Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (18)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

140 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on whether there will be an inquiry into the role of multinational drug companies in the contamination of blood products; if it is the Government's position that no decision will be taken on this matter until the proposed committees of investigation Bill has been enacted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1901/04]

View answer

Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

As the House is aware, I appointed Mr. Paul Gardiner, senior counsel, to produce a situation report about the position in Ireland and in the United States in respect of a possible investigation into the actions of the multinational pharmaceutical companies whose products are implicated in the HIV and hepatitis C infection of persons with haemophilia.

As part of his investigations, Mr. Gardiner liaised with solicitors acting for the Irish Haemophilia Society. He travelled to the United States and spoke to a number of relevant experts, including the lead counsel in the HIV haemophiliac litigation in the United States. Mr. Gardiner also received legal advice from a major New York law firm on the matters relevant to his investigations.

Mr. Gardiner furnished a report to me which consisted of a 60-page opinion and a number of appendices, one of which comprised over 50 pages of legal advice from the US lawyers. The report drew attention to the fact that there is no guarantee that the US authorities would provide judicial assistance to an Irish tribunal, either in enforcing the discovery of documents or compelling the attendance of witnesses. I briefed my Cabinet colleagues on the content of the report and I provided the Irish Haemophilia Society with a copy of it.

Notwithstanding the difficulties identified, it would be possible to mount a useful investigation which would access publicly available material and seek the assistance of persons and bodies willing to co-operate with such investigation. The committees of investigation Bill may provide an appropriate mechanism for this inquiry. Other legal avenues are also being explored in consultation with the Attorney General and the legal representatives of the Irish Haemophilia Society.

I intend to maintain contact with the Irish Haemophilia Society on this issue.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Unfortunately, it bears a remarkable similarity to the answers to questions on the same issue which I have been asking for some time. We all understand the difficulties. At the end of the debate on the Lindsay tribunal report more than two years ago, the Minister stated that in his view it was possible to carry out an investigation and that he was consulting with the Attorney General. Since then there does not appear to have been any progress in that regard. To be fair to those who have suffered so much, it is important that real progress is made and that there is some firm commitment, even if it is for a limited investigation, that this will be carried out and a timeframe attached to it.

We all understand that it may be difficult to access the full information because people have a lot to hide. However, that should not deter the Minister. The longer this goes on, the more likely it is that it will simply fade and people will not remember the importance of the issue.

I appreciate the Deputy's concern. I said at the conclusion of my reply that other legal avenues are being explored. Other issues arose in the past year, to which I am not privy, which legal representatives brought to our attention in regard to the HIV potential alternative route. This issue is still under consideration.