Coalition attempts to resume contact with CervicalCheck group

Government move comes after talks on planned tribunal into controversy derailed

Vicky Phelan warned that while some may still use the tribunal, the actual number who opt for that route may, in the end, be “very few”. Photograph Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

Vicky Phelan warned that while some may still use the tribunal, the actual number who opt for that route may, in the end, be “very few”. Photograph Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

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The Government has attempted to resume contact with the support group representing women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy after talks on the planned tribunal collapsed last week.

The 221-plus group said last week that they would tell their members there was nothing in the planned CervicalCheck tribunal that was not available in the High Court after a number of concerns were not addressed. Following a meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday where the issue was discussed by Ministers, officials in the Department of Health contacted the group again.

Sources have said the group is unwilling to resume talks unless there are substantive solutions on the table around the issue of the statute of limitations and recurrence of cancer. The support group say some women may be left outside the tribunal as the two-year statute of limitations has passed for a small number of women. The group also want women who suffer a recurrence of cancer to be allowed to return to the tribunal.

Up until this point Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has warned that laboratories may walk away from the tribunal if those wishes are acceded to. Speaking on the Irish Times Inside Politics podcast on Wednesday, campaigner Vicky Phelan said the group does not have plans to return to talks at present.

“We have walked away from talks at this point and we are not going to go back into talks unless there is something new on the table or they will come back and meet us . . . halfway,” said Ms Phelan.

High Court proceedings

She warned that while some may still use the tribunal, the actual number who opt for that route may, in the end, be “very few”. She said this was because many members had initiated High Court proceedings and there were unresolved issues around the cost of transferring a case to the tribunal.

“There are a lot of small details that need to be ironed out. Nobody has thought them through. A lot of women also may not take the chance of going for a tribunal that really is not any less adversarial than the High Court,” she said.

When asked if Mr Donnelly has requested the tribunal to resume its work, a spokeswoman said she could not comment.

In its most recent letter to Mr Donnelly, the group said it has advised its members of “our considered position that there is nothing for them in the tribunal that isn’t available in the High Court, a view we know to be shared by many of the legal advisers involved. We have no doubt that some, perhaps many, will still take the tribunal route rather than face the interminable wait for court time, or die waiting. We will of course support them in that choice and in their lives generally as they continue to live with the consequence of the State’s actions.”

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