I wish to share time with Deputy Shortall.
The frightening aspect of this decision by the Minister for Health and Children highlighted in all the letters and e-mails I have received is the mention of the words "save lives". Every newspaper has mentioned "save lives" and has printed headlines such as "A Small Price to Pay to Save Lives", "A Drop in the Ocean to Save Lives", "Budget Cuts that Put Girls' Lives in Danger", "Death Sentence on 12 year olds" and so on.
This is the first time during my membership of the House that actions by the Government of the day knowingly put lives at risk. The equation that €10 million in savings equals ten, 20 or, as suggested in many newspapers, 90 deaths is an unbelievable statistic for a Minister to have attributed to her actions if reports by experts are correct. The so-called saving of 0.7% of the Department's budget of €14 billion cannot be measured as such if lives are at stake. This should never be allowed to happen when there is clear and undeniable evidence, which, amazingly, has not been contradicted by the Minister, her Department or the HSE, that lives can be saved if the scheme is rolled out.
Cancer is a terrible illness, which never goes away. Constant scans, tests, etc., are required for those who are diagnosed and treated. The worry and concern for patients and their families as they wait for results are palpable. I recall on one occasion a nurse informing my wife, a cancer sufferer, that she would receive good news because she saw the state of worry my wife was in even before she saw the consultant. However, the Government has within its remit the powers to prevent such occurrences but is allowing the equation, savings equals loss of lives, to be the accepted formula. In an article in the Irish Daily Mail on Friday, 7 November, a woman who suffered from cervical cancer stated, “Life is not a rehearsal. We should grab every opportunity we have”. This is relevant to the debate. There are no replays in life and any dangers to it must be addressed when possible. This is one such occasion.
The Minister has reached great heights, achieved a great deal and will be remembered fondly in history but her record will be blemished if the equation, savings equals loss of lives, is part of her legacy. Many figures are bandied about regarding the costs incurred by the HSE on bonuses, special advisers and the PPARS system, each of which, individually or on a combined basis, could provide the savings necessary to roll out this vaccination programme. The issues highlighted in the newspapers and e-mails could be resolved but, most important, lives could be saved. Nothing is as precious as life and if the Government seeks to face down the Opposition for the sake of procedure later, I am afraid it will be a sad day for the House.
Last August, the Irish Cancer Society welcomed unreservedly the decision to roll-out the mass vaccination programme for all girls aged 12 years. All the evidence relating to such programmes suggest they are a safe and effective way of preventing HPV. Dr. Gráinne Flannelly of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, and chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation medical committee stated, "It is time for Ireland to take the lead in preventing cervical cancer. We cannot delay any longer". The Taoiseach stated earlier a Deputy was using emotional blackmail in this important matter. I assure him that a family in which a loved one is a cancer sufferer would not wish it to be inflicted on anyone else. Is it emotional? Sir, one can bet one's life on it. Is it blackmail to seek to prevent the disease in other instances? No, a thousand times, no, if it means the Minister will restore the programme through savings in other sectors or in whatever way. The threat of cancer to the 100 girls who may die following treatment for cervical cancer is not acceptable. I ask the Minister to change her mind in this regard.