Harris fails to voice faith in O’Brien

Minister for Health Simon Harris twice declined to express confidence in the director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Tony O’Brien.

However, the minister said Mr O’Brien had only a number of weeks left in office and that a recruitment process for a replacement would begin next week.

Mr Harris said he knows people are angry about the cervical cancer scandal and that he and other ministers also feel that anger.

He said he was “furious” at what had occurred.

“I know people are angry and annoyed and, believe it or not, politicians are angry and annoyed,” he said. 

“How could you not be, after the events of the last fortnight? Information was put out; misinformation was given out. Facts were withheld; facts were not given. Women were let down. How could you not be furious at what has happened?”

Mr Harris declined to express confidence in the director general.

“My focus is on getting answers for women,” he said. “The DG has a few short weeks left; he is the outgoing DG of the HSE. I’d rather he spend his remaining few weeks cooperating. I reckon we will have a new DG by early July.”

Tony O'Brien

Mr Harris called on Mr O’Brien to co-operate fully with making sure the women affected by the cervical cancer scandal secured the answers they deserved.

“I have heard people say that there is a benefit in him staying put,” he said. 

“I have made my position clear in relation to Tony O’Brien: He has about eight weeks to serve his post. I expect him to do everything he can to help provide answers to women.

“I am furious at what has happened, furious because of the situation it has put women in, and furious that I haven’t been, at all times, able to give information, not that I wouldn’t like to, but because that information wasn’t forthcoming.”

Launching a scoping exercise, Mr Harris said Britain’s Dr Gabriel Scally would chair the group, which is due to report back by the end of June.

The group has been given expansive terms of reference, though some are concerned that delivery of a report by the end of June is not possible.

Mr Harris said he was confident Dr Scally and the team would get the job done, though the terms were ambitious.

“It would have been a mistake to jump straight into a commission, without doing this scoping exercise,” he said.

“I see this about gathering all the information, talking and listening to women about their experiences, so that when we come to establishing a commission, it will be a very focused one.”

The minister also confirmed that he has Cabinet approval to move to re-establish the board of the HSE, confirming the abandonment of Fine Gael’s previous policy of abolishing the body.

“I will be bringing back a HSE board, so we can put the best and the brightest in there,” he said.

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