Alan Kelly raises cervical screening in one of last debates as party leader

More than 200 women were affected by failures in Ireland’s CervicalCheck screening system.

Alan Kelly has resigned as Labour leader (Niall Carson/PA)
Alan Kelly has resigned as Labour leader (Niall Carson/PA)

Alan Kelly raised the cervical screening controversy during one of his last debates in the Dail as Labour Party leader.

Mr Kelly made the shock announcement on Wednesday evening that he will step down as leader after less than two years.

Surrounded by party colleagues at Leinster House, Mr Kelly acknowledged Labour has not made progress in the opinion polls under his leadership.

Mr Kelly has been a long advocate for the women affected by negligence in Ireland’s cancer screening programme, including leading campaigner Vicky Phelan.

It is almost four years since the controversy came to light after the Limerick mother brought a case before the courts.

The issue that really concerns me is the Patient Safety Bill

Alan Kelly

More than 200 women were affected by failures in Ireland’s CervicalCheck screening system.

It emerged in 2018 that 221 women and families were not told about misreported smear tests.

Addressing the Dail during leaders’ questions for the final time as party leader, Mr Kelly paid tribute to campaigners Ms Phelan, Lorraine Walsh, Stephen Teap and John Wall.

“I want to thank them for their support. The work that we have done over the last number of years has certainly had the biggest impact on me politically, more so than probably anyone else,” Mr Kelly said.

“It’s four years since Vicky won her High Court case in April 2018, when she bravely refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and we all know what happened, as regards CervicalCheck as a result of that, and huge progress has been made.”

Health expert Dr Gabriel Scally, who led an inquiry into the scandal, made more than 100 recommendations to address inadequacies in the system and protect patients’ rights.

So the reality now for the party is that we need a generational change, we need a fresh start

Marie Sherlock

The latest report, published by the Department of Health on Wednesday, shows that at the end of last year four actions are to be completed.

Mr Kelly urged Tanaiste Leo Varadkar to ensure the changes are brought in.

“The issue that really concerns me is the Patient Safety Bill,” Mr Kelly added.

“We need to get this over the line because it will provide for mandatory open disclosure and ensure patients’ voices are heard.”

Mr Varadkar was among a number of TDs to pay tribute to Mr Kelly.

He added: “One of the things that really is of real importance is the Patient Safety Bill 2019 and that includes the mandatory requirement for open disclosure where a serious incident occurs.

“This Bill will also bring private hospitals within the remit of the Health Act, and also contains provisions to protect clinical audit.

“It has passed second stage and now needs to go to committee stage and I’m informed that it will go to committee stage as early as next week.

“That will allow us to make some progress.”

Earlier, a Labour senator said the party is in a “fight for survival” in the wake of Mr Kelly’s resignation.

Labour senator Marie Sherlock said it has been a sad number of days but that leadership is not something to hold on to “at all costs”.

TD Ivana Bacik (centre-left) consoles Alan Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Ms Sherlock tipped party TDs Ivana Bacik and Duncan Smith as potential contenders to replace Mr Kelly.

She said she has worked closely with Mr Kelly for the past two years.

“I know that he has given everything to being the leader of the Labour Party and of course this is a very sad number of days for the party, for him and for his family and supporters,” the senator told Morning Ireland.

“But leadership in the Labour Party is not something to be held on to at all costs.

“We’ve known for some time now that the Labour Party is in a fight for its very survival. While we in the party and our councillors across the country are working extremely hard, the reality is that we’re finding it very hard to cut through. Our polling numbers have stagnated.

“Labour’s time in government is a legacy that continues to hang over.

“So the reality now for the party is that we need a generational change, we need a fresh start. Radical changes are to be made and that has to start at the top of the party.”

She added that Mr Kelly has shown leadership in the last number of days and years and he has listened to parliamentary colleagues.

She said he has taken on board the changes that need to be made if the party is to “survive and thrive”.

“We need to send a message to the electorate that the party is making radical changes,” Ms Sherlock added.

She said they will start a process of appointing a new leader in the coming days.

Mr Kelly said he would remain as leader until his successor is elected.

“We’re crystal clear that if we’re to survive and thrive, then then we do need to make changes,” he said on Wednesday evening.

“I was advised by my parliamentary colleagues on Tuesday morning that they had lost collective confidence in my leadership.

“This was a surprise to me but I accept the decision.

“We had a number of frank discussions in recent weeks.

“I have to acknowledge that we haven’t been able as a party to move on in the opinion polls and I have deep regret about that.”

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