Martin apologises to family of CervicalCheck campaigner Ruth Morrissey
Screening programme would not exist without outsourcing, says Taoiseach
Ruth Morrissey and her husband Paul outside the Four Courts in May, 2019. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has apologised to the family of CervicalCheck campaigner Ruth Morrissey for the “litany of failures” in the operation of cervical screening in the State.
But opposition leaders said the apology was too late and that the previous one by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last year when he was taoiseach referred only to the non-disclosure of cervical screening audits. Ms Morrissey’s husband Paul said that neither the State nor the HSE had ever apologised to her and “now it’s too late”.
Mr Martin also said the cervical cancer screening programme would not exist without outsourcing.
He paid tribute to Ms Morrissey who died on Sunday aged 39 following a prolonged battle with cancer and who had sued the Health Service Executive (HSE) and two laboratories over the misreading of smear test results.
TDs stood for a minute’s silence in her honour.
Mr Martin said that “on behalf of the State I would like again to sincerely apologise to Ruth, to Ruth’s family, to all the other women and their families for the litany of failures in relation to the operation of Cervical screening in Ireland for many years.
“This Government like the previous government acknowledges the failings that took place with the Cervicalcheck programme and we’re profoundly sorry for what was allowed to happen.”
He said too many women are gone because of those failing in the system.
Mr Martin said the Minister for Health was in the process of appointing a judge and two other independent members to the statutory tribunal to deal with the CervicalCheck cases in a non-adversarial way was due to start in March but was delayed because of Covid-19.
And he stressed that the recommendations of the Scally and McGrath reports into the controversy would be implemented.
He said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was in the process of appointing a new judge to the CervicalCheck tribunal so it could get started.
Mr Martin told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that the CervicalCheck cancer screening programme would not exist it they had stopped outsourcing screening to the US.
Ms McDonald said there was still no Irish oversight of screening in the US, which she described as scandalous and she said it accounted for 90 per cent of screening.
She said it was essential that the national laboratory is established and resourced as a matter of urgency.
The Taoiseach acknowledged that outsourcing “is not optimal, but equally we simply would not a national cervical screening programme if that wasn’t pursued, we need to be honest.”
The capacity was not there when screening started and is not there now, but the programme had saved many lives.
Both Ms McDonald and Labour leader Alan Kelly criticised former taoiseach Leo Varadkar for promising that no woman after Vicky Phelan would have to go to court.
Ms McDonald said “the truth is that this adversarial and aggressive approach has been maintained. I understand there are approximately 203 active claims relating to the CervicalCheck matter, of which eight have been concluded.”
Mr Kelly said he should never have made that promise because it was not delivered.
Mr Kelly described Ms Morrissey as a “national hero” who ensured that the same standard in screening is enforced in Ireland as in the UK.
He said his party would introduce legislation to amend the Civil Liabilities Act so that the dependents could claim for losses and not have to go to court. He called on the Taoiseach to support the legislation.
Mr Martin said he would work with the Labour party on the legislation but could not make a commitment until he said what the Bill contained.