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Parents demanding action on organ harvest inquiry

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Furious parents whose children’s organs were retained by hospitals without their permission are threatening to pull out of a two-phase government inquiry into the controversy unless it is converted into a full statutory tribunal.

The Parents for Justice group, representing 1,812 parents of children whose organs were retained without their consent, has strongly criticized the Irish government for failing to give them assurances that the two-phase inquiry will have sufficient powers to establish the full facts about what happened.

PfJ spokesperson Fionnula O’Reilly said the group has been waiting three months for answers from Health Minister Micheal Martin about whether the second phase of the inquiry — hearings by the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children — would be able to compel witnesses to attend and produce documents.

“We have a verbal assurance from the minister that there will be a second phase to the inquiry with statutory powers,” she said. “We are now calling on him to honor that assurance that he gave us on April 17.”

O’Reilly said the minister had told them the attorney general had been instructed to instigate a review of the impact of the Supreme Court’s Abbeylara judgment on all Oireachtas inquiries and he would get back to them within weeks.

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She said she still has not heard what the official view was after the challenge by gardai against aspects of the inquiry into the shooting of John Carthy in Abbeylara.

“We have had angry members phoning us and saying the attorney general is prepared to intervene in the matter of the FAI selling soccer match rights to Sky television,” O’Reilly said. “We are aghast at that — the speed and willingness of the government to intervene in what seems to us a relatively trivial matter compared to the serious issues that need urgent investigation.

“Our situation is outstanding for three months yet the attorney general can intervene at the drop of a hat. Is it because we have behaved reasonably and responsibly and haven’t clamored and taken to the streets that we have gone to the bottom of the queue? If we have to do that, we will.

“There is a huge anger about this. I myself have had 16 calls and the office has had 28 calls logged on the answering machine.”

The minister set up the first phase of the inquiry 16 months ago under the chairmanship of senior counsel Anne Dunne.

So far, about euro 2.3 million in legal fees has been paid out on the Dunne inquiry that is examining policies and practices surrounding post-mortems in the State since 1970 and particularly the removal and retention of organs by hospitals.

It will also investigate the role of the Department of Health, the Drug Advisory Board, the Irish Medical Council and coroners.

Currently, the only law in Ireland dealing with human tissue dates back to the 1830s.

The Dunne inquiry has refused to disclose how many people responded to invitations to make submissions. It said in a letter to the PfJ’s legal advisers that the level of cooperation is high and encouraging.

“We would still query the quality of that cooperation,” O’Reilly said. “Does that cooperation consist simply of hospitals saying they intend to cooperate or has there been tangible proof of that cooperation?

“Have all documents that have been sought been delivered? Have all persons that have been asked been responsive? If hospitals are merely only stating their intention to cooperate, that to me does not constitute cooperation.”

She is also concerned about delays. “Originally Anne Dunne was due to have reported in six months but she has sought an extension of 12 months,” she said. “We have put a question into the minister about the time scale for the completion of that report. Obviously we are very concerned.

“We consider we have been left with half an inquiry at this point. That’s not what we bought into. We are left with the half that has no powers and is now going to take considerably longer than was originally envisaged.

“That is just not acceptable to our members. In fact we don’t believe at this point that we have a mandate to continue cooperating.”

She said PfJ’s legal advisers are “adamant” that the second phase Oireachtas inquiry is now in jeopardy and could not work.

“We believe the only viable alternative now is the establishment of a full statutory tribunal of inquiry,” O’Reilly said. “Unless the minister comes up with some realistic and reasonable proposals, we will be calling a general meeting of our members and recommending withdrawal from the inquiry.”

O’Reilly said a decision may be made this week on whether to convene a general meeting.

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