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FactCheck: Was Willie O'Dea really not aware of concerns over Lariam, while he was Minister?

The Fianna Fáil TD was asked four times by Vincent Browne, and four times denied that concerns were mentioned to him about the anti-malaria drug given to Irish troops.

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THE TWO-DECADE controversy over the use of Lariam by the Irish Defence Forces continued last week, when representatives of military staff members accused the government of ignoring UN advice over the dangers of the anti-malarial drug.

Lariam is associated with severe side effects including depression, anxiety and hallucination, but continues to be administered to Irish troops on overseas deployments.

On last Tuesday’s Tonight With Vincent Browne, the panel discussed the decision to continue using the drug, and former Defence Minister, Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea, was repeatedly asked whether concerns about Lariam ever arose when he was in office.

He repeatedly denied this, saying it “never arose”.

Wendy Lyon contacted us about this on Twitter, so we checked it out.

(Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie, tweet @TJ_FactCheck, or send us a DM).

Claim: Concerns over the use of Lariam were never brought to Willie O’Dea’s attention, while he was Minister for Defence
Verdict: FALSE

  • As minister, O’Dea received and answered two separate parliamentary questions about concerns over Larium, in 2008
  • He also communicated with military authorities about those concerns
  • In response to this FactCheck, Willie O’Dea said his statements on Tonight With Vincent Browne were “clearly mistaken and the result of a genuine error“.

What was said:

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

You can watch a video of the exchange between Vincent Browne and Willie O’Dea, above. You can watch the segment, and the episode, in full here.

It’s worth including a transcript of the bulk of their discussion.

Vincent Browne: Willie, when you were Minister for Defence, did this issue arise, and what did you do about it?
Willie O’Dea: No, never. Never arose.
VB: Never?
WOD: Never arose.

VB: …Nobody mentioned this to you while you were Minister for Defence?
WOD: No, I can say honestly, no. I’d say if you look at the Dáil records, it was never raised by way of question or anything else.

VB: And over that five years, [while O'Dea was Minister] it never arose?
WOD: No, never arose.

The Facts

troops-to-chad-154-90131805cut Then Defence Minister Willie O'Dea with Irish troops in 2009, before their deployment to Chad. Source: RollingNews.ie

Willie O’Dea was Minister for Defence from 29 September 2004 to 18 February 2010.

As Minister, he oversaw the deployment of Irish troops on an EU-led UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic and Chad.

As pointed out to us by Wendy Lyon, on 29 April 2008, O’Dea received two separate parliamentary questions relating to the administering of Lariam in Chad, from then Fine Gael TDs Billy Timmins and Jimmy Deenihan.

Billy Timmins told FactCheck:

From my memory, the issue of Lariam was a live issue, and concerns were raised about it at the time, and I would have raised it with the Minister.

Deenihan’s question raised “the concerns expressed by some medical practitioners about the side effects” of the drug, “especially its neuropsychiatric side effects”.

In his response, O’Dea mentioned that: “Troops being administered the drug are informed of its effects and its use is closely monitored by the military medical authorities”.

He added:

The Military Authorities have assured me that they are fully aware of the drug’s neuropsychiatric effects.

Screen Shot 2016-10-13 at 12.16.54 PM Source: Oireachtas.ie

This shows that, as well as being aware of concerns over the side effects of Lariam, and having those concerns mentioned to him, O’Dea also corresponded with military authorities about those concerns.

Willie O’Dea’s claim on Tonight With Vincent Browne, that concerns over Lariam “never arose” during his tenure as Minister for Defence, is therefore FALSE.

In response to a query from FactCheck, Willie O’Dea said:

My comments on the Vincent Browne show were clearly mistaken and the result of a genuine error. I’m grateful to TheJournal.ie for bringing the written parliamentary questions from 2008 to my attention.
Having said that, insofar as I can ascertain, the issue was never the subject of oral questions or actual debate on the floor of the Dáil with me during my tenure as Minister for Defence.

He also added:

Responding to the emergence of new research, my party declared its support for withdrawal of this drug from use by the Defence Forces during the course of the last Dáil.

After searching Dáil records and a newspaper archive, the only instances we found where concerns over Lariam were brought to Willie O’Dea’s attention while he was minister, are the two parliamentary questions mentioned above.

It is possible there were other such instances, but at this time we have no evidence to suggest that this is the case.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here.

For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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