Screening controversy: Woman’s anger ‘outweighs her fear of dying’

Mary Lou McDonald says mother with cervical cancer ‘has no confidence’ in HSE chief Tony O’Brien

A 37-year-old mother of five diagnosed with cancer cancer and caught up in the current cancer screening controversy will undergo medical tests on Friday to determine how long she has to live, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald told the Dáil.

Emma Ní Mhathúna, featured by the HSE in its campaign to promote the cervical cancer vaccine, wants accountability for what happened, she said.

"Emma wants the Taoiseach to know that she has been told to get her affairs in order and to make provision for her five children,'' said Ms McDonald.

“Emma is extremely angry.’’


Ms McDonald said the young mother, who had telephoned her from her home in Kerry, had received a clear result from a smear test in 2013, but she now knew that the result was, in fact, a false negative.

“She received a diagnosis of cervical cancer after a routine smear test in 2016,’’ she added. “She only learned of the false negative for the previous test as this scandal has unfolded.’’

The Sinn Féin president was speaking at Opposition Leaders' Questions, when her renewed call on HSE director general Tony O'Brien to stand down was again rejected by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Ms McDonald said Emma’s faith had been shaken to its core.

“She tells me her anger outweighs even her fear of dying,’’ Ms McDonald added. “She wants the Taoiseach to know she wants accountability.’’

She said the buck must stop somewhere.

“Emma has no confidence in Tony O’Brien, the public and the women and families affected have no confidence in Tony O’Brien, the Opposition has no confidence in Tony O’Brien and three of the Taoiseach’s own Cabinet members have said he should stand down,’’ she added.

“Yet the Taoiseach and his Minister for Health refuse to act.’’

Mr Varadkar said the most egregious aspect of the whole affair was that important information about women's health was withheld from them.

He said sorting out the controversy over failings in cervical cancer screening for women was not primarily about looking for a head.

“It is about establishing the facts, getting to the bottom of all this and putting it right, restoring faith in our cancer screening system and making sure that it does not happen again,’’ he added.

The Taoiseach said the Government wanted accountability as much as the Opposition did.

“I am annoyed about the way this has been handled over the past few weeks, the drip-drip of information, the misinformation in some quarters,” he added.

He said there was an inquiry underway which could get to the facts and could assess whether more individuals needed to be held to account.

“As I said yesterday, more heads may yet roll, but it is important that they are the right heads,” he added.

Earlier, Mr Varadkar told Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin he had asked the Attorney General to work with the State Claims Agency to examine the different cases before the courts, arising from the scandal, with a view to settling them.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times