Sack HSE chief over remarks on HPV vaccine - Mattie McGrath

Tony O’Brien accused groups opposing cancer-linked treatment of ‘emotional terrorism’

Independent TD Mattie McGrath has called for the head of the HSE to be fired over his comments about parents opposing the HPV vaccine.

HSE director-general Tony O’Brien this week accused groups opposing the vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer, of “emotional terrorism”.

A “well-orchestrated” campaign was targeting parents, teenagers and teachers with “disinformation” with no basis in science, he told the launch of the HSE’s information campaign on the vaccine.

Mr McGrath accused the HSE boss of a “vicious and unwarranted” attack on parents and said if he did not resign, he should be dismissed by the Minister for Health.


“This is a pathetic and brutalising assault on all those parents and children who, from Mr O’Brien’s perspective, have had the temerity to raise questions about the effectiveness and impact of the Gardasil vaccine.”

One group campaigning on the issue, Inform Parents, described Mr O’Brien’s comments as “completely unacceptable behaviour” that was insulting to concerned families.

“To brand people as terrorists from the position he holds is unacceptable. It shows the lack of his personal leadership qualities of the organisation he is supposed to be leading.”

‘Hurtful and insulting’

Jack & Jill charity founder Jonathan Irwin, who says his daughter has suffered ill-health since taking the vaccine, said he found Mr O'Brien's comments "hurtful, insulting and completely over the top".

“The HSE should be embracing parents with issues like us, listening to us and learning from our experience. Not embarrassing us and making us out to be the enemy.”

Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly said the party supports the vaccine and the HSE's information campaign. He described the remarks by his constituency colleague, Mr McGrath, as a "new low", and said parents were understandably wary of the vaccine because of "unnecessary scare tactics".

On Wednesday, Minister for Health Simon Harris told groups which he claims are “scaremongering” about the HPV vaccine to “butt out” of providing medical advice.

Mr Harris said anyone who wants to give medical advice on the vaccine should first become a medical professional. If they were not prepared to do this, they should “butt out” of the issue.

The Minister was speaking at the launch of the scaled-up campaign by the HSE to encourage parents to ensure their daughters get the vaccine. The campaign aims to reverse the massive fall in uptake of the vaccine that has occurred since a number of parents’ groups opposed it.

‘Downright lies’

Social media, for all its virtues, presents new challenges because it allows “misinformation and downright lies” to be spread at high speed to a large audience, Mr Harris warned. For this reason, it was important for parents to get their medical information from trusted sources.

As part of the HSE campaign, more than 40,000 information packs will be delivered across the country this week in advance of vaccination teams visiting schools in September, when first-year girls will get the first of two doses of the vaccine.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.