Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Thalidomide Victims Compensation

4:15 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

In 2018, a Bill was introduced to this House which would have removed the statute of limitations preventing thalidomide survivors from bringing cases for compensation to the courts. This Bill has now lapsed. It was introduced by the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. A couple of weeks ago, it was noted in the legislative programme for the 2021 autumn session that work is under way to "provide a package of health and personal social services and other supports to survivors of thalidomide on a statutory basis". Will the Minister of State outline the timeframe for the roll-out of this particular legislation?

Will he also outline why the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, has not met with the Irish Thalidomide Association? It seems extraordinary that the last two Ministers for Health and the current Minister have all failed to meet the thalidomide survivors. How can Ministers for Health not meet a group for which it is introducing legislation? The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, introduced the Bill I mentioned earlier in 2018 to support thalidomide survivors and the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, supported it. Despite this, the Government has now turned its back on these survivors, of whom there are only 32. The Minister is on record as saying that the thalidomide survivors deserve compensation, recognition and justice. They are his words and yet he will not even meet them.

I am pretty certain that thalidomide survivors are going to hear the same speech from the Minister of State that they have heard for the last ten years. There are, as I mentioned, only 32 acknowledged survivors in Ireland. The vast majority of them turn 60 this year or next year. The Minister will hide behind solicitors and barristers and claim there cannot be a meeting for legal reasons. On that point, not all survivors are taking a legal case so why not meet them? Survivors have been in the courts with Government for the last eight years. The Government faces a bill of €24 million for its court action against survivors yet it will not engage with them. Does the Minister of State have even one sentence that will give thalidomide survivors hope? Will he show that there is some genuine commitment from this Government, because there has been no evidence of it so far?

More than 60 years after the thalidomide scandal in which morning sickness medicine for pregnant women caused malformations in their babies, survivors are still fighting for fair compensation in several European countries. I have met many survivors of thalidomide and I have been inspired by their stories, their resilience and their courage. Like all of us, thalidomide survivors are getting older and now require extra medical assistance and social care. They fear that their independence might be stripped from them. Thalidomide survivors must be respected and compensated. The British Government's £100 million compensation scheme stands in stark contrast to the unsatisfactory approach taken by our Irish Government.

It is long past time for the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, to engage realistically with thalidomide survivors. The Government needs to bring forward a package that gives due acknowledgement to the victims of one of the greatest medical scandals. This package must guarantee the healthcare and personal needs of just 32 people who have to face later life with great uncertainty. Sinn Féin will continue to support the survivors of thalidomide to ensure that they get fair support and compensation. The Government must take steps now to ensure appropriate compensation is allocated to survivors.


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