Clear answers on the cervical cancer scandal could be delayed even further after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted thousands of women potentially affected will have to individually give permission before their tests can be examined.
Mr Varadkar also said the controversy was “a bigger job than we anticipated back in May”.
During the Dáil leader’s questions yesterday, he was heavily criticised by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald over the failure to ensure speedy answers to what happened.
Noting 3,000 smear tests potentially affected by what happened have yet to be reviewed by the Gabriel Scally scoping exercise, Ms McDonald urged the Taoiseach to clarify when they will be examined — and when a full-scale inquiry will be launched.
However, despite Ms McDonald insisting there is a vital need to speed up the independent process, Mr Varadkar said the investigation could be delayed further as all 3,000 of the women involved must be individually contacted before their tests can be examined.
“This has been a difficult issue to deal with. Like the women concerned, Ms McDonald and everyone else, we did not have all the facts at the outset and we still do not have all the facts.
“We established the scoping inquiry and agreed on the terms of reference with the opposition. That scoping inquiry is now underway.
“Things were not done properly in the past and we need to do them properly in the future so it was suggested that if we are to examine women’s slides again, they should be asked individually for their consent.
“It is probably important to engage women individually, seek their consent for the examination on an individual basis and make sure each woman is individually briefed and informed of the result of the audit.
“It is a bigger job than we might have anticipated back in May,” Mr Varadkar said.
While acknowledging the Scally inquiry is independent and should not be interfered with by politicians, Ms McDonald said the situation is likely to further delay any answers about what happened. However, despite highlighting her concerns and demanding a clear timeline for when the scoping exercise will be completed, Mr Varadkar would only say it will be finished in the near future and that the Dáil will sign off on a commission of inquiry in September.
During the same debate, Mr Varadkar also confirmed a May 11 cut-off point has been imposed for women seeking to be refunded for expenses related to the cervical cancer scandal.
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