‘I Think It’s An Unacceptably Late And Insincere Apology’


Vicky Phelan, her husband Jim and her solicitor Cian O’Caroll, in background

This afternoon.

Cian O’Carroll, solicitor for Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mhathúna, spoke to Áine Lawlor, on RTÉ’s Radio One.

Mum-of-two Ms Phelan and mum-of-five Ms Mhic Mhathúna are both terminally ill with cervical cancer. They both only recently became aware that previous smear tests – before their cancer diagnosis – wrongly gave an all-clear result.

Mr O’Carroll’s interview followed a report by RTE this morning, by the station’s Washington Correspondent  Brian O’Donovan, based on a statement from the US laboratory which settled a High Court action taken by Ms Phelan over an incorrect smear test result.

Mr O’Donovan reported that Clinical Pathology Laboratories said what happened Ms Phelan and her family was tragic and that it deeply regrets the outcome.

Mr O’Carroll described the apology as “insincere”.

From their interview…

Áine Lawlor: “Your two very brave clients who have been certainly touching the nation over the past couple of weeks with their honesty and their courage, Cian O’Carroll.”

Cian O’Carroll: “Yes, Áine.”

Lawlor: “Interesting though today, you were quite critical of the apology to Vicky Phelan from the US lab CPL. Tell us why.”

O’Carroll: “Well, it’s an apology which I understand RTÉ received through the laboratory in the US today – three weeks after that trial began, five weeks after they attempted to gag her with a confidentiality clause as a pre-condition to any discussions regarding the resolution of her case, through mediation outside court.

“It also doesn’t deal with the conduct, their conduct of the defence the case which has, quite rightly, come in for so much criticism since then. So I think it is an unacceptably late and insincere apology.”


Lawlor: “What do you want to hear from Minister Harris this afternoon?”

O’Carroll: “Quite apart from the practical steps which he has alluded to already, we need to see a new team put in place. Obviously it’s going to be a new Chief Executive for the HSE but, beneath that, there needs to be a management team that is not tainted by the decision of the last six years.

“Because it’s over that six-year period that the senior management team, in the National Screening Service and in CervicalCheck, all agreed among themselves that not only should women not be informed of the vital information regarding their reviews and rechecks of their smears, but that no steps were taken to inquire into what was happening in the laboratories that was leading to such a significant level of misreporting of smears.

“Not a false negative situation which the department repeatedly refers to. A false negative is a smear that, when rechecked, is still negative. These are smears that, when rechecked, were found to contain significant underreporting of pre-cancer which then led to a significant delay in the commencement of treatment for those women.

“That’s an entirely different issue. And it is contrary to what the National Cancer Control Programme told the minister last month in a memo, it is a patient safety incident and one which they refuse to acknowledge and investigate.”

Lawlor: “We’ve been told consistently that there was no divergence between the, that there was  a consistency between the results from the US labs and the Irish labs. Do you believe that?”

O’Carroll: “That may be the case when it comes to true false negatives because there are other statistics here that come out of the laboratories and I presume they are analysing the results and obviously they’re comparing them with different laboratories. But I suspect, however, is there hasn’t been an open and honest analysis of the missed and incorrect reading of these smears.

“And I would be very, very surprised if it turns out that 209 significant under or delayed commencement of treatment for women is within an accepted norm internationally.


From top: HSE chief Tony O’Brien and Independent TD Catherine Connolly at PAC yesterday

Independent TD Catherine Connolly, who is a member of the Public Accounts Committee and was at the PAC meeting yesterday which was attended by outgoing HSE chief Tony O’Brien, also spoke to Ms Lawlor.

Her interview followed Mr O’Brien tweeting this morning:

“When I appear in public – say at a Committee I conduct myself against a simple standard. Would I be happy for my children or my mother to see how I behave? I sometimes look across the room and hope their children will never see and hear how they behave.”

In relation to yesterday’s meeting – and the three memos which emerged at the meeting – Ms Connolly said:

“It was like pulling teeth. I don’t believe that I ever strayed from my brief, I simply asked questions and he confirmed that he was aware, he actually confirmed that he didn’t think there was anything to worry about, of concern, in one memo that he got.

“It turned out there were three memos and when we read those quickly, when we got them at 3pm, why it took until 3pm I don’t know, why he didn’t have them with him, is extraordinary, and the three memos are simply shocking.

“The first one, from March 2016, has simply ‘March’ on it, no specific date, it’s not signed. And it clearly is preoccupied with containing the message when eventually, eventually, down the road, the clinicians would see there way to telling the women and clearly containing that message.

“Now, and obviously, it’s been repeated a few times, pause all letters, don’t send them out, await legal advice and so on. And, as I read that, and thinking about it since, it’s clear to me, that they got advice, in relation, from a communications company which is a question I’ll be following up 

“Because that’s exactly what jumps off the page.”

Listen back in full here

Earlier: “I Find It Hard To Comprehend [Varadkar] Didn’t See Memo”

Yesterday: The March Memo


32 thoughts on “‘I Think It’s An Unacceptably Late And Insincere Apology’

    1. Robert

      Reminds me of a joke, originally made about Max Clifford, “if he’s so good at PR, how come everybody thinks he’s a [ladygarden]”.

      Seriously though, how a so-called “communications expert” could be caught out consistently using brutally insensitive, tone-deaf phrasings such as these, and not expect them to surface in this day and age is beyond me.

  1. Hansel

    These are the questions we should all be asking about this whole thing: are the false negatives in line with international norms, were the HSE more interested in butt-covering than patient safety…Once again, the PAC doing a good job IMO.

    I’m still uncomfortable that no lessons are going to be learned here: there seem to be serious cultural issues in the HSE. It doesn’t appear to be patient-focused as an organisation (at management level) even though down at the lower levels they’re falling apart from the level of patient-focused effort they’re putting in.

    1. Robert

      It’s too big and it’s got it’s finger in too many pies that aren’t health related .e.g. marriage registrations.

      Break it up, and break up the ministry while you’re at it, there’s too many variables, and too much at stake for it all to fall on one minister.

    2. Cian

      There is only one question that need answering: is Cervical Check operating to international standards.

      Except the PAC aren’t asking these questions.
      Ronan Mullen was in on Tuesday and his question was “when are you going to debate the abortion referendum minister?”
      The others members were point scoring, asking about other services in their local hospitals, and then others are asking who knew what, and when.

      At the end of the day this will be irreverent if it transpires that Cervical Check is operating to international standards.

      1. GiggidyGoo

        Cian, you think it’s one question? Well I think that O’Briens departure has blown that out of the water. Skin in the game Cian.

  2. ollie

    Lets not lose sight of the real issues here:
    1. People have died and will die.
    2. The original tender was flawed, US smears are Annually, Irish are every 3 years. The examination needed to be more in depth than was agreed under Mary Harney’s watch (That useless woman’s name pops up a lot for the wrong reasons)
    3. HSE withheld vital information from these women, that was under Simon Harris’s watch.
    4. The state dragged Vicky Phelan through the Courts. That was under Vradkar’s watch as Taoiseach and Simon Coveney who is responsible for the State Claims Agency.

    1. rotide

      Wait, I’m confused. I thought Vicky Phelan sued the Labs? When did the state drag her through the courts

    2. Cian

      1. Screening is not, and never can be, 100% effective.
      2. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a 3-year gap for screening. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/guidelines.pdf [their rational is that because there is a high false-positive risk with screening (a woman is told there is a problem when, in fact, she is fine. This leads to stress for the woman and additional testing that is not required). If you have 35-annual tests – then 70% of women would be (incorrectly) told they had abnormalities at some stage of their lives.
      Also – any evidence that Cervical Check didn’t request additional testing from US Labs?
      3. withheld information – yes. vital? no. There is nothing that suggests that treatment was delayed or affected by the lack of transparency. Remember: Cervical Check was releasing the information (albeit too slowly)
      4. really? I was under the impression that Vicky dragged the US Lab through court.

      1. Johnny

        This CDC !

        “To say the agency has taken a step back in Trump’s first year would be an understatement. On Wednesday, the new secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, announced the resignation of CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, citing “complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all her duties.” According to a recent report from Politico, some of those holdings included eyebrow-raising investments in companies directly related to Fitzgerald’s work, including thousands of dollars in drug and insurance companies.“


      2. Adama

        Ah Cian you’re back exactly on schedule. Did you organise Leo’s crocodile tears earlier? If not did it bring a tear to your eye?

        1. GiggidyGoo

          Cian has skin in the game. This subject has been his main target. Pointed out to him yesterday, and lo and behold, he started doing one liners on all sorts of articles. Skin in the game.

          1. realPolithicks

            Definitely, I don’t know why he continues to deny it. In another comment on this thread he’s asking Bodger to change the headline, he’s obsessed.

          2. scottser

            Now now gigs, you’ve a hidden agenda too. After all, aren’t you really…
            CHARGER SALMONS?
            I rarely agree with rotide, but Cian is only dealing with facts as presented. I for one applaud the courage of someone who questions to the contrary and against popular opinion.

        2. rotide

          I mentioned this yesterday but I find it absolutely ludicrous that Cian who has the most reasonable post history one could wish for is being pilloried for providing factual and explanatory information in the comments.

          All I see from others is ‘manslaughter’ ‘mysogyny’ ‘dreadful treatment’ etc with no actual reasonable explanation as to why they are saying this.

          Broadsheet is providing no real information on the topic and there seems to be a proliferation of people who ‘get their news from broadsheet’ who don’t seem to know whats going on at all.

          1. GiggidyGoo

            You forgot the obligatory IMO in that post Rotide. It’s obvious by the choice of post he’s commenting on that he has more that a fleeting interest. He’s gone from ‘Educate me’ and ‘ I don’t have the time to research’ to suddenly being able to produce all sorts of ‘facts’. You’ve been here a long time. I’m surprised you’re taken in.

  3. Cian

    @Bolger: I think the heading on this is misleading. Can you specify that the quote relates to US Labs please?

  4. Catherine costelloe

    One has to follow the money trail, political involvement, company shares , and you can be certain of snouts in the the trough. Hence cover up. That’s the system in Ireland.

  5. CoderNerd

    O’Brien reeked of arrogance and would not answer questions clearly, instead giving over-detailed statements on procedures where “yes or no” would have fully answered the actual question. He comes across as a bit of a bully at the committees, not exactly a brilliant example to set for your child.

    1. GiggidyGoo

      It’s called ‘running down the clock’ – a tactic that was used by O’Sullivan and more. You’ll see it next week with Callinan, and possibly Shatter (although I would expect Shatter not to shirk away and answer….i might be disappointed though)

  6. GiggidyGoo

    I’ve listened to Catherine Connolly on many occasions. She is an honest and dogged politician and i’m glad the electorate elected her. There’s no airs and graces about her. I listened to her on RTÉ News this afternoon, and she firmly laid out the sham that has been going on. She is tabling questions next week I believe, that will try reveal the PR company involved here.
    Has Varadkar came back into the Dail yet with the result of the search his ‘ Ill have to check with my staff to see if I did receive any correspondence’ staff were doing for any communication relating to this debacle?
    All it will take is one such correspondence shown to have been seen by him, and he may go the same way as O’Brien.
    His podium crocodile tears this evening fool no one. His sidekick Harris needs to consider his position.

    1. Otis Blue

      She’s extremely impressive and combines an impressive intellect, calm authority and a measured anger.

      Long may she serve us.

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