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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 9 Dec 2003

Vol. 576 No. 5

Written Answers. - Stem Cell Research.

Brendan Howlin


102 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will make a statement on the outcome of the meeting of the EU Council of Ministers on 3 December 2003, dealing with the issue of stem-cell research. [29900/03]

At the time of adoption of the specific research programmes under the EC's Sixth Research Framework Programme 2003-2006, the Council and the Commission agreed by means of a political declaration that detailed implementing provisions concerning research activities involving the use of human embryos and human embryonic stem cells which may be funded under the Sixth Research Framework Programme should be established by 31 December 2003. The Commission stated that, during that moratorium and pending establishment of the detailed implementing provisions, it would not propose to fund such research, with the exception of the study of banked or isolated human embryonic stem cells in culture.

The Commission presented on 9 July a proposal for amending the specific research programme concerned in which it proposed that the funding provided by the sixth research framework programme for the derivation of new stem cells would only be made available if proposals successfully pass a rigorous scientific and ethical review and that the human embryos used for the procurement of stem cells must have been created before 27 June 2002 as a result of medically-assisted in vitro fertilisation designed to induce pregnancy, and were no longer to be used for that purpose. The Commission amended its proposal in the light of the opinion given by the European Parliament in November.
At the Competitiveness Council on 26 November 2003, the Presidency introduced the Commission's amended proposal, which took account of the European Parliament amendments that were acceptable to the Commission. The proposal as amended reinforced the stringent guidelines and safeguards for the conduct of research activities involving human embryonic stem cells under the Sixth Research Framework Programme. However, in view of the continuing divergence of views on the matter, no decision was taken on the proposal. In the light of this development, the Italian Presidency scheduled a further meeting of the Council on 3 December specifically to take a decision on guidelines for embryonic stem cell research.
At the Council on 3 December the Commission's amended proposal and an alternative proposal tabled by the Presidency, which aimed to take account of the deliberations at the Council's meeting on 26 November, were considered. The Presidency text suggested that no EU funding should be provided for the procurement of new stem cells or stem cell lines from embryos. However, research projects using embryonic stem cells would be eligible for such funding on condition that these stem cells come from existing stem cell lines that were created before 3 December 2003. The Commission for its part could not support the Presidency text.
Ireland was able to support either proposal on the basis that each encompassed robust and stringent guidelines and safeguards. However, following extensive discussion, fundamental differences remained among the positions adopted by member states, and the Presidency concluded that there was no possibility of securing a qualified majority in favour of either the Commission's amended proposal or the Presidency text.
Ireland feels strongly that an important opportunity has been lost to put in place controls, guidelines and parameters for the conduct of this research and the failure of the Council to adopt such guidelines has resulted in a situation where European research in this area could go ahead in an unregulated or more loosely regulated fashion. In this context, the legal opinion of the Council is that a failure to adopt the Commission proposal will not affect the existing right and obligation of the Commission to implement the specific programme.
Given the protracted deliberations which have taken place on this issue over a lengthy period and the different options which have now been exhaustively explored, it would appear that there is little likelihood, if any, of reaching agreement on the matter of guidelines for this activity within the framework programme. Accordingly, we would see little benefit in further revisiting this issue in the context of Ireland's forthcoming Presidency of the European Union.