Tribunal into the cervical cancer tests to be fast-tracked

Health Minister Simon Harris

A Government-backed tribunal into the cervical cancer tests scandal will be fast-tracked due to the "urgency" of finding out what happened.

Health Minister Simon Harris has formally asked opposition parties to allow the bill establishing the tribunal to be sped through the Oireachtas just days after the cabinet agreed on the details of the plan.

In a letter to the Oireachtas health committee on Monday evening, Mr Harris formally told committee chairman and Independent TD, Dr Michael Harty, of Government plans to launch a tribunal into the scandal.

Tribunal into the cervical cancer tests to be fast-tracked

And, underlining the importance of the step, he asked for the bill to be fast-tracked through all stages of legislative scrutiny due to the need to provide clarity for women and families affected.

Mr Harris wrote: "As an independent statutory tribunal was recommended by Mr Justice Charles Meenan's report and given the urgency of this legislation, I propose to seek permission from the business committee not to refer the general scheme for pre-legislative scrutiny. I have arranged for my department to be available to brief members of the Oireachtas committee on health. My private secretary will contact the committee clerk to set a date."

The Irish Examiner understands that opposition parties will support the request to speed up any examination of the tribunal bill in order to ensure it is set up without any further delays.

However, in a statement on Tuesday, Sinn Féin health spokeswoman, Louise O'Reilly, said that while she welcomes the fast-tracking of the plan there are still issues with the tribunal - including the fact women who have already settled cases may not be given the opportunity to explain their cases:

“I am glad that those affected will be offered the opportunity to have their hearing in public or in private, this is extremely important for those women who want people to know and see how they were treated first hand. There are some areas of consideration though, such as the denial of those who have previously received an award from a court settlement to give evidence to the tribunal.

While we understand that a second claim cannot be made, we feel that it is important that all of those affected can give evidence to the tribunal to help it in its deliberations.

As reported earlier this month, the Government has decided to launch the 'no-blame' tribunal into the cervical cancer tests scandal after it was recommended by Justice Charles Meenan's review.

The tribunal which will focus on the 221 women affected by what happened. It will be led by Justice Mary Irvine; will be held in private; and will make it an offence for officials to refuse to attend.

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