Brendan Howlin defends HSE chief’s departure package

Brendan Howlin, who was public expenditure minister when Tony O’Brien was appointed head of the HSE, has defended his departure package.

Although Mr O’Brien has resigned as director general of the HSE, he will not face any financial penalty or sanction.

Mr O’Brien’s contract had provision to offer an alternative position in the public service on completion of his contract or to give a payment equivalent of six months’ salary.

The contract also provides for payment in lieu of notice to the end of the contract term.

As the cervical smear test controversy rumbles on, members of the Department of Health, the HSE, and National Cancer Registry Ireland are to be grilled on who exactly knew what when they appear at the Public Accounts Committee later this week.

Separately, Dr Gabriel Scally has been tasked with carrying out an independent scoping exercise into the scandal and will report back next month.

The focus has now turned to why neither the former health minister, Leo Varadkar, nor current Minister for Health Simon Harris were not informed about three 2016 memos which outlined the fact that CervicalCheck was pausing the delivery of letters telling women they had initially received the wrong results in their smears.

The memos, which led to the departure of Mr O’Brien, also revealed that CervicalCheck was developing a strategy to address any negative reports in the media that might come when women found out about their false negative tests.

Labour leader, Mr Howlin, yesterday described Mr O’Brien’s severance package as a “normal contract”, adding that he had abolished more lucrative deals when he was minister.

“Tony O’Brien would have normally have been entitled to a much more generous package; I ended that within a few weeks of becoming minister, and the normal severance package which is being paid up until the end of his retirement and a six-month severance payment is absolutely normal.

“The bottom line is he has resigned; he hasn’t been found guilty of anything, he hasn’t been found in a way that could just justify legally ending his entitlement,” said Mr Howlin.

He added that it had been a “traumatic couple of weeks for the women of Ireland” and the focus must now be on finding out the facts.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil has questioned further revelations yesterday that smear testing was subcontracted to a laboratory in the UK.

Marc MacSharry called on Mr Harris to clarify how exactly the system of outsourcing by Irish laboratories works and whether there are different criteria applied to tests carried out in the UK.

”It has now emerged that in the circumstances that a laboratory is under pressure with smear testing, it avails of third-party testing facilities to prevent a backlog, with a sister company in the UK.”

Medlab, based in Sandyford, Dublin, yesterday confirmed that it sends some smear tests to UK labs when it is under pressure.

Mr MacSharry said: “The minister must explain whether he knew about this practice and whether he is satisfied that this happens on a regular basis and whether GPs are informed whether the tests have taken place.”


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