A NEWLY established support group for soldiers who claim to be suffering from controversial medication prescribed on overseas service is to appoint a solicitors firm this week.

The group, which met formally for the first time last week, is attempting to secure recognition and support from the state following claims that the Irish Defence Force's use of the anti-malarial drug Lariam has had devastating effects on their health.

Legal experts believe the government has a "moral obligation" to provide funding to support the group as they bring their cases forward. Aside from those who claim to be experiencing after-effects, there are also serious concerns for those who may be suffering but do not understand why.

One legal expert who met with the group told the Sunday Tribune: "There is a moral responsibility on the state and on the Defence Forces; this (issue) was well flagged with other defence forces around the world.

"We are trying to avoid litigation if at all possible. We just want to get the required medical assistance but if it takes legal action to get these guys health protection into the future it will be taken; it hasn't been ruled out."

While the group expects financial and other assistance from the government, it is believed much of this can be provided through existing structures. For example, while soldiers are currently not covered to see medical practitioners outside of the military, the group will seek access to external consultants through the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The use of the drug has provoked worldwide controversy amongst both military and civilian users. While critics maintain that doctors generally prefer not to prescribe Lariam due to its reputation, the IDF has defended its use of the drug, insisting it is important in protecting troops against malaria.