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Taoiseach apologises to Ruth Morrissey for 'litany of failures that took place' in CervicalCheck programme

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Ruth Morrissey

Ruth Morrissey

Ruth Morrissey

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has apologised to the late Ruth Morrissey, her family and other women affected by the cervical screening scandal for the "litany of failures that took place".

Young mother Ms Morrissey (39) - who fought high profile court battles over the errors in the screening service - passed away at the weekend.

Her husband Paul said on Sunday that neither the HSE nor the State had ever apologised to her and that "now it is too late".

Former Taoiseach Leo Varadkdar had made a formal State apology to all of the women and their families affected by the CervicalCheck crisis in October 2019.

Mr Martin this afternoon apologised to Ms Morrissey and her family directly before TDs rose to their feet in the Dáil for a moment's silence.

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Ruth Morrissey and husband Paul outside Dublin’s High Court in 2019 (Michelle Devane/PA)

Ruth Morrissey and husband Paul outside Dublin’s High Court in 2019 (Michelle Devane/PA)

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Ruth Morrissey and husband Paul outside Dublin’s High Court in 2019 (Michelle Devane/PA)

Later there was criticism from the Opposition about the continued outsourcing of cervical cancer lab tests and the nature of the delayed Tribunal aimed at reducing the need for women to take court actions amid claims it will also be adversarial.

The Taoiseach said: "I was deeply saddened to learn of Ruth Morrissey’s passing on Sunday.

"I know that her husband Paul and her daughter Libby and all her family and friends are truly devastated.

"No words of mine will provide them with any consolation at this heart-breaking time."

He said Ms Morrissey was a "courageous woman who worked tirelessly for others and for the future generations of women in this country."

Mr Martin added: "She fought a long hard battle with her illness and also fought very hard for her own rights".

He said that Ms Morrissey and other women worked together to highlight the diagnostic failings in the CervicalCheck screening programme "so that others would not have to go through what they went through."

He said: "On behalf of the State I would like again to sincerely apologise to Ruth, to Ruth’s family, to all the other women and their families for the litany of failures in relation to the operation of cervical screening operating in Ireland.

"This government, like the previous government, acknowledges the failure that took place in the CervicalCheck programme and are profoundly sorry for what was allowed to happen.

"Too many women who should be here and enjoying life with their families are gone because of those failings," he said.

Mr Martin said there is a responsibility on politicians to "to learn the lessons of these errors that were made, to reform the system, and make to sure they never happen again.”

He said the government will ensure that the CervicalCheck service is improved and can save more lives.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Ms Morrissey "paid the ultimate price" for failings in the screenings service. She argued that instead of "holding its hands up" and admitting liability the State joined with labs based in the United States and fought Ms Morrissey "tooth and nail every step of the way".

Ms McDonald said that even after Ms Morrissey won her High Court action the outcome was brought before the Supreme Court in what's been described as "death bed litigation".

She said there are 203 active claims relating to CervicalCheck and she said the State shouldn't be "joining with negligent labs" to fight these women.

Ms McDonald claimed the outsourcing of screening has been a "disastrous failure" and called for US labs to face be inspected by Irish officials.

Mr Martin said the Tribunal – delayed by the Covid-19 crisis - will be a mechanism to avoid women having to go to court though he said that some may still wish to do that.

He said that if there hadn't been outsourcing there would not have been a cervical screening programme as labs here did not have enough capacity but admitted it's "not optimal".

He also said that quality control and oversight are essential but also said the existing screening service has "saved many lives".

Ms McDonald argued that the planned Tribunal will be adversarial and there will be no means to fast-track cases.

She claimed "the truth is that the State has not made available a non-adversarial mechanism".

Mr Martin insisted that a Tribunal is "far less adversarial than any courts system".

Labour leader Alan Kelly said that after the case taken by another woman impacted by the scandal, Vicky Phelan, Mr Varadkar said no woman would have to go through that again.

"It never happened. He should never have said it. He couldn't deliver it," Mr Kelly added.

He said three things must happen to ensure Ms Morrissey's legacy is to change the Civil Liabilities Act in order for dependents of a dying person to claim for losses in one action rather than having to go through the courts again after they've passed away.

"I know that's what Ruth Morrissey wanted because she told me," he added.

The second one is to ensure that testing is brought home to Ireland and the third is to ensure that the Tribunal is "not an adversarial Tribunal which it quite evidently is and will be unless it’s changed."

Mr Kelly said that Labour will bring forward legislation on changing the Civil Liabilities Act and he said he expects the Taoiseach to support it.

Mr Martin said he would commit to having the government work with Labour to examine possible changes to the law.

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