asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to a report in a Sunday journal of 22nd January alleging that he was responsible for the delay in equipping St. Luke's Hospital with a cobalt bomb to be used in the treatment of cancer, and ascribing a certain statement to an official in the Department of Health and a further statement to a member of the Cancer Association of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Cobalt Bomb Equipment for Dublin Hospital.
I have noted a report which appeared in a Sunday newspaper on the 22nd January last. The allegations of delay in the provision of a cobalt therapy unit which the report contained are entirely unfounded and a statement in this matter ascribed to an officer of my Department was in fact never made.
On my direction, a letter was sent to the newspaper concerned stating that the report was inaccurate and that I regarded as contrary to the traditions of Irish journalism a report presented in such a sensational and tendentious manner which must have had the effect of intensifying the anxiety of persons suffering from cancer, and their relatives. The newspaper published this letter, but omitted the sentence containing my views, with which I am sure every Deputy will agree, on the undesirable features of this type of report.
The report also contained an allegation that a statement had been made by a member of the Cancer Association imputing delay to the Government. A letter from the Cancer Association denying that any such statement was made by a member was published in the newspaper on 5th instant but to this was appended a comment repeating the original falsehood in even more flagrant terms. I have ascertained that the Cancer Association then, through their solicitors, pursued the matter. As a result of this, the newspaper published on 19th instant an admission that their original statement, repeated notwithstanding a denial by the Association, was untrue.
I think I should put on record the sensational manner in which the newspaper concerned presented this story to its readers. It first published its allegations on January 22nd. These were printed over three columns under sensational headlines, splashed across the whole page. On Sunday, February 5th the paper published a further three-column story headed "Mr. MacEntee—And the Cobalt Bomb". In the course of it, the mutilated version of the letter from my private secretary was printed over his signature, but with no mark to indicate that portion of it had been excised from it by the newspaper. It was not until last Sunday that in a relatively minute paragraph the newspaper concerned made even a partial retraction of its statements. The incident exemplifies how difficult it is to nail a lie.
Is the Minister aware that in a recent report they stated they had been misinformed by a member of the Association or the staff, but they did not withdraw the subject matter of the attack? What action does he now propose to take?
That is an old Irish Press custom.
Has this any reference to the Sunday Press?
It does not concern the Sunday Press or the Sunday Independent.
It sounds very like the Sunday Press.
We are glad the Deputy recognises it.
I may say that the matter is not closed. A report in the Press would indicate that some official of the Association may have been the source of this falsehood.
May we take it that this is not the beginning of a war with the newspapers?
It is is not.
I am glad to have that assurance.
It would be a great blessing if the Minister would not write letters to them any more.
On the last occasion the Deputy engaged in a contest with the newspapers, he did not come very well out of it, did he?
He got damages and costs.
It did not carry costs.