"No place to hide" Harris pledges full accountability over cervical scandal

The Government will appoint an interim director general of the HSE this afternoon

Updated 10:15

The Minister for Health has pledged "full accountability" of the cervical scandal for the women of Ireland.

Speaking as he arrived into Cabinet this morning, Minster Simon Harris noted last night's resignation of the director general of the HSE Tony O'Brien - but insisted "that does not address all of the accountability issues" arising from the scandal.

"I want know who knew what; when they knew it and I want that to be known publicly," he said.

Mr O'Brien stepped down after documents emerged showing that HSE management was preparing media strategies as far back as two years ago in case issues with the state screening service came to light. 

"It is not acceptable to me that such memos were in circulation in the HSE and in the Department of Health and it is certainly not acceptable that these memos were not even signed by individuals," said Minister Harris.

"There is no place to hide here; all of the facts need to be established and all of the facts will be established.

"There will be and there must be accountability here for the women of Ireland and I am absolutely determined in relation to that."

The minister said he will bring measures to Government next week to bring about greater accountability in the HSE - including the establishment of a new HSE board and "a new way in which the director general of the HSE will interact with that board and with the minister of the day."

He is set to announce an interim director general this afternoon.

"Most important today has to be about putting in place practical measures to support the 209 women or their next of kin who have been adversely impacted by this," he said.

"I am talking about things like medical costs, drug costs; the costs of getting to hospitals, childcare costs - the basic practical things that send out a message that we care for these women; we care for their families we are going to mind them and we are going to look after them

"The fourth thing, I have said very clearly - as has the Government - I don't want to see any woman brought to court to ascertain the truth or to be supported.

"I want to see a process put in place where the State supports and helps a woman in getting her answers - not in any way interacts with that woman in an adversarial manner and I hope and expect that we will be able to make progress on that at Cabinet today."

Minister Harris was speaking after Mr O'Brien appeared to criticise members of Oireachtas committees who questioned him over the Cervical Check scandal.

Today is his last day as head of the health service.

The publication of the memos yesterday evening saw anger reaching a peak around Leinster House - with two ministers openly calling for Mr O'Brien to go.

Mr O'Brien has been put through the ringer by politicians this week.

But tweeting on Friday morning, he seemed to criricise those on the committee, suggesting: "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 his departing statement, Mr O'Brien said he will step down as of close of business today to avoid any further impact on the health service.

He admitted there were clear communication failures when it comes to telling women about the false negatives on their smear tests.

But Mr O'Brien said he is confident planned reviews will prove the worth of Cervical Check.

The Cabinet will consider if there should be any further responses at a meeting later.

Reporting: Jack Quann, Paul Quinn, Sean Defoe and Michael Staines