We are discussing matters related to the CervicalCheck revelations. In particular, we will examine the management of legal costs and the policy on open disclosure. These matters were included in the work programme of the Committee of Public Accounts to be considered in July, but as a result of the matters that have come to light, members agreed that they should be dealt with more urgently.
We are joined from the Department of Health by Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General and Accounting Officer for the HSE; Dr. Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, and Ms Mary Jackson, principal officer. From the HSE we are joined by Mr. Tony O’Brien, director general; Mr. Damian McCallion, national director, national screening service; Dr. Philip Crowley, national director, quality improvement division; Mr. Liam Woods, national director, acute hospital services; and Ms Maura Lennon, head of legal services. From the State Claims Agency we are joined by Mr. Ciarán Breen, director; Mr. Cathal O’Keefe, head of clinical risk; and Ms Ann Duffy, senior clinical risk manager. We also invited representatives of the National Cancer Registry. It was done at short notice earlier in the week, but its director is not available and it was not in a position to send anybody else.
The registry will be invited to join us again next week.
I welcome the witnesses. I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery that all mobile phones must be switched off. I advise the witnesses that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the provisions of Standing Order 186 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government, or the merits of the objectives of such policies. While we expect witnesses to answer questions put by the committee clearly and with candour, witnesses can expect to be, should be and will be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times in line with the Oireachtas witness protocol. I will ensure that happens.
There were to be a number of opening statements from Mr. Breslin, Mr. Breen and Mr. O'Brien, but we will take those documents as read in order to save time.