By Patricia McDonagh
PRESSURE was last night growing on the Government to hold an independent inquiry into controversial vaccine trials carried out in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Adoption Rights Alliance joined the growing chorus of survivors and politicians calling for a new probe into the trials, which were conducted on behalf of a multinational drugs company.
The call comes amid continuing questions regarding the whereabouts of a confidential investigation into the issue that was carried out by the Department of Health.
In 1993, the private secretary to the then health minister, Brendan Howlin, said the inquiry had been carried out into the nature of the trials.
On foot of this probe, he said Mr Howlin was “satisfied” that there was no added risk to the children who were involved.
However, the results of this investigation were never published and the department is currently searching for the documents in its archives.
Officials said all files relating to the vaccine trials were stored off-site in a secure storage facility and not in the department at Hawkins House. The department said it would examine the files when they are retrieved.
The probe was followed up by another investigation, commissioned in 1997 by the then health minister Brian Cowen.
It found that at least 211 children took part in three separate vaccine trials in the 1960s and 1970s. The report was referred for further investigation to the Commission Investigating Child Abuse, also known as the Laffoy Commission, that year.
However, two court cases taken by doctors involved in the trials curtailed the work of the Commission and it was eventually closed down in 2006 by Health Minister Mary Harney.
Since then, the issue has fallen off the public agenda and the victims have never received counselling, medical screening or an apology from the State.
Last night, Susan Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, insisted that all documents should be probed by an independent inquiry.
“All of the documents should be transferred to an independent body, which will then investigate the reason why these trials were carried out on vulnerable children,” she said.
“They were the children of women who were shunned by society and they were clearly regarded as so worthless that nobody thought anything about subjecting them to experiments.”
Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said all documentation should be examined firstly by the Oireachtas Health Committee.
“It is totally unacceptable for children in the care of the State to be involved in a vaccine trial without proper information being made available or the full consent of their parents or guardians,” he said.
The Irish Independent last week revealed that Mari Steed (50) and three other victims of the trials are to take legal action in the US courts against GlaxoSmithKline, the company which was responsible for the trials.
Ms Steed was given the vaccine in the mother and baby home at the Sacred Heart Convent in Bessborough, Co Cork, when she was between nine and 18 months old, without her mother’s consent.