Fine Gael health spokes- man James Reilly accused the Government of allowing about 100 women a year to die of cervical cancer while diverting €69m in taxpayers’ money to back racing.
Mr Reilly ratcheted up pressure on Health Minister Mary Harney to restore a life-saving cancer vaccine to school girls by arranging a Dáil showdown on the issue.
Ms Harney drew heavy fire last week for abandoning plans to vaccinate 30,000 12-year-old girls next year against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.
The treatment is said to be 70% effective and would have greatly reduced the death toll from the disease, which stands at 70-100 women per year.
Despite only announcing the initiative in August, the Health Minister insisted the collapse in Government finances meant it would have to be postponed until 2010 at the earliest.
Mr Reilly insisted the Government had got its financial priorities completely wrong.
“A philistine is described as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. What do you call a Government that can’t put a value on life when they can find €69m for the horse and greyhound racing industries?
“They cannot find a 10th of that amount to save the lives of up to 110 women a year who will die from cancer due to this short-sighted decision,” he said.
The huge cash injection to the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund was defended by a spokesperson for the Arts Sports and Tourism Department.
“The fund provides much-needed support to both the horse racing and greyhound industries, both of which make a significant economic contribution, mainly to the rural economy in terms of employment and tourism,” the spokesperson said.
The move provoked outrage from the opposition, with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore telling the Dáil the decision would lead to the deaths of 80 women.
Ms Harney was also lobbied by Fianna Fáil backbencher Jim McDaid, who told her in a private Leinster House encounter up to 100 women could die because of the move.
The FG motion to be debated by the Dáil states the Health Information and Quality Authority found the introduction of the HPV cervical cancer vaccination programme could see significant reductions in pre-cancers, cervical cancer and deaths from cervical cancer.
The motion says the total cost of introducing the vaccine is estimated to be €9.7m, with direct savings in treatment costs due to prevention amounting to more than €2.7m — making a total cost of €7m per year out of a health budget of €16bn.