The controversy around Lariam does not exist in a vacuum-Ryan
This issue has dominated parliamentary questions on defence since this Dáil came into being last year and, indeed, during the previous Dáil. It has been the primary issue during every oral parliamentary question session. The Minister of State is well acquainted with the political will on this side of the House to remove Lariam as the preferred malaria prevention drug of choice for our Defence Forces.
I will not go through the issues again tonight. Others have already done so. What we have before us is a clear, concise and strong motion calling on the Defence Forces to cease immediately administering Lariam to all Irish soldiers as the drug of first resort and to replace it with proven safer alternatives such as doxycycline or Malarone. I am sure that the Minister of State expected this motion at some stage, as defence spokespersons have spoken with him inside and outside the Chamber about finding a solution. The issue will not go away until there is a change in policy.
Lariam should only ever be used as a drug of last resort where no suitable, safer alternative is available. The potential side effects of Lariam can and have been devastating for some Defence Forces personnel. It has been over four years since an RTE “Prime Time” programme revealed research showing a higher risk of suicide among members of the Army who had taken Lariam during their deployments overseas versus those who had not. A leading doctor in the field of Lariam effects, Major Dr. Remington Nevin, who is referenced in the motion, describes Lariam as “a horror movie in a pill”.
Most of the world’s major military powers have seen the evidence and have either banned the use of the drug or use it only as a drug of last resort. The US military no longer uses Lariam as its drug of choice. The Irish Medicines Board first highlighted the risk of neuropsychiatric side effects in its Drug Safety Newsletter in May 1996. Information leaflets were updated in 2003 with details of reported suicides and suicidal ideation related to the use of the medication. However, the Defence Forces and the Minister for Justice and Equality state that there are no plans as yet to discontinue its use. We are not satisfied with the Minister of State’s replies to date as to why this position can be justified.
The controversy around Lariam does not exist in a vacuum, as other Deputies have mentioned. It is just one of a number of issues relating to equality and fair treatment for members of the Defence Forces. The ongoing financial hardships affecting Defence Forces families was raised again during today’s Leaders’ Questions. The Labour Party has regularly sought an upgrade of the ability of Defence Forces personnel to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment. Such an upgrade would in turn have an impact on the ability to earn an income without having recourse to family income supplement. PDFORRA has long held the belief that, for truly effective and equitable negotiations to be undertaken on behalf of its membership, affiliation to ICTU is imperative. This would allow the Defence Forces to have access to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, for dispute resolutions and to be involved in national pay bargaining like other workers. Without recourse to the WRC, Defence Forces personnel are denied an avenue that is open to many other workers to have issues relating to their rights and equality to be heard. That is why this motion and the work of Deputies are so important for the Defence Forces when it comes to an issue like Lariam.
The Minister of State has heard the arguments for a long time. The facts are incontrovertible. He should accept this motion. It has support across this side of the House. It makes sense and will save lives. This is an opportunity to put new politics into practice. Please support this motion. Put the issue to bed once and for all. Acknowledge the scientific evidence. Get the issue off the agenda and move on to the financial hardships affecting Defence Forces members and their families. We as a party support this motion.
I draw the Minister of State’s attention to an excerpt from his speech where he stated:
This is not a political decision. It is a medical decision. We should be very cautious about instructing doctors on what medications to prescribe. Patient safety and care is best left to the medical experts.
We in this country are not experts in this field though. We need to take a lead from health experts across the world who are telling us something different from what medical personnel within the armed forces are telling us. I urge the Minister of State to reconsider and support the motion.