'I'm happy to do it' - Taoiseach willing to make official apology to women affected by CervicalCheck scandal

'I'm happy to do it' - Taoiseach willing to make official apology to women affected by CervicalCheck scandal

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is "very happy" to offer a full apology to women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal.

It comes after Lorraine Walsh of the 221 Plus campaign said that nobody had ever formally apologised to them on behalf of the State for what happened.

Ms Walsh, who is one of the women caught up in the scandal, was one of two patient representatives appointed by the Minister for Health Simon Harris to a steering committee tasked with overseeing changes to the screening programme.

(Left to right) Stephen Teap, Lorraine Walsh and Vicky Phelan of the 221 Plus campaign.
(Left to right) Stephen Teap, Lorraine Walsh and Vicky Phelan of the 221 Plus campaign.

Mr Varadkar said that he thought there had been an official State apology.

"Certainly, I think in previous comments that I'd made I had apologised for what has happened, particularly the whole scandal around non-disclosure, the failure of the HSE and CervicalCheck, which are public bodies, failing to engage in open disclosure, to tell women about the audit," he told Brendan O'Connor on The Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio 1.

"That was an appalling scandal and was wrong, and on behalf of the State, I'm certainly sorry for it.

"If perhaps there is a particular format in which that should be done, such as a statement in the Dáil, if that hasn't been done already, I'm happy to do it."

He went on to say that the Government has focused on the Scally Inquiry and putting in place the package of supports for the women affected by the scandal and their families.

He said: "The other thing I'm really committed to is to become the government that put us on the road to eliminating cervical cancer as a cancer, because it's an awful cancer.

"We can virtually eliminate it and that's why doing things like encouraging parents to take up the HPV vaccine for girls, extending it to boys is happening in September."

"It's also about improving the screening system, moving towards a test that's more accurate, no test is 100% accurate by-the-way. And we are making good progress on that.

"That's above all what I would like to come out of the whole CervicalCheck controversy, is something good. The two good things that could come out of it are eliminating cervical cancer for the next generation, and secondly, making the health service a much more open and honest place, particularly around making open disclosure in serious cases mandatory."

He added that the best thing he could do is to ask the Health Minister, Simon Harris, to contact the 221 Plus group in order to establish the best format for a formal apology.

"I'd be very happy to do that and I think it would be appropriate."

The Taoiseach then reacted to events around the awarding of €5m of Exchequer funding to Waterford Airport to extend it runway, which has not had a commercial flight for three years.

Waterford Airport is planning a €12m runway extension that will enable it to cater for larger aircraft. A statement from the department said the remaining cost of the project would be met by private investor and local authority interests that have committed to funding €5m and €2m respectively in return for an equity shareholding in the airport.

Mr Varadkar said: "Waterford Airport is the coast guard base, it needs to stay open.

Waterford Airport
Waterford Airport

"This is an investment, most of the money is not coming from central Government. Government is only being asked to put in less than half of the money."

Mr O'Connor then asked the Taoiseach about Maria Bailey's interview on Today with Sean O'Rourke and he said that he felt very bad for her and that she was ill-advised.

Mr Varadkar said: "She's one of the better ones, one of the up and coming ones in my view," before he went on to speak about tackling compensation culture and insurance premiums.

Mr Varadkar said: "This budget coming will have to be tighter than the last one."

He added that the Budget will be issued on the first week of October, but the Government doesn't know what is going to happen on that day as "we're developing two budgets for two different scenarios... one being a hard Brexit, no-deal, and the other for one where we have a deal and the economy begins to grow".

He spoke of the National Children's Hospital, saying that every time the cost rises "there's other things that we might like to do that we then can't do".

He said: 'I hope the one thing that isn't lost in this is the enormous value of this project, a new children's hospital was promised when I was a medical student.

"This is actually being built.. this is for real... if you look at the site in James' it's at two storeys... nobody will be sorry we built it."

The Taoiseach also reacted to the situation of homelessness and the Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, saying: "I know that the public find family homelessness offensive and I do too.

"We're now well into the biggest social housing programme in decades... after a very long time of almost no investment in social housing... but it will work."

When asked if Mr Murphy is a good minister for Housing, the Taoiseach said he is a very hard-working minister and that he gets a hard time.

Eoghan Murphy.
Eoghan Murphy.

Mr Varadkar said: "I don't honestly believe that there is anyone who would be doing a better job."

In terms of a General Election, with confusion surrounding it, the Taoiseach said that if it's up to him, his position is exactly as it was this time last year, deciding on an Election date for Summer 2020.

On rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle, the Taoiseach put those to rest by saying that with the summer recess, the budget and Brexit: "I don't want people who need to learn on the job during that period."

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