LEO’S TEARS NOT SINCERE
Vicky Phelan says it is too little, too late... as cervical cancer scandal continues to rage
TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar’s tearful remarks on the CervicalCheck controversy were insincere and ‘too little, too late’, the woman whose courageous stand exposed the scandal has told the Irish Mail on Sunday.
Vicky Phelan – who doggedly refused to sign a confidentiality agreement with the US labs that misread smear tests, despite her illness – also questioned whether the Government’s financial package was just a response to the bombshell HSE memos which led to HSE boss Tony O’Brien resigning.
Those 2016 memos appear to suggest that up to 280 women may have been given false all-clears, higher than the 209 previously announced, yet the
HSE repeatedly failed to substantially respond to questions on the issue in recent days. Ms Phelan’s comments come as senior Government sources said last night that they now believe knowledge of the scale of the scandal was ‘widespread’ in the Health Department and the HSE.
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan is under growing pressure to explain why he didn’t tell Health Minister Simon Harris about the memos, or Mr Varadkar when he was health minister.
And as another family – that of Catherine Reak, who was also wrongly given the all-clear, and who died after a painful battle with cancer in April 2012 – called for accountability, the Government itself is facing renewed scrutiny.
Amidst growing criticism of his handling of the controversy, now in its third week, Mr Varadkar told a press conference on Friday that victim Emma Mhic Mhathúna’s children were the same age as his own nephews and nieces, which made him realise the mother of five could have been one of his sisters. His voice cracked as he spoke.
But in response to that, Ms Phelan told the MoS yesterday: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t feel that his comments were sincere.’
The 43-year-old mother-of-two added: ‘I don’t know. It’s kind of an unusual position to be in, but I do think... you could see it when he was thinking of it in terms of [it] being his own nephews. I think that did, suddenly there was that moment, where he did maybe think maybe that, “Oh God this could be my family”.
‘But I don’t know. I think it was a little bit too late for me because this has been raging on now for over two weeks and I’ve just said the Taoiseach has been very much absent from the debate for the last while.’
She said that Friday was the first time she saw him discussing it, on Six One News.
‘He was all over the news when the storm happened and here is a scandal on a scale that is, you know, just absolutely massive and he hasn’t been to the fore as he was during the storm.’
She believes the support package announced on Friday, after the memo furore broke on Thursday, ‘is very welcome for women and the bereaved families’. But she adds: ‘It should have been introduced sooner to be honest. Look, I know it probably has taken some time to put something together but they could have announced that…. maybe a week ago, that they were working on it but this all came about, I feel, a little bit coinciden- tally with the production of these memos. But saying that, I don’t want to criticise the package. ‘I think it is very welcome for women, there are some very good measures that will help people because being sick with cancer is an expensive illness to have with all your treatments, travel and childcare issues. Something that has been lost in all of this… I don’t think that [counselling for bereaved families] has been taken into consideration.’
In response to questions about the sincerity of the Taoiseach’s emotion, Minister Harris said he would not tolerate any suggestion his boss had been crying on cue.
He said: ‘Any attempts to dehumanise politicians is not something I’m going to tolerate. The Taoiseach of this country is, like everybody else in this country, shocked, upset and concerned, regardless of what party political jersey you wear.’
Meanwhile, Government sources have told the MoS that Mr Holohan has ‘serious problems’. They added: ‘What is fast becoming clear is that loads of people knew. I can’t say they knew about the details of the Vicky Phelan case because I don’t know that.’
But the insider believes that knowledge about the scale of the scandal was ‘widespread’.
‘Tony Holohan, I think he has got a lot of very serious problems. I say that with a huge sadness, because
‘Unfortunately, I don’t feel his comments were sincere’
he is one of the people that I massively admire,’ said the insider.
These memos emerged after the MoS previously revealed that an Incident Team, charged by Minister Harris with identifying and contacting all of the women falsely given the all-clear, will be reporting their findings to senior HSE official Dr Colm Henry, who was aware of the correspondence in Ms Phelan’s case as early as July 2017.
When asked this weekend about these memos Ms Phelan said: ‘I saw straight away that Colm Henry’s name was there. When I discovered this, again I was outraged.’ She said he should be removed.
On the scoping inquiry by Dr Gabriel Scally, she thinks it ‘will get to the bottom of the issues’. But she added that ‘his remit is not to attribute blame’.
And the Commission of Investigation may not be for six months. ‘So that’s not going to appeal to women in this situation and the bereaved families who want answers now and who want accountability now.’