Simon Coveney: Stopping probes could ‘backfire’

Simon Coveney

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said the Government cannot direct Oireachtas committees to stop investigating the cervical cancer scandal, despite the concerns of an independent expert examining the crisis that the dual questioning is distracting witnesses.

Mr Coveney said any attempts by ministers to freeze Oireachtas committee investigations into what has happened could “backfire”. His comments came 24 hours after scoping review chairman Dr Gabriel Scally requested leeway to allow him to do his work.

Mr Coveney said he understood Dr Scally’s reasoning for writing to Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin asking him to stop committees questioning witnesses.

However, Mr Coveney said the reality is it would be almost impossible for the Government to block politicians from continuing their work.

“Well, I think first of all, Oireachtas committees need to be given an opportunity to respond, as they see fit. I think people would respond negatively if we were to tell them how to act. They need to make their own judgements here,” he told The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk.

What Dr Gabriel Scally is saying is he wants to go on with his job, and he needs the full attention of the HSE, the Department of Health, and anyone else, but, because there are multiple conversations going on, he’s suggesting this is too much of a distraction,” said Mr Coveney.

Asked if committees were “show-boating” by bringing in officials for public questioning while an independent scoping review is taking place in the background, the Tánaiste said: “I think committees do need to make responsible decisions here, but I think it would be appropriate for committees to make their own decisions on that rather than a minister telling them what to do.

Generally, that has the opposite effect, judging by experience with Oireachtas committees.

“I totally respect the need for Oireachtas committees to also have a role here, but what people want most now is full accountability. I believe Gabriel Scally is probably best placed to do that outside the heat of the political discussions that have been happening.”

The appearance of cervical cancer victims and officials before the Public Accounts Committee and Health Committee has led to key information being uncovered.

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