Between 1960 and 1973, medical researchers from University College Dublin (UCD) conducted unethical vaccine trials on children in Ireland’s mother-and-baby homes. Professor Patrick Meenan and Dr Irene Hillery of the Department of Medical Microbiology carried out unlicensed experiments on vulnerable children without the consent of their mothers.

This forms part of the human rights abuses unearthed by a recent government commission into Ireland’s mother and baby homes, where up to 9,000 children died.

It has also emerged that the UCD researchers received significant amounts of money from the pharmaceutical companies funding the trials. Additionally, their research was regularly published in the British Medical Journal, a prestigious publication. Not only did they benefit financially but received academic praise for their work.

The researchers were rewarded for their work. Professor Meenan, a former Auditor of the L&H Society, became the President of the Medical Council of Ireland and Dean of Medicine at UCD. Dr Hillery led the National Virus Reference Laboratory on campus, which now fronts Ireland’s battle against COVID-19. The distinguished physicians should have set a better example for others, and despite aiding the development of lifesaving vaccines, serve as a blemish on UCD’s reputation for academic excellence.

As the researchers benefitted from the institutionalisation of marginalised groups of “illegitimate” children, the university stood by and refused to reprimand their staff. Not so long ago did the same university support Aramark who profits from the institutionalisation of migrants stuck in Direct Provision centres.

Since the findings of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes were released on January 12th, UCD have said precious little about their role in the scandal. Save from telling this publication they are “looking into the matter”, the university has refused to even acknowledge the illegal activities conducted by its former employees.

Although the researchers have since passed away, and today’s UCD is completely different from the 1960’s administration, we remain unequivocal that an apology is necessary – at the minimum. Those running the State today were certainly not involved in the vaccine trials, yet an official apology was made to the nation. The university should do the same and own up to the past transgressions of their staff and provide some closure to those who suffered.

Despite the passage of time, we are also calling on the university to restate their commitment to ethical practices in the field of science. The people of Ireland should be ensured that this tragedy will not happen again.

We also call on the university to offer a financial donation towards the counselling service for former residents of mother and baby homes. This HSE service is vital for those recovering from their experiences. UCD should do right by the victims and make amends for the actions of Professor Meenan and Dr Hillery.

At a minimum, the university should acknowledge their role in these illegal trials and apologise for the actions of their staff. Furthermore, we ask that UCD take steps to prevent this from happening again; and provide financial aid to victims of this national tragedy.

If you have been affected by the content of this article and require supports, the HSE has established a counselling service for former residents of mother and baby homes. Information on how to access this can be found here.

Editorial Board