Varadkar ‘backing away’ from cancer pledge

By Juno McEnroe and Evelyn Ring

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stands accused of peddling “untruths” and of “backing away” from a pledge that the State will settle cancer cases to avoid women having to seek redress through the courts.

Terminally-ill cancer patient Vicky Phelan will tomorrow tell Mr Varadkar to “make good” his commitment that no woman caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal must go to court to give evidence.

Vicky Phelan and Stephen Teap

The meeting comes as another dying woman seeks redress in court. Ruth Morrissey is suing the HSE and two labs over the alleged incorrect reporting of tests before she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. Mr Varadkar has asked the State Claims Agency to resume mediation with her.

The Limerick woman’s plight has prompted claims that the Taoiseach and the Government “over-promised” in May that the State would compensate women so they could avoid court. Mr Varadkar said the State would settle and pursue labs later.

He rowed back from this yesterday, saying: “It is, however, the constitutional right of anyone to go to court if they feel that is in their best interests and that’s a constitutional right. Perhaps I should have been more clearer about that back in May acknowledging people have a constitutional right to go to court if they feel it is in their best interests.”

Nonetheless, the Taoiseach said the Government wanted all cases to be settled by mediation so women would avoid court.

“That is absolutely what we want.”

Mediation attempts were resuming in Ms Morrissey’s case, he said, but “all false negatives are not negligent”.

As I understand it there is a complication in this particular case as negligence has not yet been established in relation to the misreading of particular smear tests,” added Mr Varadkar.

However, the resumption of cancer court cases and the failure to settle claims has sparked a backlash.

Solicitor Cian O’Carroll, who represents several women including Ms Phelan and Ms Morrissey, yesterday said there had been no change in the State’s position since the May pledge.

“The exact same tactic is being adopted,” he said.

Of course every party has a right to go to court, added Mr O’Carroll, but Mr Varadkar is “backing away” from what he had promised women and “trying to cover his tracks”.

“The State has a right to settle,” said Mr O’Carroll. “But the Taoiseach doesn’t get it both ways. He doesn’t get to stand out there and give himself political cover for a position that he has taken while at the same time allowing laboratories to attack a plaintiff in a case. He is the one that said the State would stand with women against the laboratories.”

Ms Phelan said Mr Varadkar needs to take back control from the laboratories being sued for damages.

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