Sunday 15 September 2019

'Crossed the line' - Simon Harris on accusations leveled during Cervical Check scandal hearings

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Arthur Carron
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Arthur Carron

David Raleigh

THE Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has said some accusations leveled during Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings into the CervicalCheck scandal “crossed the line” and were not factual.

Former head of the HSE Tony O’Brien, in a Sunday Business Post interview at the weekend, likened Minister Harris to being like a “frightened little boy” during the scandal, and also describing the PAC hearings as a “kangaroo court”.

Speaking on Monday, in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, Minister Harris said: “I think it’s important that the forum (the PAC) is always respectful, and I think, being honest, there are times when it isn’t.”

“I think some of the accusations that were leveled, at that committee, were not born out by fact, when Dr Scally looked at it.”

Minister Harris, a former member of the PAC, said that “democratic accountability is really important”.

He said officials in the public service “have to account” for their actions “by going before the democratically elected representatives of the people and answering questions.”

The Minister said that in the immediate wake of the scandal “there was a genuine fear...about the wellbeing and health of women” which the PAC “tried to respond to, by asking questions”.

However, he said he felt some of the questioning of those - which may have included Mr O’Brien - “got very hot and heavy”.

“I do think, at times, it crossed a line, in terms of some of the accusations that were levelled,” Minster Harris said.

However, he added: “I think we need to be very, very careful that we don’t dismiss the importance of democratic accountability and the importance of people answering tough questions. Certainly, I’ll never apologise for asking those who work with me, the difficult questions, that my bosses - the people of ireland - expect me to ask.”

When it was pointed out to him by reporters that he seemed to be agreeing with some of what Mr O’Brien had said about the PAC, he replied: “I think there’s a very delicate balance between making sure that you hold people to account, and making sure that you do it in a respectful way. Sometimes that balance gets a bit tipped in one way or the other. I’ve nothing further to add.”

When asked about Mr O’Brien’s description of him acting like a frightened little boy, the minster said: “I don’t engage in personalised attacks. It’s not in my nature.”

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