Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Questions (573, 642, 646, 647, 651, 660)

Finian McGrath

Question:

573. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health if he will support the Irish Thalidomide Association in 2013 and not take an adversarial approach to their plight (details supplied). [13312/13]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

642. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Health the proposals, if any, he has to address the concerns of the Irish Thalidomide Association (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12902/13]

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Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

646. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health if he will honour the programme for Government commitment in terms of a revised compensation scheme for thalidomide survivors in view of the additional entitlements recently awarded to citizens in Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom who are thalidomide survivors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12920/13]

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Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

647. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health the further action he is planning to take to resolve all outstanding financial, medical and legal issues for survivors of Thalidomide and the Irish Thalidomide Association in view of the alleged earlier flawed report from the State Claims Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12921/13]

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Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

651. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Health if he will address the concerns raised in correspondence (details supplied) regarding thalidomide victims; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13007/13]

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Róisín Shortall

Question:

660. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health the way he intends to honour the commitment in the programme for Government to continue to engage in discussions with the Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13112/13]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 573, 642, 646, 647, 651 and 660 together.

Given the challenges that persist for each individual, this Government's aim is to address the health and personal social care needs of thalidomide survivors living in Ireland. I have stated that I am willing to enter into discussions about a health care package on a non-statutory basis; an ex-gratia payment having regard to current financial circumstances; and a statement to the Dáil recognising the challenges faced by survivors.

There are two thalidomide representative organisations. The largest group, the Irish Thalidomide Association announced publicly in 2012 that it had ceased talks with the Government and their legal advisors have initiated personal injuries claims against the State.

The second organisation, the Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society, has sought an independent agency and a statutory health care package including other aspects of their needs such as housing, heating, transport and clothing, which are outside the remit of the health sector. My position remains unchanged from that outlined in my letter to the Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society in June last year in which I requested that the Society consider, in good faith, proceeding with a Health Care Protocol which envisaged appointing and training a multi-disciplinary team, arranging a multi-disciplinary health evaluation, identifying and documenting their healthcare needs/issues and developing plans to address those needs.

On the matter of the timing of the withdrawal of the Thalidomide drug, I have been advised that no negligence or breach of duty could be established against the State on the basis of actions undertaken by the Department at the time. With regard to the fact that the payments made by the State to the survivors of Thalidomide and their families in 1975 were not referred to the High Court, I understand that the relevant rules of Court simply did not apply to the circumstances pertaining to the ex-gratia payment made on behalf of the Government. The payments made by the State in 1975 to the survivors of Thalidomide and their families were not made in settlement of any legal proceedings, either existing or threatened. The payment was not made in a legal context because the State had no liability. It was made because the State believed then that it was appropriate to make some provision for the survivors. The payments made were substantial and were designed to augment payments made to the survivors by the German Foundation.

There are currently 32 Irish Thalidomide survivors. Each survivor received lump sum payments from a German Foundation and the Irish Government in the early 1970s. In 1975 the lump-sums paid by the Irish Government ranged from €6,400 to €21,000. In addition, each survivor receives on-going monthly payments from both the German Foundation and the Irish Government. Combining the Irish and German payments, most individuals received €30,386 per annum or €2,572 per month, tax free. The German and Irish monthly allowance is not reckonable for State benefits and each individual is automatically entitled to a medical card.

In November 2012, officials in my Department forwarded to the Secretaries of both Thalidomide organisations, details regarding a scheme of support currently being provided to survivors of thalidomide worldwide, by the Contergan Foundation.