This has been a tough week for the women of Ireland. Last night, we had a heartwrenching and emotional debate on the Government's proposals to seal the records of survivors of mother and baby homes, women who were vilified, abused and treated as outcasts by this State. In the same week, issues surrounding CervicalCheck have unfortunately arisen again. Some 12 months ago, the Tánaiste delivered a formal State apology for the litany of failures in respect of CervicalCheck and he said sorry for the humiliation, disrespect and deceit meted out to the hundreds of women affected by that scandal. This came in the aftermath of the State joining US laboratories that were at fault in dragging a terminally ill woman through the courts and fighting her tooth and nail every step of the way. It was accurately described as deathbed litigation.
The Tánaiste promised the women concerned that this would never happen again and that an alternative to the courts would be provided for women to seek justice. The truth is that this adversarial and aggressive approach has been maintained. Vicky Phelan has come forward to express her shock and anger that women and their families have been let down by the State yet again this week. The Minister, Deputy Donnelly, has written to women and their families to say that the tribunal will be established next week. They got that news at the same time as the public announcement. It is like the mistakes that were made were brushed under the carpet and forgotten about. It is as if the voices of the women concerned do not matter. We heard women say last night that their voices did not matter. Against their wishes and pleas for a non-adversarial route, the Minister, ignoring those calls, insists that the laboratories must be involved in the proceedings if taken before the tribunal. This is entirely wrong. The Government should not be joining these laboratories in fighting these women and their families. A decent Government would stand up for and protect these women and ensure that it worked with them to get the justice that they deserve.
We need to fix the system and that is the least that we owe these women. I am a user of the CervicalCheck service and I want it to work. In order for it to work, there has to be transparency and trust. The women who are the victims of this scandal have to be listened to, so that all women can know they can have confidence in the service because they are having input into it. These women have been let down repeatedly and now the Minister for Health intends to proceed on a basis that is not acceptable to those women. Vicky Phelan said she is pleading with the Minister to redouble efforts to sit down again with the members of the 221+ group to identify an alternative solution for redress, which is what members have asked for and deserve. Will the Tánaiste accept that there is a failure to live up to the promise that he gave when he was Taoiseach, that women would not be dragged through the courts and an adversarial process? Will he accept that this has caused significant distress for women and their families, all of which could have been avoided? Will he intervene ahead of this tribunal being established next week and ensure that the cruel treatment of women is stopped immediately and that the tribunal is constituted in a way that will deliver justice for them?