The Government has agreed to set up an independent statutory tribunal to deal with claims arising from the CervicalCheck controversy.
Ms Justice Mary Irvine will chair the tribunal, which will be set up in late 2019.
Legislation will be needed to establish the tribunal, which was recommended by Mr Justice Charles Meenan in his recent report on an alternative system for dealing with cases arising from the controversy.
It is intended that the tribunal will provide a less adversarial approach than pursuing a case via the courts. Hearings are expected to be held in private.
Minister for Health Simon Harris will also move to set up a non-statutory scheme to provide ex-gratia payments for the women affected.
A spokeswoman for the Minister said that once established, it is intended that all cases will be dealt with “in a timely manner”.
She said: “The tribunal will differ from the current court process in that it will be voluntary for all parties.”
The establishment of the tribunal will not restrict the right of women or their families to give evidence in public in the High Court, the Department of Health has said.
Mr Harris said the tribunal will take time to set up.
Matter of urgency
“The tribunal will allow women to progress their cases in a timely and sensitive, less adversarial manner, while equally respecting the constitutional entitlement of all parties to a fair hearing,” he said.
“I want to thank Ms Justice Irvine for taking on this role. I look forward to engaging with her in the new year and progressing with this work as soon as possible.
“This will take time to establish but all arms of Government are working to progress it as a matter of urgency. I will also consider the establishment of an ex-gratia compensatory scheme to deal with any accepted non-disclosure to the 221 women and their families and I hope to progress this in the new year.”
It comes ahead of a High Court case on Thursday in which a number of women will seek access to their smear test slides following a dispute.
At least 18 women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy are still waiting to receive their slides back from laboratories
The HSE previously said 22 days was the average waiting time for women to receive their medical information back after requesting it.
Solicitor Cian O'Carroll, who represented campaigner Vicky Phelan at the High Court, is in dispute with the HSE over what he says is the quality of photographs of the slides.
The HSE previously said that it is “anxious” to facilitate the women’s requests and resolve the issue, and apologised to those affected.
“The HSE apologises to patients affected by any delay and assures them that we are doing our utmost to expedite the release of all slides by laboratories, in line with accepted protocols.”
‘Sense of rage’
Catherine Murphy, the co-leader of the Social Democrats, said the women affected were "in a sense of rage" about the delay.
"Essentially, they looked for their slides back in April and May. We have been repeatedly told at the Public Accounts Committee that there should not be a delay. They would not be going to the High Court if that was the case.
“There is an irony in that the failure on the State’s side was on how certain information was transmitted to them in relation to their own medical records and here we are in a similar scenario where the State is saying that it is doing everything and we can see how it is playing out, that that is not the case.
“It is enormously hurtful, and many of the women are in a sense of rage about this.”