CervicalCheck tribunal has received just three of 250 claims lodged against State

Alternative to courts has ‘struck an iceberg’, Mary Lou McDonald tells Micheál Martin

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to intervene. File photograph: Gettty Images

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to intervene. File photograph: Gettty Images

 

The CervicalCheck tribunal established as an alternative option to the courts for dealing with claims against the State has “struck an iceberg” and is not working, the Dáil has been told.

The tribunal established at the start of the year has received no further claims beyond the three originally submitted and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to intervene.

Ms McDonald cited the latest figures and said that “as of this month, in total 250 claims have been made by women against the State, women who were damaged and injured by the CervicalCheck scandal.

“Court proceedings have been issued in 190 claims and 31 claims have been concluded,” she said.

However, “as of May 12th of the 160 active court cases involving women affected by this scandal only three have been transferred to the tribunal”.

The 221 Plus support group for women affected by the scandal, “are very critical of the tribunal, as you know”, Ms McDonald told the Taoiseach.

“They’ve no confidence in it - they say it’s struck an iceberg. And the women affected equally have no confidence by the way in the Minister for Health, or the process over which he presides.”

Stating that the tribunal was not working, Ms McDonald asked the Taoiseach “how will you intervene”, given the seriousness of the issue, the ordeal the women have been through, and “given the very significant public concern on this matter”.

Mr Martin acknowledged that three claims had been received by the tribunal and said “these have been advanced promptly. It is our view that the tribunal offers a far more effective and quicker approach in getting claims resolved and dealt with”.

He added that the tribunal offered a number of advantages compared to a High Court claim, and was “an alternative venue for the exclusive purpose of dealing with the claims promptly”.

He said people were obviously entitled to use the courts but “we do believe the tribunal offers a very good approach”.

The tribunal was established in the wake of a report by Mr Justice Charles Meenan setting out the urgent need for an alternative system for hearing claims, because many women involved were seriously ill.

The controversy over the cervical screening programme was sparked by the 2018 High Court settlement of an action by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan, who has cervical cancer, over the reading of her smear test.

It later emerged that more than 100 other women had not been informed of an audit that had revised their earlier, negative smear tests. Some are taking legal cases against the testing labs and the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The final date on which a woman can make a claim to the tribunal, or transfer a case from the High Court, is currently July 26th this year.

The Minister for Health formally began the work of the tribunal last December after talks with 221 Plus stalled.

The group had been looking for assurances in relation to the statute of limitations and the ability of women to return to the tribunal should they suffer a recurrence of cancer.

Those talks collapsed as the group said they felt those issues were not fully addressed.