Under-fire health service chief 'untouchable', claims SF

Ireland's beleaguered health service chief appears to be untouchable, Sinn Fein said.

Tony O'Brien steps down as director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE) in July and said he is focused on helping fix problems with the cervical screening programme.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed Mr O'Brien's leadership was part of the problem.

She told the Dail: "It seems to people looking from the outside, not least the women and their families, that Tony O'Brien is untouchable, absolutely untouchable.

"Untouchable even though wives have been lost to their husbands.

"Untouchable even though mothers have been lost to their children.

"Untouchable even though life itself has been lost to these women.

"Untouchable even though the man patently and clearly has failed in his duty."

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She asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar what he was doing about it.

"The only thing that has any credibility, the only thing that will honour your promise to listen to the women and their families, is to state clearly, as I understand members of your own Cabinet stated today, that you have no confidence in Mr O'Brien.

"That Mr O'Brien must go.

"That Mr O'Brien is not part of the solution. In fact, his leadership of the HSE has been part of the problem."

The Government has ordered a scoping inquiry into the cancer scandal.

An audit by CervicalCheck - Ireland's national screening programme - of 1,482 women diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008 found potential errors in 208 cases as tests showed no abnormality when they should have been given a cancer warning.

Seventeen have since died.

Mr Varadkar said the Government was putting the interests of affected women and their families first.

He added: "The inquiry will answer as many questions as possible as quickly as possible.

"We all know that people want to get answers as quickly as we can get them and we want that too."