New claims of drug trials on children at Irish Catholic homes

Dublin - Fresh claims that children at Catholic 'mother and baby' homes in Ireland were subjected to experimental vaccine trials heaped further controversy Monday on the Church-run institutions.

Eighty children became ill after they were accidentally administered a vaccine intended for cattle while they were being used to trial other medicines in the mid-1970s, the Newstalk radio station reported.

The report follows new evidence that suggests the bodies of up to 800 young children were deposited, without coffins or gravestones, in a mass grave near a Catholic-run home in County Galway.

Historian Catherine Corless, who made the discovery, says her study of death records for the St Mary's home in Tuam suggests that a former septic tank near the home was used as a mass grave.

However, it remains unclear exactly how many bodies are in the grave.

The 'mother and baby' homes accommodated women who became pregnant outside of marriage and who were ostracised by the conservative Catholic society of the time.

There are concerns the findings in Tuam could be indicative of other possible graves in several similar institutions.

The Irish government has ordered a preliminary investigation into all such homes and will assess if a wider inquiry is required.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has called for a full judicial commission of inquiry to be set up, independent of Church and state.

It has been known for some time that possibly thousands of children at 'mother and baby' homes were administered trial vaccines, but those involved are still battling to get access to the information.

Many children only discovered they had been involved decades later.

Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch said the vaccine trials should form part of any inquiry.

A nun at the Bessborough home in Co Cork, one of the institutions involved, said parental consent was required.

"The doctor would come here and ask could they carry out this experiment and the mothers would bring the child into the doctors," Sister Sarto told Newstalk.

"They couldn't do it without the mother's permission."

She added: "We checked that out to see was there was any ill effects and there was no ill effects. Nobody died and nobody had any lasting (effects)."

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline uncovered evidence of the trials after it merged with the lab involved over 20 years ago.

GSK, who were not involved in the trials in any way, told AFP they would "fully co-operate" with any investigation into the matters.

The company previously provided information in the 2000s during a decade-long state inquiry into child abuse in Irish institutions.

Dublin's preliminary investigation is expected by the end of this month.