Sunday 21 October 2018

Cancer mum explains why she defended the Taoiseach

Emma Mhic Mhathuna says anger must be directed more at laboratories than politicians

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

EMMA Mhic Mhathuna says she was trying to take some of the "heat" out of the CervicalCheck scandal by urging people to support the Taoiseach and direct their anger at the American laboratories.

The terminally-ill mother-of-five, who reached a €7.5m settlement with a US laboratory that admitted misreading two of her smear tests, said she is "trying to calm society down". Ms Mhic Mhathuna was speaking after her comedy debut at Dublin's Laughter Lounge last Friday night, where she received a standing ovation. Having promised to leave Fine Gael "off the hook", she directed her jokes at the US laboratory that admitted misreading her two cervical smear slides. Her gags included a joke about going trick-or-treating to Quest Diagnostics in the US.

In a week when he was forced to announce another review of how the cancer screening debacle is being managed, the Taoiseach emerged unscathed.

"I am trying to get people aware that the labs are the problem. I am trying to calm down society," Ms Mhic Mhathuna said yesterday.

"People are getting angrier and angrier… People high up giving out to An Taoiseach and that's not on.

"When we are dealing with people who are external, that is the time when we all stick together," she said. "We need to send a message across to these lads in America, 'oh no, you are not going to do this anymore'," she said. "We are all going to have to go in behind him [the Taoiseach]," she said. "If you mess with him, you mess with all of us."

Ms Mhic Mhathuna's support for the Taoiseach follows criticism of the Government over another young mother who had to testify over two days in the High Court even though she is terminally ill with cervical cancer, having had two misread smears. Ruth Morrissey's testimony contradicted the Taoiseach's promised that no woman would have to go to court, that the State would settle with the women concerned, and pursue the laboratories for the costs.

Ms Morrissey's case went to court because although the State admitted liability for not disclosing details of her misread smears, the two laboratories sued have denied negligence. Attempts at mediation failed because no offer was made to her, a statement issued on Ms Morrissey's behalf claimed.

With potentially 40 more legal actions coming before the courts, the Government last week asked a High Court judge to examine alternatives to court for women impacted by the controversy, including a redress scheme. Vicky Phelan, who exposed the CervicalCheck scandal in April and who is an advocate for impacted women, met the Taoiseach ahead of the announcement, to discuss his promise that no more women would have to be dragged through the court.

A change of tone emerged last week, and officials are reportedly concerned that the screening process could be put in jeopardy by litigation. The Department of Health also rejected claims by Ms Morrissey's solicitor that negligence was involved in the "vast, vast majority" of the cases of the 221 women affected. In a statement the Department said negligence can only be determined by a court.

Concerns have also been raised on social media about the future of the screening programme and misinformation. Ms Phelan, who is terminally ill, announced last week that she was taking a break from campaigning, saying she was "deeply disturbed" by the lack of empathy in some quarters towards women and families. She said she had been condemned for "bringing down the cervical screening programme" but her issue is with the management of the programme, not screening.

Ms Mhic Mhathuna, who starts brain radiation therapy later this week, has been invited back to the Laughter Lounge to do a two-hour comedy gig. She said she also plans to publish an Irish language children's book. Last Friday's concert was a fundraiser for a memorial garden for woman and families hit by the CervicalCheck controversy.

Sunday Independent

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