Sunday 22 September 2019

CervicalCheck scandal was low point of 2018 for Taoiseach

Scandal which dominated the headlines throughout the year could have been handled better - Varadkar admits

Leo Varadkar reflected the CervicalCheck scandal was a low point for both him and the government (Tom Honan/PA)
Leo Varadkar reflected the CervicalCheck scandal was a low point for both him and the government (Tom Honan/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has described the CervicalCheck scandal as his low point of 2018.

The scandal which dominated the headlines throughout the year could have been handled better, he has admitted.

In an end of year interview with journalists, Mr Varadkar was asked what he topped his list of regrets after his first full year in office.

"I don't know of any one particular day but definitely trying to understanding and manage and respond to the Cervical Check scandal was extremely difficult," he said.

Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/PA)
Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/PA)

While adding that the situation was "much more difficult for the women and families affected than for any politician", Mr Varadkar said trying to get "basic facts" was problematic.

The scandal broke in April when Limerick woman Vicky Phelan refused to sign a confidentiality clause as part of her court settlement against a US laboratory.

She was told a smear test in 2011 showed no abnormalities but was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. A subsequent audit of Ms Phelan’s 2011 test showed that it was not read accurately but this information was withheld from her.

By going public, Ms Phelan lifted the lid on a scandal that proved her case was not an isolated one.

Some 221 with cervical cancer were not informed about audits. One of these was Kerry mother Emma Mhic Mhathúna who frequently campaigned in public for answers before passing away from her cancer in October.

Mr Varadkar said when the scandal broke his government was forced to operate on facts that moving fast and had to make decisions "in a very frenzied period with a lot of misinformation and the extreme difficulty that was then compounded by the emotion of very sick women and very distraught families".

"I don't know if that's a regret, I regret we didn't know it was coming, or know more about it in advance, and might have been able to handle it a bit better and might have made some better decisions," he said.

 The Taoiseach said his high point of the year was public decision to reform Ireland’s abortion laws. 

"I felt very privileged to be there in Dublin Castle when the votes were counted on the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. It was one of those days when you're reminded why you're in politics it's about being a part of making things happen," he said.

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