Tuesday 17 July 2018

'She could be my sister or one of my friends' - Taoiseach becomes emotional speaking about terminally ill Emma Mhic Mhathúna

  • Range of measures announced for those affected by cervical cancer scandal
  • John Connaghan to carry out role of HSE Director General as Tony O’Brien steps down
  • Government to pursue four things:  care, truth, accountability and confidence
Emma Mhic Mhathúna
Emma Mhic Mhathúna

Laura Larkin and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar became emotional when asked if there was anything he would like to say to terminally ill Emma Mhic Mhathúna.

The mother-of-five who has been caught up in the cervical screening controversy has spoken in heart breaking terms on the impact it has had on her and her family.

Mr Varadkar said today: "I just don't think there are any words that anyone can say... certainly there are no words that I can say that can give her comfort at this time."

And he became emotional when he said: "She's 37-years old, roughly my age, could be my sister, could be one of my friends.

Flowers and Cards that were placed outside the Dail in honour of the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Flowers and Cards that were placed outside the Dail in honour of the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy Photo: Kyran O'Brien

"She has young children - it could be my nephews. "I'm going to my nephew's communion tomorrow. When I see them I see those kids as well," he added.

His remarks came at a press conference where the government confirmed a range of measures to offer additional support for the those affected by the cervical cancer scandal.

The Taoiseach again apologised to those affected by the scandal and said that the Government is determined to get to the bottom of the issue.

He confirmed the state will take over the remaining cases and endeavour to deal with the remaining cases sensitively and via mediation.

Medical cards will be offered to all women or their next of kin. The Government will also cover the cost of drug treatments, including experimental treatment.

Each affected family will be met and an individual package will be agreed upon which may also include childcare and transport costs which can be covered.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Speaking to RTE Six One following the conference, Minister Varadkar said the Government are now going to pursue four things:  care, truth, accountability and confidence.

"We’re putting in place a support package [for the women affected] and also endeavour to settle any of the outstanding legal cases through mediations so nobody needs to go to court unless they choose to do so.

"When it comes to truth we’ve set up the Scally Inquiry which will get as many answers as possible as soon as possible.

"On accountability, the best way for us to achieve accountability is through the commission of investigation.

"The alternative, which I find wrong,  is for it to play out in the PAC or the Dail chamber because it’s politically charged and there’s party politics at play.

"The best way to that we can achieve individual accountability and ensure the right heads roll is through a commission investigation."

Health minister Simon Harris said that whatever resources are needed for the help being offered will be provided.

He announced that the government has appointed senior HSE official John Connaghan as interim HSE director general following Tony O'Brien's departure.

Mr Connaghan was deputy director general and chief operations officer and previously held senior positions in NHS Scotland.

Flowers and Cards that were placed outside the Dail in honour of the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy Kyran O'Brien
Flowers and Cards that were placed outside the Dail in honour of the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy Kyran O'Brien

Both Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris said that they had been unaware of controversial HSE memos about the audit of the cervical check screening programme sent to the Department of Health in 2016.

The memos included warnings of negative headlines that may result from the audit.

The Department of Health confirmed last night that the memos had been sent to chief medical officer Tony Holohan.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris both expressed confidence in Mr Holohan today, despite the memos not being brought to their attention at the time.

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