Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent
A HANDFUL of solicitors' firms have earned most of the €103m paid out in legal fees by the Hepatitis C compensation tribunal.
The tribunal -- set up in the mid-1990s to compensate the victims of blood contamination -- has now paid out a massive €818m in damages and legal fees although no blood bank official has ever been held criminally accountable for any of the scandals.
Legal fees topped nearly €8m last year with most of the payout shared by firms such as Malcomson Law, Ivor Fitzpatrick, Lavelle Coleman and Arthur P McLean.
One of the highest awards in the history of the tribunal was made last year to a victim who received €5.2m.
The tribunal's annual report does not say the circumstances which merited such a high payout but it is believed the person had suffered severe loss of earnings because of their illness.
The tribunal was set up in 1996 and compensates victims of blood contamination including 1,000 mothers who received contaminated batches of the blood product Anti-D which was made by the Blood Transfusion Service Board (BTSB).
An inquiry tribunal found the BTSB -- since renamed the Irish Blood Transfusion Service -- negligent. It left women, who received the product to prevent them having blue babies, infected with the potentially lethal Hepatitis C in the late 1970s and 1990s.
Others included in the tribunal are people who received Hepatitis C through blood transfusion and haemophiliacs who were allowed additional compensation in 2002 after being infected with the virus as well as HIV.
It recently emerged that the last surviving big player in the contamination of the blood product Anti-D, former BTSB biochemist Cecily Cunningham, will not face prosecution due to lack of any living witnesses.
At least 42 mothers who received contaminated Anti-D have died. A significant number of these died from liver failure.
The death toll among people with haemophilia who were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C has reached 92. Four have undergone liver transplants.
The tribunal will have to sit for many more years because a substantial number of victims have deferred any major award until their condition deteriorates.
Detta Warnock, chairwoman of Positive Action, the organisation representing women infected through Anti-D, said it was important that claimants receive legal assistance.
Acknowledging the payout to solicitors was high she said, however, that she would "not say a word against" the legal teams involved.
Positive Action is continuing to advocate for about 30 women who received contaminated batches of Anti-D but who are excluded from the tribunal or the special packages of medical supports for victims.
The tribunal report showed that the average payout to claimants last year was €287,128.
Some 15 victims appealed the tribunal's payout to the High Court and received increases of €3.2m.