Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald has welcomed An Taoiseach’s apology on behalf of the State to the women and families affected by the Cervical Check scandal.
The Sinn Féin President said:
“The State’s apology is welcome, but those words must mark real and tangible change. This means that in addition to this apology there needs to be reform of the screening programme.
“Such reform should include the repatriation of the testing process to Ireland with sufficient levels of funding to ensure absolute confidence in the screening process.
“I wish to pay tribute to Vicky Phelan who didn’t stay silent, who spoke up with dignity and bravery. She is owed an immense debt of gratitude.
“Our responsibility now is to honour the memory of the women like Emma Mhic Mhathúna, Irene Teap and others by fixing the system. That is the very best thing we can do for all the women affected by the Cervical Check Scandal.”
Note to editors: Full text of Mary Lou McDonald’s speech below.
Mary Lou McDonald TD
Statements on Cervical Check apology
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the presence of the families and campaigners in the gallery to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude.
Your apology is welcome.
It is important that the apology not only relates to the initial failures but also to how women were treated in the wake of the scandal.
Women and their families were dragged through the courts to access their vital medical information.
Women had to fight to access information regarding assistance payments. The initial investigations were slow and struggled to gain the confidence of the women affected. Unfortunately, delay and obstruction were the overriding themes of government’s response.
Mistakes were made again and again, as more women received incorrect results. Labs were added to the Cervical Check Programme without the proper checks being conducted. The lessons of the crisis have gone unlearned.
Beyond an apology, the government must fix the system. Dr Gabriel Scally called this apology momentous stating that:
“The three things that really matter to people when things really go wrong badly in the medical system are for someone to tell them the truth, what went wrong, why it went wrong; secondly to say sorry and to really mean that, and from someone with some skin in the game; and the third is to say how it is going to be avoided in the future.”
This means that in addition to this apology there needs to be reform of the screening programme. We must see the recommendations of the Scally and McCraith Reports implemented. We can give apologies here with words, but words are hollow without the actions to back them up.
We can say that lessons have been learned from this, that we will never let this happen again, but without putting in place the recommendations Scally and McCraith Reports then this could very well happen again.
A real and tangible apology will be words, but it will also be actions. Let us say that because of what happened and in the memory of those who are no longer here, that real change has been made, that our services are better, that honestly this will never happen again.
Central to ensuring this is the repatriation of the smear testing process to Ireland. This was recommendation number seven of the McCraith Report. It is imperative that a plan along with funding is put in place to do that.
It is clear that outsourcing played a part in this scandal. And it played a part in the further mistakes that were made as regards delays of tests and the issuing of results. We know that this cannot be achieved over night, but it must be worked towards.
We must fix the system. We must ensure that that women can enjoy absolute confidence in the screening process. And fixing anything in the health service means funding – your words need to be followed with actions and those actions need to be backed up by funding.
It was disappointing that in this years’ budget that there was not a specific funding allocation allotted to the CervicalCheck programme.
That needs to change – the programme needs additional funding to ensure that it can change and to implement the recommendations of both the McCraith and Scally reports.
I would hope that in the coming weeks that funding can be put forward for the CervicalCheck programme.
We also need to see the implementation of the Patient Safety Bill.
This is the Bill to provide for mandatory open disclosure of serious reportable patient safety incidents and notification of reportable incidents as well as other changes.
This General Scheme of the Bill was published in July 2018 and we are still awaiting pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and holding out for its implementation.
We attempted to bring forwarding our own legislation for mandatory open disclosure, the Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill 2018, but this was voted down in the Seanad on the promise that the Patient Safety Bill would be forthcoming sooner rather than later.
We accepted that at the time, but there has been no movement on open disclosure.
If the legislation is not progressed before an election, then it will be a great failure that this government could not get mandatory open disclosure over the line during its tenure in government. In the summer of 2018, Emma Mhic Mhathúna spoke outside the gates of the Dáil.
She stood with her young children at her side. Children who were facing the unbearable reality that they would lose their beautiful mother so early in life.
With the mic in her hand, Emma was a force a nature – sharp, witty, funny and utterly unbroken. One line from her speech sticks in my mind to this day.
Emma said; “I am not going to die and leave this country in unsafe hands.”
I stood in awe of this mother who was fighting for her life and yet still had the courage and determination to speak up for others. She was grace itself. A wonderful person whose tomorrows were stolen from her.
A beloved mother, daughter, sister and friend whose life story was cut short. I also want to acknowledge that there were other Emmas. Other women whose names might never be in a newspaper.
But their families too now live with the sorrowful intake that arrives at sight of the empty chair. Beyond the headlines and the heat of the political crisis, Stephen Teap gave an insight into life without his wife Irene.
It is the simplicity that reveals the utter heartbreak. Stephen said; “For instance, I look at Noah and I ask myself do I start him in school in September or do I wait until next year? Who do I bounce that thought off?
“You end up discussing it with relatives and friends and it’s like all decisions then are just you and you alone.”
I think every parent both inside and outside this house could relate to the loneliness meandering through those words. That is the scale of the devastation. That is the depth of the loss. That is the Cervical Check scandal.
We should never lose sight of the human cost of the failures. We should never underestimate it. We also should never forget that if it wasn’t for Vicky Phelan perhaps her agony that became very public would have been borne privately.
But Vicky Phelan didn’t stay silent. She spoke up. What dignity. What bravery. She is owed an immense debt of gratitude. As I said, the state’s apology is welcome. But those words must mark real and tangible change.
Our responsibility now is to honour the memory of women like Emma and Irene by fixing the system. That is the very best thing we can do for all the women affected by the Cervical Check Scandal.