Vicky Phelan does not rule out getting involved in politics in future

Cervical cancer campaigner calls for sanctions to improve accountability after getting award at Labour conference

Jail sentences, the withholding of pensions and other measures should be among the sanctions considered to make public sector workers more accountable for errors and mistakes, cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan has said.

Ms Phelan said that scandals - such as those in An Garda Síochána in recent times - will keep happening unless there is proper accountability across the public sector.

She said that Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe’s life had been ruined yet there were no consequences for others in the force for their actions against him.

The Disclosures Tribunal last month found former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan conducted a “campaign of calumny” against Mr McCabe, who retired from the force last week.


Mr Justice Peter Charleton, the chair of the Tribunal, said he did not accept Mr Callinan’s denials of ever smearing Mr McCabe.

“We have seen it with the [former] garda commissioner, the Maurice McCabe tribunal and I think that is something long-term that we need to fight for, that we need more accountability in the public sector across all of our services between health services, civil service, gardaí, even in education where I work,” Ms Phelan said. “There is no accountability, people cannot be sacked. I think that is something I will certainly be striving for.”

Ms Phelan was speaking at the Labour Party conference in Ballsbridge, Dublin, where she was presented with an award for bravery in recognition of her work revealing issues with the CervicalCheck programme.

Awards were also presented to Stephen Teap, husband of Irene Teap, who died of cervical cancer in 2017, and Lorraine Walsh, one of the 221 patients caught up in the controversy.

Labour’s health spokesman Alan Kelly presented the Jo Cox awards for bravery, which remember the British Labour MP who was shot and stabbed in the street in her constituency in the north of England shortly before the Brexit vote.

Ms Phelan did not rule out getting involved in politics in the future.

“No more than Stephen, I literally fell into this. It just happened. I wouldn’t have chosen this path but it has come my way and I feel so strongly about what I am doing and what I am trying to achieve that I will do whatever I have to do,” she said.

“The fact that I am apolitical helps. I have been able to sidetrack a lot of it and not let it get in my way. I wouldn’t rule it out but at the moment I am happy just to campaign from the outside because I find it very hard to toe a party political line.”

Mr Teap and Ms Phelan both called for sanctions to be introduced for individual medical practitioners who do not adhere to open disclosure. Mr Teap said measures currently being considered by Minister for Health Simon Harris need to be strengthened.

“Back in May, when we first sat down with Simon Harris, talking about the Patient Safety Bill, it was all about putting sanctions in place on the individuals. We see in the first draft of the Patient Safety Bill, that it is very, very soft touch. And we wouldn’t be very happy with it in its current format.”

He added that “asking people to follow the policy doesn’t work” and that neither he nor Ms Phelan “want to see anyone being brought away in handcuffs or large fines”.

“It is really just to focus the mind.”

Ms Phelan settled a High Court action in April over the reading of her smear test.

It later emerged that 221 women were not informed of an audit which revised their earlier, negative smear tests.

The Limerick woman has consistently said she wants women to continue attending for smear tests and has also spoken of the importance of the HPV vaccine for preventing a range of cancers, including cervical cancer.

The Scally report into the Cervical Check controversy, published in September, outlined failures by the State’s health services.