Friday 24 May 2019

Comment: If Simon and Leo can't stop CervicalCheck leaks, are they fit to lead this Government?


Health Minister Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Health Minister Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar branded the leaking of details of the Scally report into the CervicalCheck scandal as "disgusting", as if his Government has nothing to do with the controversy which has been branded appalling by victims.

By saying it was "not a normal story, this is not some sort of scoop", the Taoiseach seemed to suggest the news agencies who published some of Dr Gabriel Scally's findings share the blame for elements of the report leaking.

But the reality is keeping the highly sensitive report confidential was the responsibility of his Government. Health Minister Simon Harris ordered the scoping exercise by Dr Scally.

Minister Harris has said he was not responsible for the leak which revealed Dr Scally believed the controversy did not merit the establishment of a Commission of Investigation.

Minister Harris and the Taoiseach promised victims they would be informed of the doctor's findings before his report was published.

Instead, women and the families of victims who have been failed by the State find themselves again struggling to understand why they are the last to find out about their health. To say the victims were disappointed is a huge understatement.

Yesterday, a heartbroken and still very sick Vicky Phelan took to social media to say she planned to spend the day with her children, but because of the leak she had to cancel those plans.

Instead of spending time with her children, the woman who first exposed the scandal was forced to attend a meeting with Dr Scally where she would be told details of the report.

"I find myself in the same position as I did a few months ago when I found out that I had not been informed about my own health," she wrote.

Another victim of the awful tragedy, Lorraine Walsh, said the leak was "heartbreaking and disappointing". Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer after getting incorrect test results, said it was "very upsetting" to wake up hearing details of the report on the news.

Harris has spent the last number of months building relationships with the victims. He is especially close to Vicky Phelan who he regularly calls and texts.

However, the victims of one of the worst medical scandals to grip this country will understandably now question their feelings towards the minister and the Taoiseach after the latest episode in this ongoing and very sad controversy.

Predictably, Opposition politicians rounded on the minister over his handling of the CervicalCheck scandal. Mr Harris was accused of orchestrating the leak and letting down the victims.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the leak was "cynical and cruel behaviour" and showed the Government was obsessed with spin.

Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly said the leaking of the report was the "worst example" he had seen of a government trying to control a message.

All the while Minister Harris and the Taoiseach denied they had anything to do with the hurt caused to the victims. And perhaps the minister and Taoiseach did not personally leak details of the Scally Report.

It would be harsh to suggest they purposely sought to cause such distress. However, they are responsible for ensuring sensitive files do not leak. They are in charge and if they can't manage this perhaps they should question their ability to hold power.

Irish Independent

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