As the House will be aware, the Irish Haemophilia Society wrote to me on 6 September seeking an extension to the Lindsay Tribunal's terms of reference to enable the tribunal to investigate the actions of certain multinational pharmaceutical companies. Section 1 of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1998, provides that terms of reference can only be amended where the tribunal has consented to the proposed amendment, following consultation with the Attorney General on behalf of the relevant Minister, or where the tribunal itself has requested the amendment. Accordingly, I wrote to the Attorney General on 10 October asking him to seek the consent of Judge Lindsay to an extension of her terms of reference to facilitate: (i) a request for voluntary discovery from the pharmaceutical companies; (ii) an order for discovery against the pharmaceutical companies; (iii) procurement of documentation under US freedom of information legislation; and (iv) an application for access to the document depository in Pensacola, Florida.
On 16 October the chairperson furnished a detailed response to the Attorney General in which she stated that she did not believe that it would be correct for her to consent to the suggested amendment of the terms of reference of the tribunal. A copy of the chairperson's response has been placed in the Library.
Originally it was believed that the possible closure of the document depository in Pensacola might affect the achievement of a full investigation of the pharmaceutical companies. I would like to bring the House up to date on this matter. The depository was created to ensure that all American HIV-infected haemophiliac plaintiffs had access to similar quality and volume of discovered documentation in respect of their litigation against pharmaceutical companies. It had been suggested that the depository would close with effect from 1 January 2002 and that any further applications for access would have to be made by 1 November 2001. However, solicitors for the IHS have contacted the lead counsel for the depository, and have now informed me, by letter yesterday, that an application would need to be made as soon as practicable, but that 1 November is not a strict deadline. Assurances have been furnished that, while the documents may be moved to a different site or sites, they will not be destroyed. This has been confirmed by a US firm retained by the Attorney General's office. Lead counsel has also given an assurance to the IHS solicitors that, should the pharmaceutical companies seek the return of their documents, this will be opposed.
I am very conscious of the concerns of people with haemophilia in Ireland, as well as the wider public, in this matter. Notwithstanding the complex legal difficulties associated with an Irish tribunal seeking to investigate entities in other jurisdictions, I am presently consulting with the Attorney General on the options available, and I will revert to the House again as soon as possible.