McDaid refuses to back Government on cancer vaccine vote


FIANNA FÁIL backbencher Dr Jim McDaid refused to support the Government in last night's vote on Fine Gael's cervical cancer vaccine motion.

Dr McDaid, who represents Donegal North East, abstained after repeating his view that the Government's reversal of its decision to provide free vaccine was passing "a death sentence on a certain percentage of these 12-year-old girls" whose parents could not afford the cost involved.

Addressing Minister for Health Mary Harney, he said: "Minister, I have been a friend of yours for 20 years now and five different Fianna Fáil taoisigh have recognised your commitment, capabilities and contribution to Irish society over a long period of political life.

"Yes, these are extraordinary times. But I cannot see the logic of your current position, not even in economic terms. We have a responsibility to look after the health of our people, and I have admired you many times in the past in this particular area. "We have a responsibility, in particular, to look after the future health of our children. Fifty years from now, it will not be important what my bank account was. It will not be important what kind of car I drove, nor will it be important what size of house I lived in.

"But it does matter to me that during my stay in this House, I may have been, just may have been, important in the life of a child.

"Accordingly, I cannot vote for the Government's motion here this evening. I fully realise the implications, but I trust my colleagues will understand that while I am abstaining, I will not be voting per se against them.

"I just cannot vote against an oath that I took 34 years ago."

The Fine Gael motion, calling on the Government to proceed with the vaccination scheme, was defeated by 76 votes to 66.

During heated and sometimes emotional exchanges, Fine Gael deputies urged the Government to change its mind on the issue and challenged Dr McDaid and his colleagues to vote with the Opposition.

Minister of State Maire Hoctor said that there was an entirely untrue impression being created by some people that there was no preventative programme against cervical cancer in Ireland.

"The clear international evidence is that the first step is to organise an effective screening programme and then follow it with the HPV vaccination," she added.

Earlier, during Opposition Leaders' Questions, there were heated exchanges when the Fine Gael and Labour leaders challenged the Taoiseach on the issue.

Enda Kenny said there was an opportunity for the Taoiseach to achieve cross-party agreement on the issue. "There is a vaccine that actually prevents cervical cancer," he added. "The Taoiseach's response has thrown aside the evidence in the HIQA report that at least 51 lives can be saved over the years ahead by use of this vaccination programme."

Brian Cowen said the Government would keep the matter under review.