Press Release

Minister Harney Announces New Supports For Survivors of Thalidomide

The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, T.D. today (Tuesday 27th April, 2010) announced the Government’s decision to provide additional supports for survivors of thalidomide in Ireland.

The Minister met this afternoon with groups representing survivors of thalidomide to brief them on the Government’s consideration of a report which she had commissioned from the State Claims Agency in response to the requests by survivor groups.

The Minister said, “The Government’s decision to provide additional financial assistance and other services reflects our sympathy for the 32 survivors and their families, whose lives have been so severely affected by this tragedy. The Government pays tribute to them.

“The Government has decided on the new measures today in order to meet the needs of Irish survivors into the future through increased financial assistance and additional services.

“We hope that they will accept the offer of additional financial assistance and supports as a fair and compassionate measure.

“In 1975, the Government of the day expressed a commitment to ensure that the needs of the surviving children would be met. Today’s decision reaffirms that original commitment.

“The then Attorney General advised the Government in 1975 that the State had no legal obligation arising from neglect on its part in respect of the injuries suffered by the survivors of thalidomide. Today, the Attorney General has concurred with that opinion.

“Accepting that consistent advice, this Government, and its predecessors, have sought to reflect the great sympathy of the Irish people for survivors of thalidomide by making special support available through direct financial assistance, enhanced social supports and personal health services.

“I am satisfied that a full and fair examination has been carried out by the State Claims Agency and that it has provided an appropriate basis for consideration and decisions by the Government today.”

Details of new support measures

The measures announced today, following on the report of the State Claims Agency, include:

  • provision for special care packages for thalidomide survivors living in Ireland, to be provided following individual assessments of need carried out by an independent expert to be appointed by the Minister. Dr. Paul O’Connell, Consultant Rheumatologist, Beaumont Hospital has agreed to conduct multi-disciplinary assessments for this purpose;
  • the designation of a senior manager in the HSE to act as liaison with regard to the ongoing health and personal social services needs of the Irish survivors. Ms Carmel Buckley, a senior nursing official in the HSE will act as liaison for this purpose;
  • a once-off ex-gratia payment of €2m (amounting to €62,500 each) to be divided equally between the Irish survivors, as a practical expression of the Government’s sympathy;
  • the payment of an annual lump sum, in addition to current payments, equivalent to a further German annual payment which commenced in 2009, of up to €3,680, in the most severe category;
  • provision whereby, if an individual thalidomide survivor has applied for, but does not qualify for either the Disabled Drivers Tax Concession Scheme or the Motorised Transport Grant, their cases will be examined with a view to providing an equivalent level of financial assistance to assist with their transport needs.

Current situation

  • The thalidomide product sold in Ireland was manufactured by Chemie Grunenthal – a German company. Irish survivors of thalidomide receive compensation from a German Foundation set up for that purpose ranging from €371 per month to €1,116 per month, which is tax free. In addition the German Government has recently awarded an additional payment ranging from €460 to €3,680 per annum.
  • A monthly allowance is paid by the Department of Health and Children and is currently between €514.59 and €1,109.46 per month. The majority of Irish survivors are in receipt of the maximum allowance from Germany and Ireland.
  • Combining German and Irish payments the average total amount received by Irish survivors is therefore €26,000 per annum with the maximum being €30,386.
  • The monthly allowance is tax-free and is not reckonable for State benefits including the Disability Allowance which is currently €849 per month.
  • Each individual is automatically entitled to a medical card.

*** Read The Report ***

Background

A Thalidomide questions and answers document and a summary of the conclusions and recommendations of the State Claims Agency report are enclosed below:

Q What is Thalidomide ?

Thalidomide is a drug which was marketed in this country from May 1959 to January 1962 when it was withdrawn from sale by the manufacturers.

Q Who made the drug ?

The drug sold in Ireland was manufactured by the German drug company Chemie Grunenthal

Q Why was it withdrawn ?

Because it was linked to disabilities in children born to mothers who had taken the drug during their pregnancy.

Q What type of disabilities ?

Mainly limb defects and in severe cases, lack of limbs. The Irish survivors have a wide range of disabilities, mainly limb abnormalities.

Q How many Irish children were affected ?

Originally 33 (two have since died and an additional case has come to light recently) There are thousands of survivors throughout the world.

Q What happened to the children and their parents ?

As the drug was manufactured in Germany the Irish children were included in the German payments scheme. Each child received a lump sum of up to €5,000 and a monthly allowance of up to €95 in 1973 from a foundation set up by the German Government to pay survivors.

Q What did the Irish Government provide?

In 1975 the Irish Government provided a lump sum of four times the German amount – up to €21,000 (this is equivalent to €200,000 in today’s terms) and a monthly allowance equal to the German allowance – up to €95. Since 1975 this allowance has been increased each year (in line with CPI /Social Welfare) and is currently up to €1,090 per month.

Q What is the Government doing now ?

The Minister for Health asked the State Claims Agency to examine the claims and needs of the survivors.

Q What did the State Claims Agency find in its examination ?

The Agency found that most of the survivors are being paid up to €30,000 tax free each year by the German Foundation and the Irish Government combined. These payments are not reckonable for state allowances. The survivors have a medical card and they are also eligible for other State supports for people with a disability.

Q How do they compare with other countries ?

It is difficult to compare directly between countries because some countries have provided nothing – Austria, Italy, Spain and Portugal,some countries have provided varying lump sums – Canada, Japan, Brazil and some countries where the drug was manufactured, such as Germany and UK, have set up trusts with money mainly from the drug company, which are flexible in providing lump sums and monthly allowances.

The average provided by the UK trust is £20,000 (€23,000). Most of the Irish survivors receive around €30,000 per annum when you include both the German and the Irish payment.

Q What did the State Claims Agency recommend ?

In summary the Agency recommended a once off lump sum of €62,500 for each person and in addition a new annual payment which the German foundation introduced in 2009 of up to €3,680. The agency also recommended additional supports for the survivors in the area of health and personal services and transport.

Q What is the Government proposing to do ?

The Government accepted the recommendations of the State Claims Agency and propose to offer the above to the Irish survivors of thalidomide.

State Claims Agency Report – Conclusions and Recommendations

The Agency’s Report:

  • Outlines the background,
  • Details the provisions since 1975 in Ireland,
  • Considers the position in other jurisdictions,
  • Outlines the submissions (oral and written) by the Irish Thalidomide Association and the Irish Thalidomide Survivor’s Society.
  • Considers case law and precedent,
  • Makes conclusions and provides advice to the Minister.

The State Claims Agency made the following recommendations for the Minster’s consideration:

(a) A once-off payment of €50,000 to each of the 31 Thalidomide survivors, amounting to €1,550,000 in total. Alternatively, that a sum of €2,000,000 be paid into a special purpose trust for disbursement by the trustees, some of whom should be drawn from the membership of the ITA and the ITSS, to those Thalidomide survivors most in need of monetary assistance.

(b) The payment of an annual lump sum, equivalent to the special German annual payment which commenced to be paid from mid 2009. The special German annual payment amounts to €460, in the least severe category and €3,680, in the most severe category. Approximately 20 survivors fall into the most severe category. The effect of the payment of an annual lump sum by the Irish State would be to continue to maintain the historical relativity of German and Irish compensation rates, in respect of Irish Thalidomide survivors.

(c) The appointment of a suitably-qualified expert to assess those Thalidomide survivors who, on account of the severity of their disability, require access to specialised treatment and services similar to those available to persons entitled to a Health Amendment Act Card. Thereafter, that a special care package be devised and provided to address these survivors’ particular needs, to include, for example, the need for home help and/or personal assistants.

(d) That all Thalidomide sufferers be automatically qualified to avail of the Disabled Drivers Scheme (VRT and VAT refund on cost of car and adaptations, VAT refund on petrol and free car tax, tolls) and the Motorised Transport Grant (over €5,000 towards the cost of purchase and adaptation of car).

The Agency believes that the above, when taken together with the pre-existing compensation arrangements, would place Ireland on a similar footing with other countries who have put in place recent, additional compensation for Thalidomide survivors.