Vicky Phe­lan says it is too lit­tle, too late... as cer­vi­cal can­cer scan­dal con­tin­ues to rage

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Valerie Han­ley

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.’

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