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Dublin: 13°C Friday 19 August 2022

'Make them go minister - or else you go' - Calls for heads to roll in CervicalCheck scandal

The issue dominated large chunks of Leaders’ Questions today.

Image: Sam Boal/

OPPOSITION TDS TODAY demanded accountability for the CervicalCheck scandal in the form of suspensions or sackings.

The issue dominated large chunks of Leaders’ Questions today, with People Before Profit’s Brid Smith demanding that “heads roll”.

Although Tánaiste Simon Coveney was taking questions, Smith addressed Health Minister Simon Harris, who was in the chamber.

Earlier today, Vicky Phelan, the woman whose case brought the controversy into the public eye, tweeted that “heads absolutely need to roll”, singling out Tony O’Brien, the head of the HSE.

Harris has announced the launch of a Health Information and Quality Authority statutory investigation into the CervicalCheck screening programme.

It has emerged that more than 1,500 women who developed cervical cancer did not have their cases reviewed by CervicalCheck.

The HSE has confirmed that 17 women whose cases were reviewed as part of an audit have died.

It has yet to be determined if their deaths were due to delayed diagnoses.

Using the HSE’s organisational flow chart, Smith showed Harris the number of people who are answerable to him. She said that if those people knew about the issues at the screening service but did not tell him, they should be disciplined. She said that anyone who is being investigated should at least be suspended.

“You have to make them go – or else you go.

“The fish rots from the head, Minister.”

Responding, Coveney said that the investigation had to establish the facts first. He said that it was “not credible” to believe that Harris himself knew about the scandal before it became public knowledge.

“This is not a situation where we can shoot first and ask questions later.”


Coveney was repeatedly asked if he had full confidence in O’Brien, or if he would be calling on the soon-to-depart HSE head to resign.

Coveney said that the process “is about accountability” and a scoping inquiry would set out to find all of the facts. To that end, Coveney said, O’Brien was most useful to the government in his role.

O’Brien, who today agreed to temporarily step aside from his role on the board of a US medical company, has 12 weeks left on his contract as director-general of the health service.

This, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said, doesn’t go far enough.

“We don’t need an inquiry to know senior officials in the HSE denied these women vital information.

“People have died without the information that they were entitled to and the head of the organisation that denied them that information has to be held accountable.

“We don’t need an inquiry to know this happened on Tony O’Brien’s watch.”

However, Coveney said that the government was “not looking for heads”.

In recent days, thousands of people have also contacted the HSE’s CervicalCheck freephone helpline (open from 9am to 6pm every day) on 1800 45 45 55 (from Ireland) or +353 21 4217612 (outside Ireland). More information can be read here.

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