Varadkar’s effort to comfort Cervical Check victims was noble but unwise

Comment: Our View

There is little doubt that Leo Varadkar‘s attempt to reassure and provide some measure of comfort to the victims of the Cervical Check scandal was made with the best of intentions.

However, before the Taoiseach and Health Minister Simon Harris pledged to make sure none of the women would have to endure a trial before the courts, they should have taken the time to find out of that was even possible.

Had they done so, Mr Varadkar and Minister Harris would, surely, have quickly learned that, while they could ensure that the State wouldn’t fight the women in court, they had no power to stop the US labs at the centre of the scandal to concede defeat and admit liability.

Some more cynical commentators and a number of opposition politicians have claimed that the Taoiseach’s pledge was little more than a political ploy and an attempt at damage limitation in the face of a massive and growing crisis for the Government and the health service.

While such claims are understandable – given how spin driven modern Irish politics has become – they seem unfair in this instance.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris both genuinely appear to care about and want to do right by the women and the families caught up in the Cervical Check crisis.

Their mistake – one both men and their advisors should have seen coming a mile away – was to assume that in this case, and for some unknown reason the unfeeling forces of bureaucracy, capitalism and the law would take the day off.

The Government has the power to ensure the State aids the victims of this scandal and does not add to their distress, suffering and anguish by dragging them through the courts.

Unfortunately, the State has no such powers to compel privately owned US based laboratories – on whom the scandal could have enormous financial implications – to comply.

That fact was as true on the day Mr Varadkar and Minister Harris made their ill advised promises as it is today.

The Taoiseach and Minister should have realised this and couched their promises to reflect the unfortunate reality of the situation.

A pledge that the State would not force the women into the courts – and would try to get the labs to adopt the same approach – would not have been as reassuring as the blanket promise that no more victims would be forced to fight their cases before a judge.

It would, however, have ensured that the victims knew where they stood in terms of the State and the laboratories.

The fact that Mr Varadkar has been forced to row back on his pledge is not just politically embarrassing for him it is deeply unfortunate for the victims at the heart of this disgraceful saga.

Two months after the scandal become public we seem to be right back at the start in terms of the State’s response. The Government appears willing to hold its hands up, accept responsibility and help the women. It’s time this actually started happening.