Tax-break Ireland is no country for the vulnerable

Who writes off the losses for the wronged cervical cancer victims? How will they be bailed out? What hopes of a haven have they, failed by a hellish health system? asks Juno McEnroe

Tax-break Ireland is no country for the vulnerable

Who writes off the losses for the wronged cervical cancer victims? How will they be bailed out? What hopes of a haven have they, failed by a hellish health system? asks Juno McEnroe

THIS week saw public outrage over the treatment of two very vulnerable groups — women with cancer having to fight for justice and humility in the courts, and distressed mortgage holders offloaded to a corporate vulture fund.

Weak and vulnerable women and families are left behind clamouring for help, while ‘Ireland Inc’ and ‘big business’ elsewhere is facilitated, rewarded. Why do we do injustices so well here?

The disturbing case of Ruth Morrissey, emerging from Dublin’s Four Courts in recent days, has again highlighted the sickening dilemma faced by women caught up in the cervical cancer scandal.

Ms Morrissey is suing the HSE and laboratories over alleged misreading of her cervical smear tests.

Harrowing evidence included mention of her daughter’s plea of “Mammy, please don’t die, I love you, don’t leave me”.

Some 17 lawyers were pitted against the Limerick woman. who has been undergoing no hair as a result of chemotherapy. Ruth and husband Paul were reduced to tears in court.

After the cervical cancer controversy erupted in May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised that women would not be put through this pain. The State would settle with them and then pursue labs. This hasn’t happened.

But we have been here before. This is no country for vulnerable women. Vicky Phelan, whose court case shone a light on this scandal, tweeted this week: “I am deeply disturbed by the lack of empathy in some quarters towards the women and families affected by the scandal.”

Ruth Morrissey with her husband Paul Morrissey
Ruth Morrissey with her husband Paul Morrissey

And that is just it. This is no country for victims, for the needy, for the wronged.

It took years of persistent campaigning for frail women from Magdalene laundries to get any redress for the horrors they experienced under the religious institutions.

Only last month were dozens allowed by the Government to apply for a redress scheme originally approved five years ago.

A promise to remove homeless families from hotels and B&Bs came and passed in June last year. Still, more than 3,800 children have no permanent roof over their heads, victims of a housing crisis not yet corrected. Some infants even have mobility and behavioral problems growing up in cramped rooms.

Another deeply disturbing crisis for the vulnerable surrounded the care of foster children in the south-east. It took a year for an agreement on an inquiry which was sparked by claims that Grace, a young girl with intellectual disabilities, was abused for years while in care. The inquiry is now delayed.

And still more victims wronged await justice in this State.

Hundreds of girls and boys were sexually abused in schools and now, as adults, are fighting the Department of Education for redress. An EU ruling for Cork victim Louise O’Keeffe in 2014 is contested by the department. It found the State was liable for abuse suffered in the schools.

The latest trampling of the vulnerable or distressed was the PTSB sale this week of 7,400 family home loans to vulture fund Lone Star, a “horrible day” for the anxious mortgage holders, it was warned.

The State-owned bank’s fire sale prompted fears that the US fund may sell homes, leaving borrowers homeless.

Returning to the cervical cancer test scandal — these brave, yet ill and vulnerable women affected so grievously by the testing scandal are also being failed.

While Mr Varadkar and others will understandably point out that actual legal negligence must be factually established in a court of law or inquiry, these women were neglected. Their cervical cancer was missed. And in some 221 cases, their smear tests were incorrectly read and they were not informed.

A decision to ensure that these women and their families, like Ruth Morrissey, don’t have to fight for redress, treatment costs, and support, has now been put on the long finger.

The Taoiseach can say he should have been “clearer” in his promise to the women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal and that people are entitled to go to court, but the simple recorded truth is that he promised those women the State would look after them. Yet now their fate will be partly decided by a judge who will report back in October on alternatives to court cases or mediation. Judge Charles Meenan will also report back on the potential cost of a redress scheme.

In the meantime, some of Ireland’s sickest women look toward Mr Varadkar for assurance. This is what Vicky Phelan sought in a “brutally frank” meeting with him in Government Buildings this week.

But amidst the painful battle by Ruth Morrissey to seek pecuniary justice, the unforgettable cries of Emma Mhic Mhathúna on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland as she talked about dying, and the steely courage of Vicky Phelan, rewards are doled out to bigger and more profitable interests in this State.

Corporate tech giants such as Facebook receive gilded tax breaks; there are special funds for construction firms under State schemes; and banks are even let off paying tax.

Facebook paid just €30m tax here in 2016 on revenue of some €12.6bn. It says it will wash its revenue elsewhere now. The social network firm has escaped sanction after allowing abusive material onto its pages at its Dublin HQ.

Property developers emerged as the biggest winners of the 2018 budget, with a €750m fund launched as an incentive to landowners to build homes. An expensive carrot indeed.

Furthermore, Ireland, whether we like it or not now, is considered by many as being part of a global tax avoidance industry. Aside from the specialised systems which allow massive tax avoidance by companies dealing in intellectual property, technology, and pharmaceutical giants, let’s just look at our own banks and the bailout of those taxpayer-funded institutions.

Last year Bank of Ireland, AIB, and PTSB made combined profits of €2.5bn. Between them, they will not pay a cent in corporation tax. The Government in 2015 changed rules so they did not carry on losses for a generation.

Those banks can write their losses off effectively. And the State declines to collect hundreds of millions of euro a year in tax from them.

Who writes off the losses for the wronged cervical cancer victims? How will they be bailed out? What hopes of a haven have they, failed by a hellish health system?

Mr Varadkar in part rose to prominence when he took a stand for Garda whistleblowers, declaring that they were distinguished and not ‘disgusting’. As a minister in 2015, he took a stand on same-sex marriage in a role which helped drive through the referendum, and he is also facing down the Brexiteers in a fight for Ireland’s interests.

Now he needs to stand up for Ireland’s vulnerable, and repair these broken promises for the needy, as opposed to overseeing corporate rewards for the rich.

We remember what happened to Hepatitis C victim and Donegal mother of 12 Brigid McCole, who died fighting for justice in the courts. This scenario is happening before our very eyes again.

The Government, independent of Judge Meenan’s report, must make a stand for our women: Cover their losses, ease their suffering, and not only promise but ensure court is avoided.

Taoiseach, keep your word. Don’t allow these dying women to see out their last precious moments in an unforgiving courtroom, fighting for their children’s futures, for treatment and some scrap of humility or respect.

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