The Deputy will appreciate that there are a number of cases concerning thalidomide before the High Court at present and it is not possible to comment on matters that are sub judice. The legislation governing the Statute of Limitations comes within the area of responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. Specific time frames are defined under the Statute of Limitations within which litigation can be brought. The Statute is a central feature of a fair system of litigation and recognises that a balance needs to be drawn between allowing litigants make their claims and the protection of defendants from old claims. The overall operation of the law in relation to the Statute of Limitations is complex and any changes to it would have a wide impact in law. While the Government has every sympathy for each person who has injuries that are attributable to thalidomide, it must also be cognisant of the constitutional requirement that the State should treat different classes of litigation equally.
Following an Irish Government Decision in January 1975, the Government granted an ex-gratia sum equivalent to 4 times the German lump-sum and an ex-gratia monthly allowance for life equal to the German monthly allowance, to each of the Irish children found to have thalidomide related injuries. There are currently 29 Irish people in receipt of ex-gratia monthly payments from my Department.
The German monthly payments are made by the Contergan Foundation, which is established under German legislation. From 01 August 2013, the Foundation substantially increased its monthly payments to thalidomide survivors, including Irish survivors. Both the German payments and the Irish ex-gratia payments made to the survivors are exempt from tax, including DIRT and are not reckonable as means for the purpose of Social Welfare payments. The rate of payment is related to the survivors' level of thalidomide related injury.
In addition to the initial lump sum and the monthly payments for life, the supports provided to each Irish survivor include a medical card on an administrative basis regardless of means, provision of appliances, artificial limbs, equipment, housing adaptations, and access to a full range of primary care, hospital and personal social services. There is a designated senior manager in the Health Service Executive to act as a liaison with regard to the ongoing health and personal social service needs of Irish survivors.
It is important to note that the German Contergan Foundation, which is established under German legislation, has confirmed that since 2013 it is accepting applications from individuals for compensation for thalidomide related injury. It is open to any Irish person to apply to the Foundation for assessment of their disability as being attributable to thalidomide. Any Irish person who establishes that their injury is attributable to thalidomide will be offered appropriate supports by the Irish Government, commensurate with those currently provided to Irish thalidomide survivors.
Work is underway in the Department to bring forward Heads of a Bill to provide on a statutory basis for health and personal social services for the Irish survivors of thalidomide.