Vicky Phelan "promised" the State will try to settle Cervical Check cases through mediation

Leo Varadkar has asked Mr Justice Charles Meenan to find 'alternative dispute resolution mechanisms'

Vicky Phelan "promised" the State will try to settle Cervical Check cases through mediation

Vicky Phelan arrives at the Department of the Taoiseach in Dublin for a meeting with Leo Varadkar | Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

The woman who highlighted the Cervical Check scandal Vicky Phelan has said the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised her 'he meant what he said'.

Mr Varadkar said alternative dispute resolution mechanisms "must be found" to court proceedings.

The pair met on Wednesday after Ms Phelan announced she was taking a break from all campaigning for women and families affected by the scandal.

Earlier, she said she was deeply disturbed by the 'lack of empathy' being shown towards women caught up in it.

She said she has faced criticism from some people for 'bringing down the cervical screening programme'.

Eighteen women affected by the controversy have died.

Mr Varadkar came under fire this week, after he rowed back on promises made in May that no woman caught up in the controversy would have to go to court.

Limerick woman Ruth Morrissey had to appear before the High Court during her case last week.

On Tuesday, Mr Varadkar insisted that mediation was the preferred option - but admitted that it might not be the only answer.

Speaking after the meeting on Wednesday, Ms Phelan said the Taoiseach gave her assurances in relation to the State Claims Agency and mediation.

"The Taoiseach has promised me he meant what he said - the State is going to endeavour to settle all cases through mediation.

"Where mediation doesn't work and labs are contesting, an alternative dispute resolution mechanism will be sculpted out."

Vicky Phelan speaking to the media at Government Buildings after her meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar | Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

She also asked about an independent audit of smears by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

She was told letters of consent are being prepared, and will be sent to 221 affected families "to get the independent review going".

Letters to the larger population of women, who were included in the original audit, will follow.

Ms Phelan said she was "given no indication as to how long that will take" - but suggested it could be three to four months.

She also said Mr Varadkar said a public commission of inquiry into the scandal will be "the preferred option", something to which the Government and opposition are in agreement about.

She was told that legislation will be brought forward, if required, to ensure it will be public.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan has been tasked by Government with identifying further mechanisms to avoid court proceedings for the women and families affected.

Speaking after the meeting, the Taoiseach said: "I want to thank Vicky Phelan for taking the time to meet with me today, Vicky and all those affected by the Cervical Check controversy have made a deep impression on the Irish public and on me."

Mr Varadkar reiterated that the Government wants cases arising from Cervical Check audits to be resolved through mechanisms 'which avoid women and their families having to take the stand.'

He said: "Notwithstanding that parties always retain the right to go to court, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms must be found which avoid causing unnecessary distress for the women and their loved ones."

However, the Government has acknowledged that mediation involving multiple parties and disputed facts has presented "real difficulties" in achieving successful resolution in some cases.

Mr Justice Meenan has been asked to make recommendations on how the current situation can be dealt with.

He has been asked to:

  • Engage with the women, their families and their representatives to assess what, in their opinion, could be done to provide an alternative to court
  • Assess the management of cases, liability and quantum that arise, in conjunction with the State Claims Agency and other relevant bodies
  • Have regard to the work of Dr Gabriel Scally's Scoping Inquiry and the International Clinical Expert Panel Review led by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology.
  • Report to the Minister for Health within two months

The Government said it intends to act on Mr Justice Meenan's recommendations as soon as they are available.

Additional reporting: Gail Conway