A HANDFUL of solicitors' firms have shared more than €125m in legal fees from the Hepatitis C compensation tribunal.
The figure emerged yesterday as the cost of the tribunal, set up to compensate victims of the contaminated blood scandals, breached the €1bn mark.
The cost is more than twice the original estimate.
The tribunal's latest report reveals that it paid out €32m to victims in 2009, another €1.6m in payouts as a result of High Court appeals, and a further €326,699 in 'reparation costs' for pain and suffering.
It was set up in 1996 to compensate people who received blood or blood products which were contaminated with Hepatitis C or HIV.
People who have brought claims have mostly been represented by a small number of solicitors' firms who have shared €125.3m in legal fees over 14 years.
Among the highest earners are: Ivor Fitzpatrick and Co; Malcomson Law; Lavelle Coleman; and Arthur P McClean, all of which are Dublin based.
The report revealed that legal fees cost €13m in 2009, with the firm Malcomson Law earning nearly €7m of this sum.
Ivor Fitzpatrick and Co earned in the region of €2m with Arthur P McClean receiving over €1m.
The tribunal will sit for years to come as many victims have staggered their payments because of the effects of Hepatitis C which can be a potential killer.
The report revealed that in 2009 the tribunal received 83 new claims and awards ranged from €6,350 to €1.87m.
In the past, some victims have received awards of more than €5m.
The tribunal was set up in 1996 to compensate 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 -- had been negligent. It left women, who received Anti-D injections due to a mismatch between their blood type and the blood type of the foetus, infected with the potentially lethal Hepatitis C in the late 1970s and 1990s.
Others included in the tribunal are people who contracted Hepatitis C through blood transfusion and haemophiliacs who were allowed additional compensation in 2002 after being infected with the virus as well as HIV.
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 is also high and several have had to have transplants.
Victims who are dissatisfied with the award they receive from the tribunal, which meets in private, are entitled to appeal the decision to the High Court.
The report showed that since the tribunal began, 364 victims have received €81m after appealing to the High Court, including €1.6m in 2009.
Reparation payments are also added on to awards for pain and suffering and these have added €132m to the overall cost.
The revelations about the contamination of Anti-D first came to light in 1994 and initially the Fianna Fail-Labour party coalition government denied any liability.
Later, the Fine Gael-led rainbow coalition became embroiled in controversy for its treatment of dying mother Brigid McCole who had been infected with Hepatitis C. The Government was eventually forced to set up the tribunal.