Harris needs to answer questions on Departmental treatment of patient advocate Lorriane Walsh

23 August 2019

Labour Health spokesperson Alan Kelly TD has called for an explanation from the Minister for Health for the appalling treatment of patient advocate Lorraine Walsh, and said the Minister must also explain why he and his officials dragged their feet on the release of this information, and what Minister Harris knew of this dispute.

Deputy Kelly said:

“Correspondence released to me between the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), and patient advocate Lorraine Walsh shows the toxic atmosphere that has existed between officials and those who have sought answers on the Cervical Check scandal.

”The documents show that the Chief Medical Officer accused Ms Walsh of making ‘a defamatory and untrue statement’ and all but threatened legal action against a patient advocate who has sought answers and accountability for what happened to women across Ireland. The CMO then sought mediation to resolve the dispute. The FOI release of correspondence indicates no further efforts have been made to address this issue.

“This confirms the finding by Dr. Scally that patient advocates were being exploited, and that of Prof. McCraith that ‘the culture of engagement between patient representatives and the Department of Health is not positive.’. This evidence released today confirms a dysfunctional attitude within the Department towards those who have sought answers, and worked to ensure the Cervical Check issue is not repeated.

”For the first time in my experience, the FOI decision letter also seeks to provide an explanation from the Department for the content of the documents being released. 

“I am really surprised that the Minister for Health dragged his feet for so long on releasing this information but the contents help explain this. I requested this information by Parliamentary Question on 11th July, and it was only when the Ceann Comhairle threatened the Minister with laying a report in the Dáil on non-compliance with Standing Orders that the information was released simultaneously with a part response to a Freedom of Information request.

“The explanation offered in the FOI decision letter for the correspondence by the CMO in the is bizarre, and strikes me as an effort at damage control. This is described in the decision letter  as the ‘context to the correspondence between Dr Holohan and Ms Walsh’.

“What we need now is an explanation from the Minister for Health and the Chief Medical Officer about this. The Minister should also tell us what he knows about this dispute, and if he agrees with his CMO, when did he find out and does he agree with the findings by Scally about the treatment of patient reps.”


A Parliamentary Question was first tabled by Alan Kelly on 8th July, and a Freedom of Information request on 25th July seeking correspondence between patient advocates and health officials.

The letter from the CMO to Lorraine Walsh is available on page 9 of the following FOI release of redacted records:

The FOI decision letter that provides an explanation for the letter from the CMO is available here:

Letter from Ceann Comhairle to Min. Harris seeking PQ response https://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/31_july_cc_letter_to_min_harris.pdf

Letter of Response from Minister for Health to Ceann Comhairle https://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/2_august_min_harris_response_to_cc.pdf

Parliamentary Question response on 8th July
548. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Health if a copy of all correspondence between his Department and a person (details supplied) will be provided. [30896/19]

REPLY: Minister for Health

Records such as this are not routinely retrieved and compiled to be provided outside of Freedom of Information requests. Requests for access to records may be submitted under Freedom of Information legislation, to be dealt with by my Department as normal.


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