Family planning: Barbara Harris (BACK LEFT) with her husband and children, whom the couple adopted from a drug addict mother

The founder of a controversial US-based organisation which pays mainly female drug addicts $300 (€240) each to be sterilised is planning to set up a similar group in Ireland, if she receives sufficient funding to do so.

Barbara Harris, who founded Project Prevention in 1997 after she and her husband adopted four children from a drug-addicted mother, said this would typically involve her visiting some of Ireland's most deprived areas.

She and her colleagues would then hand out leaflets encouraging anyone who has a drug or alcohol addiction to forego their right to have children in return for cash.

"I don't believe God wants children to be born this way, addicted to drugs or suffering from longterm physical and emotional damage. And it's completely preventable," she told the Sunday Tribune. "Even those who oppose what I do have yet to give me any reason why a drug addict should be allowed to continue to have babies.

"If a child is not conceived then nobody is ever going to miss them. We're not preventing life, we're saying don't conceive children if you can't care for them. To me, it's about preventing child abuse."

To date in the US, over 1,200 female drug addicts have undergone a full tubal ligation, rendering them permanently infertile, through Project Prevention.

In return, the women received a once-off payment of $300 after they provided the required medical documentation to show they had the procedure. All previously had children of their own.

Plans are already well advanced to set up Project Prevention in the UK, where payments will be £200 for participants.

However, due to concerns that the British Medical Association might not authorise its members to participate, prospective clients will not be offered full tubal ligation but instead will have to agree to go on long-term birth control.

Around 1,000 women in the US have opted for this method, involving having a contraceptive coil or other implant device inserted, with a view to rendering them infertile for eight to 10 years.

Harris said she had received thousands of emails and letters from police, doctors, social workers and others in the UK supporting her initiative, and around 40 to date from Irish supporters. The UK initiative has been fully funded by a private individual.

Harris said it would only take a "couple of months" to set up an Irish version, if the organisation received similar private or state support.

However, experts working with addicts here have expressed serious concern that the initiative takes advantage of already vulnerable individuals.

Tony Geoghegan of the Merchants Quay project said the Project Prevention approach risks further stigmatising a group which is already marginalised in society.

"For many drug users, it is their children that focuses them on turning their lives around. So they can be a huge motivation," he said. "Because of the crisis situation they are in, and their compulsion to use drugs, they are in no position to make an informed choice."

"We know drug treatment works. If she really wants to make a difference, she should maybe look at helping people this way."