Tuesday 22 January 2019

Circle the wagons and hope it goes away - handling a scandal, Irish style

Editorial Comment

There are many shocking aspects to the cervical cancer scandal but one facet is depressingly familiar.

Once again - as has been the case in countless similar cases down through the years - the desire to protect the perpetrators and hide their mistakes and misdeeds has taken precedent over doing right by the victims.

Since the appalling revelations about Cervical Check emerged last week, various offices and officers of the State have been falling over themselves to offer their sympathy and help to the women and families caught up in the scandal.

While it's welcome to see the State trying to help these women it really is too little too late.

If the HSE had its way and the inspirational Vicky Phelan had not proved such a dogged and determined opponent, we would know nothing about the dysfunction at the heart of our cervical cancer screening process.

Should the HSE have succeeded in gagging Vicky Phelan - as it has done with at least one other victim of the scandal - would our State agencies have admitted to the deep-rooted problems in the system?

Would the Government now be working to repair the screening service? Would the other women have been told of their missed diagnoses? Would they have been offered apologies and compensation?

All previous experience suggests this is highly unlikely.

Like the myriad of Irish public scandals that have come before it, the response from official Ireland, and some of our most senior public servants, has been depressingly similar.

Circle the wagons, keep the head down and hope it all goes away.

Whatever else happens, by no means should any public servant ever have to accept any personal responsibility.

Make sure the issue is fudged and no one can be held to account.

If, at worst, someone has to be thrown under the bus, make sure they're already retired and safely pensioned off.

Even better, if the blame can be shifted onto someone who is, conveniently, already dead.

Above all else - regardless of how badly they have failed at their jobs and how many lives they have shattered in a bid to save their own hides - no-one should ever be sacked or be singled out for reprimand.

Pensions and job security are sacrosanct. Nothing, even peoples' lives, can ever be allowed take precedent over them.

Ten years ago the HSE, former Health Minister Mary Harney and the Department of Health were warned that the Cervical Check system was riddled with problems.

They did nothing. Neither did their successors.

We are told that this time it will be different. That we will see action. That the failed system will be fixed. We've heard all these empty platitudes before and we're tired of them.

This time lets see those responsible held to account. Lets make them answer for their gross incompetence and the reprehensible lengths they went to so it would all stay hidden.