Pain, Confusion, Betrayal… and the HSE


Chicago’s Irish American News, June, 2018.





Hi Leo.  Today is the eighth of May.  It’s my sons’ confirmation, Seamus and Mario. 

“I’m just back getting changed, ready for the party.  But, while I’m putting on a brave face for my children, I’m terrified what my results are going to be tomorrow.  And the fact that two of my children are making their confirmation today… I’m extremely disappointed in how you’re handling this whole affair.

“As Taoiseach you are responsible for everyone in this country, to make sure they are safe at night time.  And I wasn’t safe at night time.

“Women have died.

“Women will die.

“…You need to go. Because if you’re not prepared to turn around and say two words to the people involved here — i.e ‘You’re fired’ — then you’re not capable, or trustworthy to actually run this country.

“You have one week to start digging out who’s responsible for this scandal.  And you need to tell people they need to come forward if they have the information.

“Because if you do not take control of this situation I guarantee you I will help — single handedly if I need to — to upturn your Government.  If I need to go to the UN and ask them to get involved to find out who is responsible for this, I will.

“I don’t care if you send me a cheque for five million Euros; I will not let this rest.  The last thing I need to interfere with my children is this unacceptable behaviour coming from the Government.

“The Government are employed by the general public, and they can be fired by the general public.”

The pain; the confusion; the sense of betrayal; the anger.  All of these feelings are there — raw and red — in that statement from Emma Mhic Mhathúna, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  A cancer that was hidden from her because she wasn’t deemed important enough to know about it.  What was important to the HSE was the cover up.

A few weeks ago, as I write this on 15th May, an Irish heroine by the name of Vicky Phelan opened up something that the Health Service Executive (HSE) would have prepared to keep hidden.  And it then became apparent that this noxious body had decided to hide the erroneous results of cervical smear tests.

Vicky Phelan was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement with the U.S. laboratories that got those smear tests completely wrong.  She refused. And she refused.

Think about that.  Think about what Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mhathúna are going through at the same time that they have to fight the State.  Most of us, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, would find this not a hard fight but an impossible one.  Yet these two extraordinary women have done nothing less than opened the floodgates just when their energies are at the lowest.  When they should have had the space to be doing something else.  Not this.  Not fighting against an indifferent Government.

On so many levels, what is happening in Ireland is just plain wrong.  You don’t – not if you are a normal human being – decide to keep from women the fact that they are dying.  You just don’t do that.  You don’t play at being God.  It’s not your decision, not your call to make.

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows my feelings on the HSE.   When one of their many scandals comes along then it is the same old pattern:  Deny what you’ve been caught at; then deflect; then drag everything out – without any consideration to those who are suffering – until those affected die; then apply Damage Limitation.   I’m sorry to be so harsh but that’s the way they think.  And they’ve proven that time and again.

Remember the Hepatitis C scandal of the 90s?  Yet being the soft touch we are, we forget.  Well, some of us do; some of us don’t. Some of us just grow more and more bitter because things never seem to change here.

I’ve seen it myself through the children’s cancer charity ‘Hand in Hand’ that I occasionally do some work with.  They have been blocked and lied to every step of the way.  And if these creeps are willing to add hurt to what kids who have been diagnosed with cancer are going through, then it’s of no surprise to me at all that they pull the same stunts with women who are dying.

And yet Leo Varadkar, himself a Minister for Health from July of 2014 to May of 2016 swears blind he didn’t know about the truly appalling memos that are now coming to light. Surrounded with consultants, swamped with advisors and with a taxpayer-funded spin machine; but he didn’t know.  It’s the same old crocodile tears.  I’m glad that Vicky Phelan for one is not buying his bull:

“… I don’t feel that his comments were sincere…..  I think that it was a little bit too late for me because this has been raging on now for over two weeks and I’ve just said that the Taoiseach has been very much absent from the debate for the last while.

“He was all over the news when the storm happened and here is a scandal on a scale that is massive and he hasn’t been to the fore as he was during the storm.”

But that’s Varadkar.  A few months ago I borrowed a line from Donna Tart’s book The Secret History and applied it to him:  “as shallow and brittle as a mirror”.  I’ve never seen anything in his behaviour to change my mind on that.  The guy is a Narcissist of the highest order.  Give him a chance to show off his novelty socks or have photo-ops with this Bestie Friend Forever in Canada and he’s as happy as a pig in…whatever pigs are happy in.  Something like this, on the other hand?

He and Minister for Health Simon Harris were happy out to be supporting the incredibly arrogant HSE Director General Tony O’Brien…until they weren’t.   And then and only then did O’Brien resign.

And seriously, what the hell was that about anyway?  I mean, think about it: you and I, we’re employed in a job that we show ourselves to be incompetent at, we get sacked.

Not here.  Here we have O’Brien being forced to resign whilst screaming and kicking every step of the way, and even then only because the heat has become too much for Lovely Leo and out-of-his-depth Harris.

We would have been sacked.  O’Brien sails off into the sunset with an enormous pension for not being good at his job.

And this will apply to others also.  That’s the way that Ireland works.  And it’s wrong.  And it smells to high Heaven.

Not that I have much time for suddenly ‘outraged’ TDs, but when O’Brien decided to make it all about him by attacking the way he was questioned, even I was amazed:

“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?” 

Are you kidding me, O’Brien?  How happy would you be if the HSE of which you were the head had taken it upon itself to withhold from your mother that she was dying after telling her that she was fine?

You have some nerve, O’Brien; you have some bloody cheek.

Addendum:  At the time of writing, of the 209 women affected by this scandal, 18 have now died.