CervicalCheck: Tribunal talks between support group and Minister collapse

221 Plus tells Stephen Donnelly it sees ‘no point in continuing this process’

In a letter sent to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly the 221 Plus support group said it sees ‘no point in continuing this process’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

In a letter sent to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly the 221 Plus support group said it sees ‘no point in continuing this process’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Talks between the support group representing women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy and the Government have collapsed as the group has said its concerns about the forthcoming tribunal have not been addressed.

In a letter sent to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, the 221 Plus support group said it sees “ no point in continuing this process”.

The group has also told their members there is “nothing for them in the tribunal that isn’t available in the High Court”.

Talks had been ongoing in recent weeks between both sides after the group expressed a number of concerns about how the tribunal would work.

These concerns were partly around the statute of limitations and around enabling women return to the tribunal if there is a recurrence of cancer.

The Government has warned that laboratories could walk away from the tribunal if they acceded to the wishes of the women.

Discussions

In the letter sent to Mr Donnelly, the group said that he had been “at pains to point out in recent meetings how connected the leadership of Government were with these discussions. We hold all responsible in equal measure.

“We see no point in continuing this process. We are not legal advisers. We engaged with Government in good faith as patient advocates on the basis that we knew that many members did not see the tribunal as a preferable point of engagement to the courts but we felt the obligation to try improve it to at least give them the option.

“As Minister, you had the opportunity to oversee a solution for these women that is better than the long fight through the courts. It seems it is not to be and it is a failure of politics rather than of advocacy, law or health administration. Despite the much heralded statement by the Taoiseach of the day over a year ago, it seems that the ‘false reassurance’ of which he spoke continues. That will be the legacy of this Government on CervicalCheck, when it could now be consigned to the archives.”

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.

Problems

“If, however, the take-up is not what we would all have wished for when a tribunal was first proposed over two years ago, let it be clear that was down to a government that chose not to listen and not to a patient advocacy group which wouldn’t give up on its case.”

In a press statement the group said: “We sought to have changes made to the tribunal to reflect that changed context. We didn’t just point out the problems, we also proposed solutions. We acknowledge that some of those solutions were not possible at the stroke of a pen but they are entirely possible if those in Government had the will to act with the interests and needs of this group of victims at heart. They clearly don’t.

“This Government had the opportunity to oversee a solution for these women that is better than the long fight through the courts. It chose otherwise and that will be its legacy when the debacle of the past could now be.”

Least onerous

In a statement on Friday night Mr Donnelly said his priority was “to facilitate the least onerous process for the women and families affected.”

He said the Tribunal was a “more compassionate alternative” to legal proceedings in the High Court. He said it offers a “ better route for women and families to progress their legal actions in a private and less confrontational setting”. He said confers the same rights as the High Court and allows formore timely access and a “more sensitive environment”.

Mr Donnelly noted that a number of women and families have tried to lodge claims at the Tribunal in recent weeks but were unable to do so as the Tribunal is currently paused.