Government says sorry for hardships suffered by Thalidomide survivors

Statement comes as Cabinet briefed on enhanced supports for people impacted by the drug

Thalidomide survivor Maggie Woods with members of the Irish Thalidomide Association outside the Dáil in 2021. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Government leaders have said they are sorry for the hardships suffered by Thalidomide survivors and their families and the impact the drug has had on their lives.

The statement from Taoiseach Simon Harris, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Roderic O’Gorman came after the Cabinet was updated on an enhanced package of health and social care supports for the survivors.

The Thalidomide drug was licensed for sale in Ireland in 1959, and promoted as helping prevent nausea in pregnant women.

It turned out to have devastating side effects, harming and deforming the developing foetus.

READ SOME MORE

The international withdrawal date for the drug was November 26th, 1961.

However, it remained on the shelves of some rural pharmacies in Ireland, and in household medicine cabinets, until 1964.

There are approximately 40 people in Ireland whose mothers took Thalidomide in good faith.

Twenty-eight are in receipt of ex gratia payments from the Government.

On Tuesday ministers were briefed on a package of measures that were co-designed with survivors including prioritised and simplified access to local health and social care professionals; access to therapies; and independent living supports to include housing adaptations, car adaptations and home supports.

There are also annual health assessments and a free travel pass.

In their statement the Coalition leaders said: “We want to take this opportunity to express our sympathy to survivors and their families – we are sorry for all they have endured, for the hardships they have suffered and for the impact thalidomide has had on their lives.

“We want to strongly reiterate, once again, their mothers did nothing wrong, and we have never thought otherwise.

“It is regretful that the regulatory standards we have today were not the norm, here or internationally, when thalidomide was first brought to market.

“Understanding and ensuring drug safety has changed significantly based on their experience.”

They added: “Hearing survivors’ individual stories as part of this process has been humbling and more importantly, has helped us to understand how we can best meet their needs into the future.”

They said the enhanced package of supports has been founded on “a non-legal facilitation process under terms of reference agreed with all parties, under the chairmanship of Mr Kieran Mulvey with Irish survivors of thalidomide.”

According to the statement this started in April 2023 and it was a voluntary process with survivors.

The leaders said: “Significant progress was made.

“Regrettably, talks did not progress in this format and wider matters raised by survivors were not covered.

“The options of resuming a non-legal facilitation process on these issues, or a legal mediation via the State Claims Agency, remain available.”

The Coalition leaders continued: “However, Government is very conscious of the challenging needs of survivors, particularly as they get older.

“It is also aware of the costs associated with meeting their needs. Therefore, Government is anxious to implement these enhanced supports immediately in the best interests of survivors. We look forward to meeting with survivors to share further information on the enhanced supports in the coming weeks.”

In recent months, the Irish Thalidomide Association (ITA) has been seeking fresh engagement with Government about a State apology and compensation package for survivors. The association’s members are due to meet later this week to discuss the Government’s statement.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times