As elected representatives, we have the honour in the House of having been given the responsibility to debate issues and introduce legislation to improve the country and the lives of our citizens. There will always be political differences; it is a political job. There will be heated debates and slagging matches. Overall, however, all Members are committed to making a positive difference for their communities. We will always have to take into consideration how the public who elect us and whom we serve believe an issue should be dealt with. Over the past two weeks, there have been heated exchanges on the chaotic, irresponsible way CervicalCheck has handled its audit of cervical smears. This was brought to public light by Vicky Phelan who was forced to take her case and tell her story to the High Court. The bravery she showed has led to many developments, including scoping inquiries, processes, data collection and inquiries into laboratories here and in the USA but there has been very little discussion of the impact on women. Of these women, 17 are already dead. The courage of Stephen Teap in telling the story of his late wife, Irene, is amazing. He and 17 families are now digesting the fact that their wives and mothers could have had a better prognosis and chance in life had their smears been read properly.
If any of us was in any doubt about the impact of these mistakes, this morning's interview with Emma Mhic Mhathúna on "Morning Ireland" by Audrey Carville will have blown such complacency away. It is an interview which will stay with anyone who heard it. It seared the soul of our country. It is hard not to be completely distraught at the devastating heartbreak Emma and her family face and there are no words anyone can say to console her, her five children, her family or her friends. She articulated her story in an unbelievably brave way. She was told in 2013 that her smear test was normal but she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016. Yesterday, she met her own GP who told her she had terminal cancer which had spread to her bones. She waited until her child's confirmation, held on Tuesday, was over to get that news. Her GP told her and her gynaecologist confirmed that if her smear test had been read accurately, she would not be facing this diagnosis now. She said that is where it is so much more heartbreaking. She said "I am dying when I don't need to die". She is 37 and has five children, one of whom is a baby. She said "I don’t even know if my ... baby is going to remember me".
The time for defiant defence is over. It is not a time to defend the Government or the HSE. Please stop. Please stop as a Government and listen, but more importantly, hear the story of Emma, of Vicky Phelan, Irene Teap, the deceased women and all those women who are currently going through this journey. Emma's is only one story in an ocean of anguish. I ask the Minister to provide the House with his thoughts as to whether all these women have been failed by the State. Does he believe there should be immediate accountability?