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?1.8m probe into orphanage vaccine trials still in jeopardy

THE State probe into vaccine trials in orphanages in the 1960s and 1970s increasingly looks set to be abandoned - even though ?1.8m has been spent on it.

The State has yet to appeal a High Court judgment which deemed the government order directing an inquiry into the conduct of vaccine trials on children in State institutions invalid.

A spokesman for the Health Department said yesterday the matter was still "under consideration".

Victor Boyhan, spokesman for a number of the former residents of orphanages and residential homes, said that he was now seeking a meeting with Health Minister Mary Harney to clarify the issue.

An estimated ?1.8m has been spent on the inquiry and a considerable amount of documentation has been discovered, as well as witness statements taken.

Lawyers' fees account for ?521,000; legal costs for the inquiry officers amount to ?276,000; and rental of premises comes to ?597,000.

A number of public hearings were carried out into the issue after it was referred to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse by former minister Micheal Martin.

The Government's order directing an inquiry into the conduct of vaccine trials on children in State institutions was deemed invalid by the High Court last June.

Mr Justice Aindrias O Caoimh gave his decision in a challenge brought by retired professor of microbiology, Irene Hillary.

Prof Hillary worked for 33 years at University College Dublin and participated in tests relating to the method of administration of vaccines in a number of State institutions in the 1960s.

Earlier hearings were told that almost 60 children in the care of the State were subjected to vaccine and drug trials in residential care homes.

A Department of Health report has already confirmed that 123 residents of Dublin children's homes were used in trials of vaccines by the multinational Wellcome drug company.

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It suggested some children used in one trial may have been more susceptible to polio infection as a result.

The commission has also asked people who were in certain homes to come forward as part of its investigation, including residents of St Patrick's Home, Navan Road, Dublin; St Clare's in Stamullen, Co Meath; St Peter's, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath; Dunboyne mother and baby home, Co Meath; Bessboro mother and baby home, Co Cork; and Mount Carmel Industrial School, Co Westmeath.

The inquiry was investigating a trial of the 4-in-1 vaccine (DPT and Polio) in six children's homes between December 1960 and November 1961.

In her latest statement on the issue, Ms Harney said: "Discussions have taken place with the commission and other parties who have an interest in or are affected by these trials.

"Some of these discussions are still ongoing, and until they have been completed, I am not in a position to outline the course of action which the Government will take."

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