly serious consequences in the future. If those consequences occur the victim may go back to the tribunal. However, there will be no element of aggravated or exemplary damages if such serious consequences occur.

One of the many criticisms of the State in the McCole case was the running of the statute of limitations defence. Although section 5(13) stops the clock running for the period between the start and finish of an application to the tribunal, it keeps alive the possibility of that defence in respect of time which elapsed between the infection and the application to the tribunal. Section 5 also introduces the possibility of an appeal to the High Court from the tribunal. A number of points arise in that regard. The Bill does not make it clear how the appeal will work. There are essentially two possibilities. The entire case, including the evidence, can be heard again or the High Court will simply review a transcript of the evidence heard by the tribunal and rather than make its own findings of fact confine itself to asking whether there was evidence to justify the finding of the tribunal. The first approach would probably be more satisfactory. Perhaps the Minister would refer to that on Committee Stage.

If a claimant wishes to appeal against the finding of the tribunal, section 5(17) appears to require that she or he must waive their right to legal proceedings before making the appeal. This is fair enough if the appeal to the High Court includes the hearing of evidence but if it is conducted in a more restricted way the claimant is being asked to sign away his or her right of appeal without being given a full court hearing. Where a claimant appeals, the Minister is to be allowed to cross-appeal such an appeal. However, the Minister will be allowed to appeal an award of aggravated or exemplary damages irrespective of whether the claimant has appealed. The Minister's obsession with aggravated damages continues. Why has he given himself a right to initiate an appeal against aggravated damages when his right to appeal an award of general damages is far more restricted?

Deputy Cowen raised many other issues and there will be a further opportunity on Committee Stage to deal with the fine print of the Bill. I warmly welcome the Bill which has been a long time coming. There has been a great deal of aggravation and stress in bringing this matter to this conclusion.

It has been a protracted battle to ensure the Bill arrived before the House tonight. For more than two years the Government denied the need to set up a statutory tribunal. This is a major victory for the victims of hepatitis C as their right to compensation for the suffering, pain and insecurity has at last been recognised by the Government. It has failed to understand the trauma hepatitis C has caused the victims and their families and the pain will continue. It must ensure there is no further delay caused by the lack of personnel to deliver. As outlined by Deputy Cowen, the speed of the statutory tribunal is essential.

For more than two years and four months Fianna Fáil has recognised the immediate need for a statutory tribunal. It called on the Government to set up such a tribunal during Question Time, six Private Members' debates and other motions in the House. Positive Action deserves to see the fruits of its action in the presentation of this Bill tonight. Since its initiation it has been clear, fair and more than responsible in debate. Because of the gravity and sadness of the matter, it must have been very tempting to become emotional, but Positive Action did not give in to such emotion. I commend it for its professionalism over a long and arduous fight since the victims first sought a statutory tribunal in November 1995. It is a shame the Government resisted and denied this fundamental request for more than two years. It failed to have real consultation with Positive Action and issues relating to HIV, haemophiliacs and transfusees were not allowed before the Finlay tribunal.

Fianna Fáil has certain reservations about the Bill. It is concerned about section 4 and the fact that compensation will be confined to persons who have been infected within the State only. The section on the statute of limitations should be extended to include hepatitis C victims. Many will view this Bill with legitimate concern as there is no reference in it to the upcoming tribunal to investigate HIV, haemophiliac, renal and transfusion issues. The Finlay tribunal investigated matters solely related to anti-D. Our spokesman is also recommending changes to that part of the Bill. The issue of appealing an award of the tribunal needs further teasing out.

What will happen in regard to compensation made to persons who have since died and what about compensation for families of deceased victims? I deeply regret that the Minister for Health and the Government did not deliver on this legislation a long time ago. The admission by the Government that such a statutory tribunal was the way forward two years ago would have lessened much of the anguish suffered by victims and their families to date. Why has the Government to be dragged kicking and screaming into the House to finally admit to the need for such legislation? Could it not have seen the need for such action at an earlier stage? It gives me no pleasure to say that the Government viewed its stubbornness as a show of strength rather than an admission of weakness.

However, I hope this substantial Bill will go a long way to address the issue. Like other Members I welcome the Bill although we have difficulties with it and would like to table amendments. I look forward to hearing Deputy Cowen and other Members discussing it on Committee and Report Stages. This issue should have been dealt with many years ago. All I can do at this stage is wish well to all those who campaigned for this legislation for so long under difficult and emotional circumstances. I commend Positive Action especially for its brave attempt to ensure these unfortunate women, in particular, have had their voices heard here.

Brigid McCole was given an injection in 1977 that was meant to save the life of her baby, but in fact was the cause of her death 18 years later. We have heard from Mrs. McCole's daughter of her mother's suffering during those years. The media and the population in general used words such as "tragedy" and "travesty" to describe her case. As with the other cases of hepatitis C, after all we have heard in the past few months, those words seem totally inadequate. The picture that has emerged is not one of tragic scientific mistakes about a relatively new condition, but of revelations that have shocked the scientific and medical world. Unfortunately for Brigid McCole, it appears the scientific facts concerning her case were known to the BTSB before she received her injection.

If we analyse the evidence to date and put it in a simplified form, it will show that a doctor identified the source of infection of one of his patients as an injection of anti-D and informed the BTSB, as did another consultant who wrote to him confirming that case later. That letter from the consultant was dated 4 October 1977. Brigid McCole received her injection on 5 November 1977. Those who followed the tribunal will note that in July of that year the BTSB received at least seven reports of severe hepatitis in women who received anti-D, five months before Brigid McCole received her lethal injection. In that same month the BTSB knew precisely, as we have now discovered, where to look for the source of that infection, batches of anti-D from who was then known as patient X. I have a great deal of compassion for patient X because before the tribunal she was known as donor X. It has emerged since that neither she nor her doctor knew her plasma was being used to manufacture anti-D, nor did the BTSB have consent to use her plasma. Why did the BTSB use plasma from such a patient? More importantly, at that time an extraordinary decision was made by the BTSB. It took a decision to stop using that plasma to manufacture any more anti-D but, unbelievably, it decided to carry on using the anti-D that was already made. One of the batches made was batch 250 and on 5 November 1977 Brigid McCole received anti-D from that batch. The quality of her life and the tragedy for her family over the next 18 years was determined by that decision.

As I stated previously, we all can forgive someone who makes a genuine error provided he or she, on realising his or her mistake, does everything possible to minimise the consequences. I do not intend to be in any way political and, as a doctor, I understand the Minister's dilemma. We have not blamed him personally, but it is obvious from his demeanour that he is a very angry man at the manner in which this whole sorry saga has developed. He has had his days in the sun in this portfolio, but the manner in which he is currently handling this tragic situation is not that of a compassionate Minister for Health which this tragedy deserves.

Fianna Fáil pursued this issue through our previous spokesperson, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, and now through our spokesperson, Deputy Cowen. We have pursued it ruthlessly during the past two and a a half years and eventually the pieces of the jigsaw of justification are beginning to fit in slowly piece by piece.

I received a letter from the Minister in December 1995 and one line that immediately caught my attention is that which described his proposed tribunal as one which "will assess compensation on an ex gratia basis" for the victims of the blood transfusion negligence. It was in effect saying to those people "we are not to blame, nobody is to blame, but here is a few quid out of the generosity of our hearts". I asked at that time, if we were not leaving ourselves open to further legal action down the road.

I mentioned earlier that one of the subjects I addressed at that time and have addressed here on a number of occasions — I am glad Deputy Cowen included it in his speech and I hope the Minister will accept an amendment on it — is the appalling position in which families of a small number of hepatitis victims are left. I refer to the case of one of my constituents, a 54 year old teacher who was a joint breadwinner in her family. She died in January 1996 before her case could be heard by the tribunal. In the week she died the tribunal met specially and settled compensation with the families of two other victims who were on the point of death. In the case to which I refer the family is entitled to only £7,500. If she had survived a little longer the story would have been different. This family and a small number of others are the forgotten victims of this sorry saga. There are not more than ten or twelve such cases in which grief, stress and trauma have been the order of the day. The Minister has not addressed this issue at all. These families are entitled to full and fair compensation in exactly the same way as the other victims.

That some victims died sooner than others should not be used as a method of prudent bookkeeping. The Leader of my party handed over a thriving economy to this Government less than two and a half years ago. As a result, we can well afford to give fair play to all these people. The extra amount due to this small group would certainly not bankrupt the State. If I were a cynic I would be expected to suggest that if they constituted a larger number of voters, the necessary funds would be found like magic.

When the full story of the hepatitis C scandal is documented, future generations will find it inconceivable that such a thing could have happened in the late 20th century. Possibly the worst aspect of the matter was that the initial scandal was compounded by subsequent disgraceful cover-ups by various authorities, including the Minister, lest any blame should attach to them. The sad part is that there was absolutely no need for them to become so paranoid. Nobody on this side of the House, or outside the House, suggested the Minister or his predecessors were to blame for what happened at the BTSB.

On 13 December 1995, I contributed to a debate on this matter. I said then: "Last night the Minister was angry when he made the point that he personally was not responsible for what happened some years ago..." No one on this side is suggesting that he was responsible. I am certain the Minister, as an individual, is as genuinely concerned for those people as anyone could be. The trouble is that by his own admission, he is at the mercy of the accountants in the Department of Finance. I wish the Minister would have the courage to tell them we are not dealing here with an ordinary piece of accounting which must add up to a certain figure; we are dealing with people whose health has been ravaged through no fault of their own and who must be compensated properly, regardless of the cost. If the Minister could have been seen to address the problem in that manner, I would have assured him, as Deputy Cowen would, that nobody on this side of the House would use that necessary expenditure as a stick with which to beat the Government at budget time.

Let us not forget that as well as over 1,000 people suffering from the infected anti-D, there are other victims — men and women — who contracted hepatitis C through blood transfusions, people with haemophilia, kidney illnesses, transplants and so on.

Transplant patients have the added problem that, because of anti-rejection drugs, they cannot be treated for hepatitis C with Interferon. Their families are totally devastated. In February 1996, I referred to a constituent of mine. I am in regular contact with her family and know only too well the grief and trauma they suffer every time the hepatitis C matter is raised. There are other bereaved families we should not forget, and to whom Deputy Cowen has referred, who have gone through trauma and suffering. There is a large number of people whose death certificates do not reveal what they died from. Those people, I realise with hindsight, died from hepatitis C or had their deaths expedited by it, and could have had that put on their death certificates.

Deputy Cowen raised the issues on which we will table amendments. I am particularly concerned with the amendment which deals with capping awards. The Minister might deal with that in his reply. He should state clearly there will be no capping of the amounts of general damages awarded to dependents of those who died prior to having their cases heard by the tribunal. The issue of compensation is determined by the Civil Liability Act and a ceiling of £7,500 applies. The Minister should consider this in his reply.

Limerick East): I thank all Deputies who contributed to tonight's debate, particularly the Opposition spokespersons, Deputies O'Donnell and Cowen.

In debating these issues, it is worth pointing out that the existing tribunal is working very well. Although we are working to establish a statutory tribunal, Deputies should appreciate that the present tribunal, with Judge Egan in the chair, has done an excellent job. More than 300 applicants have had their cases dealt with satisfactorily. The proof of the pudding is how people deal with the awards made by the tribunal. Not one applicant has refused an award. That is a great tribute to Judge Egan and his personnel.

The statutory tribunal will have features that will enhance the informal tribunal significantly. However, that informal tribunal has provided a non-contentious, non-adversarial avenue to many plaintiffs to have their claims processed speedily, satisfactorily and in total confidentiality. Any Deputy who knows an applicant, or his or her legal representative, will know that tribunal is held in very high repute, not only by those who process claims, but by the groups that represent victims and by the legal profession.

The demand has long been made for a statutory tribunal. There are many reasons a statutory tribunal is more satisfactory for victims but a main plank in the case for a statutory tribunal is no reflection on the present tribunal, although some of its features are to be enhanced. A reason was the need to ensure that subsequent administrations would not reverse what this administration has done. The statutory basis would supposedly ensure that whatever about discontinuing an informal tribunal, the Government would not have the gall to come into the House and relegislate.

We would point that out.

(Limerick East): We will see. I am glad we went through an extensive consultation process in bringing this Bill before the House. I met representatives of the four groups and consulted the chairman of the compensation tribunal, on the reappraisal of the compensation scheme which arose from Judge Finlay's report. The purpose of this consultative process was to ensure the Government's legislative proposals would take account of the views of the representative groups, and as far as possible, those views have been incorporated in the Bill. We have included what could be done from a policy perspective. The only things that have been excluded are matters which were legally impossible to include. I am open to amendments. We shall have a proper and full Committee Stage when I shall take into account not only those amendments which have been signalled by the interest groups — now that they have seen the published text of the Bill — but also those tabled by Members of the Opposition.

I have already outlined some amendments incorporated which make provisions significantly different from the tribunal now in place, including provision for aggravated and exemplary damages which can now be assessed by the compensation tribunal, when a claimant may rely on the facts found in the report of the tribunal of inquiry or any other fact in relation to their case for such damages; provision for establishing a reparation fund from 20 per cent of the general or special damages or 20 per cent of the settlement of a claim. As Members will also be aware, I will be very interested to have a settlement procedure work in parallel with the tribunal so that, if people felt it was to their advantage, they could opt for settlement rather than a hearing. Of course, dependent on the amount of the settlement, they could then make a free choice whether to accept the settlement.

I do not want circumstances to arise in which a tribunal, statutory or otherwise, will have a waiting list longer than that of the High Court, with further frustrations being built up through people being unable to gain access. I am approaching this in a number of ways: first, through significantly increasing the personnel of the tribunal. I envisage Judge Egan continuing as overall chairperson. I foresee the tribunal meeting, in two divisions in parallel, thus doubling its throughput.

At the same time, I have incorporated in this Bill a provision for settlement. I had discussions with the Attorney General on how we might put the settlement process in place. If we double the personnel of two divisions of the one tribunal — working simultaneously and in parallel — and have a mechanism for settlement, we can avoid foreseeable long delays as people process their claims or lodge their applications with the tribunal.

There is already a delay, in that at present applicants cannot obtain a date for hearing of their case for two years. That is not satisfactory — there is nothing magic about the long High Court waiting lists — but the statutory tribunal will fail in its primary objective if its waiting lists are longer than those of the High Court. Why would one opt for the fast-track, confidential, easy way to obtain compensation if one can reach first phase faster by going to the High Court?

Members should also be aware that it will cost an enormous amount, not of extra money but expenditure will be brought forward into the current year and 1998. Before we agreed the establishment of the reparation fund the estimated total cost was approximately £200 million, to which 20 per cent can be added. If that cost was spread over four or five financial years, one would obtain one result but, since we are also increasing the personnel of the tribunal and putting in place a mechanism for settlement, we are endeavouring to ensure that, whatever the compilation of the next Administration, regardless of whoever may be responsible for this portfolio, he or she will not be faced in six or 12 months by a whole lot of very unhappy, frustrated people because the best efforts of this House would not have succeeded in gaining them speedy access to the compensation to which they are entitled and which will involve the procedures to which I referred.

One of the amendments which makes the statutory scheme different from the non-statutory one is the provision for a claimant's right of appeal of any decision of the tribunal to the High Court. There is also a provision for a person who has had a claim for compensation determined by the non-statutory tribunal to apply to this tribunal to have evidence heard, at the discretion of the tribunal, which was not made available to the non-statutory tribunal in calculating the award made to that person. There is also provision for the Minister to make arrangements to provide for a settlement of claims.

There are some things that are virtually legally impossible to do, some things we cannot include because, even though the statutory tribunal is different from the courts, there is at times a difficulty at a level of general principle if something could be done within the tribunal which could not be done in the courts and which might give rise to much wider legislative provision.

I will approach amendments tabled by Members of the Opposition in the spirit which was signalled this evening. I know they want the best possible statutory compensation tribunal that can be devised and passed by this House tomorrow evening. We will work together in an endeavour to improve the draft now before the House.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

(Limerick East): Tomorrow.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that satisfactory and agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 14 May 1997.