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Noonan's image tarnished by the Hepatitis C scandal

MICHAEL Noonan's tone of self-congratulation on radio yesterday morning when reminded of his handling of the Hepatitis C crisis provoked widespread anger among women who live with the legacy of the blood contamination scandal.

Positive Action, the group representing women who were infected with Hepatitis C through Anti-D, believe he has never properly apologised to them in contrast to the man he deposed, John Bruton "who is on record as regretting the stand taken by the Rainbow Government in its refusal to set up an inquiry". Mr Noonan's tenure as minister for health dented the his image and calls into question his qualities for leadership and his judgment now that he is in the biggest contest of his political career.

Mr Noonan was yesterday described by women, who frequently came face to face with him during those dark days, as the perfect public servant who was a puppet of the Government but who lacked a sense of morality and justice on the issue.

It is clear he seriously underestimated the challenge he was about to face when he became minister in 1995.

A year earlier the Blood Transfusion Service Board (BTSB) had been forced to issue an alert that women who received Anti-D, to prevent them having blue babies in the late 1970s and early 1990s, had probably received a Hepatitis C-contaminated product.

It was Mr Noonan's job to release the findings of an expert report into the scandal in April the following year - which in the light of the later tribunal of inquiry was seriously inadequate.

New management was installed at the blood bank, a non-statutory compensation tribunal was to be set up and Mr Noonan believed he had the situation well under control.

However, it was his folly to underestimate the hidden momentum of the scandal and the doggedness of the women involved, including the late Brigid McCole a Donegal mother-of-twelve who was dying of the Hepatitis C infection.

The State put up a stout defence to Mrs McCole's claims for damages in the High Court - even though subsequent documents showed the Attorney General told the Government in 1995 the BTSB was liable.

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