Tánaiste: Govt cannot stop Oireachtas committees investigating CervicalCheck scandal

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said the Government cannot order Oireachtas committees to stop investigating the cervical cancer scandal, despite concerns an independent expert examining the crisis the dual questioning is distracting witnesses.

Mr Coveney said any attempts by ministers to freeze Oireachtas committee investigations into what has happened could "back-fire" just 24 hours after scoping review chair Dr Gabriel Scally called for space to allow him to do his work.

Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk radio, Mr Coveney said he understood Dr Scally's reasoning for writing to the Department of Health's secretary general Jim Breslin asking him to stop committees from questioning witnesses.

However, despite the need to give the official scoping review space to examine the situation, Mr Coveney said the reality is it would be almost impossible for the Government to block politicians from continuing their work.

"Well I think first of all Oireachtas committees need to be given an opportunity to respond as they see fit. I think people would respond negatively if we were to tell them how to act. They need to make their own judgements here.

"What Dr Gabriel Scally is saying is he wants to go on with his job, and he needs the full attention of the HSE, the Department of Health and anyone else.

"But, because there are multiple conversations going on, he's suggesting this is too much of a distraction," Mr Coveney said.

Asked if committees are "show-boating" by bringing in officials for public questioning while an independent scoping review is taking place in the background, the Tánaiste added: "I think committees do need to make responsible decisions here, but I think it would be appropriate for committees to make their own decisions on that rather than a minister telling them what to do.

"Generally, that has the opposite effect, judging by experience with Oireachtas committees.

"I totally respect the need for Oireachtas committees to also have a role here, but what people want most now is full accountability. I believe Gabriel Scally is probably best placed to do that outside the heat of the political discussions that have been happening."

The decision by the Dáil's cross-party public accounts committee and health committee to invite cervical cancer victims and officials linked to the scandal has led to key information being uncovered.

However, it has also led to disputed claims politicians are interfering in an independent scoping exercise into the same scandal.

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Irish Examiner Political Correspondent

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