Women impacted by CervicalCheck choose court over specially set-up tribunal

Women impacted by CervicalCheck choose court over specially set-up tribunal

Campaigners Stephen Teap, Lorraine Walsh, and Vicky Phelan with some of the 221 cervical cancer patients speaking to the media after hearing the Taoiseach apologise to the victims of the CervicalCheck controversy. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Almost 80 women impacted by the CervicalCheck scandal have chosen to launch High Court proceedings this year instead of going through a tribunal specifically set up to deal with their claims.

The CervicalCheck Tribunal has received just eight claims since it was established by health minister Stephen Donnelly late last year.

However, 77 claims have been made through the courts or legal processes outside of the tribunal so far this year.

The figures released to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín from the State Claims Agency show that 310 claims have been issued by women or families against the State relating to the CervicalCheck controversy since 2018.

This includes 38 claims from the families of women who have since died.

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín. Picture: Collins
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín. Picture: Collins

Mr Tóibín said the minister's actions are to blame for what he described as "an extremely serious failure" of the tribunal.

"It is clear that last year Minister Donnelly caused a lot of hurt to the 221+ group when he disregarded their reservations about the tribunal plans and ploughed ahead with the establishment of the tribunal, despite promises to the group," he said.

It is clear that women do not have faith in the tribunal and are thus being forced to go through the legal route and the courts — this is what the tribunal was supposed to stop, this is what the Government promised wouldn't happen."

Defending the CervicalCheck Tribunal, which campaigners claimed was not fit for purpose even before it was established, Mr Donnelly said this avenue is "the most appropriate venue to hear and determine CervicalCheck claims". 

"It has been specifically designed for that purpose," he said. "It is, of course, entirely up to eligible women as to whether or not they use it." 

Mr Donnelly confirmed that the eight claims submitted to the tribunal by 10 people are a combination of new claims and claims that have been transferred from the High Court.

Health minister Stephen Donnelly has defended the CervicalCheck Tribunal. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Health minister Stephen Donnelly has defended the CervicalCheck Tribunal. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

"I am advised that there has been further interest expressed in using the tribunal, and it is anticipated that additional claims will be received," said Mr Donnelly.

Calling on the minister to consult with those involved to revise the legislation which established the CervicalCheck Tribunal, Mr Tóibín said: "We're all familiar with the court cases where women are being fought in court right up until days before their death. 

This is enormously cruel.

"In terms of the large volume of claims going through the legal route and the low volume going through the tribunal, this is going to place an enormous cost on the State and taxpayer, and indeed on the individual women and families affected by this scandal."

The CervicalCheck Tribunal, which was set up last October, was initially due to accept claims until July of this year. However, this deadline has been extended to January 2022.

"In doing so, the Government cited Covid-19 and the HSE cyberattack as impacting on their work, but I would speculate that the real reason for the extension was in the hope of increasing the number of claims," said Mr Tóibín.

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