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Thalidomide survivors call for proper compensation

The demand for Minister James Reilly to honour the coalition’s commitment in the Programme for Government comes as German survivors receive an extra €120 million in entitlements per year.

Maggie Woods, chairperson of the Irish Thalidomide Association, outside Government Buildings, Dublin.
Maggie Woods, chairperson of the Irish Thalidomide Association, outside Government Buildings, Dublin.
Image: Julien Behal/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE IRISH THALIDOMIDE Association has called on the Minister for Health to honour commitments made in the Programme for Government and enter talks on providing extra compensation to the country’s 32 survivors of the ill-fated drug.

The demand comes as Germany announces a ‘significant’ package of additional yearly entitlements for those affected by thalidomide.

Spokesperson for the group, Austin O’Carroll told TheJournal.ie that Irish survivors could benefit from the further compensation if it were not for the State’s inaction.

“We have been campaigning for six years and the Government has failed to fulfil promises,” he said.

“We have had only one half-hour meeting with the Minister since he came into office so we were forced to go down the courts route.”

Members of the Association commenced individual legal actions against the State last July after accusing government of “weaselling out” of its commitments.

In 1975, the governments of Ireland and Germany agreed to make payments to survivors but it has never been formally approved by the High Court.

Some survivors have received letters from the German Contergan Foundation recently advising them that they were in danger of losing their monthly payments because of the class action being taken against the Irish State.

“Because of Government inaction, we are now in danger of losing our present entitlements, as well as not securing future ones,” continued O’Carroll.

“We are resolved to continue the fight but we are very tired. We need to sort it out as soon as possible.”

Thalidomide was prescribed in the 1950s and 1960s to expectant mothers who were suffering with morning sickness. It caused babies to be born with serious physical disabilities. In September 2012, the manufacturers issued its first apology for the devastating side-effects. That apology, which said that the consequences “could not be detected” at the time it was put on the met, was rejected by the ITA.

It has also accused the Irish State of compounding the problem by failing to withdraw Thalidomide for seven months after Gruenenthal discontinued the product.

A number of countries, including the UK and Australia, have made extra awards to survivors in recent years.

That is a recognition of two things, advised O’Carroll. “That it is unprecedented that someone impacted by a drug defect would not get full and proper compensation. And that Thalidomide survivors are living into their 50s (it was believed we would not live beyond our 20s).”

He said that many survivors live with daily pain and suffer with complex forms of arthritis. “I used to be able to walk up to two-and-a-half miles per day, now I can manage about 100 metres.”

1982 State Papers: Govt advised to deal with vaccine damage in the same way as thalidomide compensation

September 2012: Thalidomide makers issue first ever apology to victims

July 2012: Irish Thalidomide Association members commence legal actions against State

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