Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

National Cervical Screening Programme: Statements


6:00 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The Taoiseach has spoken about why he, I and everyone else said we wanted to find alternatives to the court process. Deputy Catherine Murphy is right. It did turn out to be very complex. People do have a constitutional right as well and that cannot be infringed upon. As the Deputy also pointed out, there are also parties other than the State involved. We have since brought in the very eminent Mr. Justice Charles Meenan to try to come up with an alternative. I think he did come up with a good alternative. An adjudicative tribunal has never been set up in Ireland before for an issue like this. We did have the compensation tribunal for those affected by hepatitis C. That was different, however. There was no issue of potential negligence that had to be demonstrated. The adjudicative tribunal is our response in trying to provide alternatives to the court system.

Deputy Catherine Murphy is also entirely right about the ex gratiascheme. One of the reasons I am going ahead with that is a recognition it will take time to set up the Meenan tribunal, hopefully not too long. It will, however, take time to draft and pass the legislation. We have identified Ms Justice Mary Irvine as the judge who will preside. I hope I can have this scheme up and running within weeks. I expect to go to Cabinet this month to seek approval for the scheme and the appointment of the retired judge. The idea is that this scheme will not be about compensation and will not in any way interfere with any woman's right to go to court, pursue issues legally or access the tribunal in due course. It is a recognition that disclosure was not made to the women concerned and the impact of that non-disclosure is something the State, regardless of the law, has a moral liability, I believe, to address.

I am also glad Deputy Catherine Murphy raised the issue of doctor choice. People in the 221+ group raised it with me directly when I met them last Thursday. I understand the HSE will do everything it possibly can to find people an alternative consultant or doctor where trust may have broken down or been completely lost at this stage. That is often for good reason.I am informed that is being done through the liaison officers. From anecdotal conversations, I believe that it has worked very well in some cases. It may not have worked as well in other cases. If there are specific cases involved, we can escalate those to the national director overseeing this issue in the HSE. It is the liaison officers, however, that a woman should have a conversation with in the first instance.


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