Defence legal bill will hit €5m as Lariam cases begin to mount
The Department of Defence expects its legal costs for the year to increase by over one-fifth, with the State facing up to 30 cases linked to controversial anti-malarial drug Lariam.
Officials estimate legal costs for 2014 will hit €5m, compared with €3.8m last year.
The department spent €2.3m settling claims against it last year, with a further €1.5m going on legal and medical bills.
The information was contained in a briefing document prepared for new Defence Minister Simon Coveney, when he was appointed to the role last month in addition to his duties as Agriculture Minister.
Officials told the minister that the State Claims Agency was handling 30 Lariam cases on behalf of the department.
High Court proceedings have already been served in respect of 18 of these cases.
The soldiers involved allege they suffered personal injury as a result of taking the drug while serving overseas with the Defence Forces.
Use of the drug has been hugely controversial in recent years. Manufacturers Roche revised its safety information about Lariam several years ago, listing insomnia, anxiety and depression as possible side effects. The company also said hallucinations, psychosis, suicide and self-harm had been reported. However, Mr Coveney was told by officials that leading medical experts "concur with the practices followed by the Defence Forces in prescribing Lariam".
The minister was also told a litigation branch was set up within the department to offer supports to personnel affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and malaria prevention drugs and to ensure "safeguards against litigation are in place".
The full findings of a report commissioned by the department on the use of the drug have not been disclosed, despite being delivered last year.
The department has deemed the report "legally privileged" and it will not be published.
Lariam has been issued to Irish soldiers since 2001.
It was first prescribed as a malarial preventative measure for a mission in Eritrea.
However, there have been concerns about the drug for several years and it was dropped by the US military in 2009. A number of Irish soldiers have reported having suicidal thoughts and have had to receive counselling or treatment with anti-depressants. The department has consistently defended its position on the continued use of the drug.
It has also issued statements saying a number of safeguards were taken to protect soldiers, such as screening all personnel who received the drug for medical suitability.
Soldiers with certain conditions, such as depression and anxiety, are not allowed to travel on duty overseas. As well as the Lariam claims, the department has had to deal with a variety of other compensation cases.
These include instances where soldiers were injured in traffic accidents driving military vehicles.