2 February 2018 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Given the more developed consciousness of health and wellbeing that pertains in our modern habits and discourse, it was alarming to learn this week that Co Monaghan has one of the lowest uptakes in the country for the free screening service available to detect cervical cancer. Figures released by the HSE show that 74.5% of women in the county have attended for their smear test in the past five years, some way below the target percentile of 80 set for the CervicalCheck service. More than a fifth of Co Monaghan women between the ages of 25 and 60 who should be having this check done are failing to fulfil their appointments and are putting their health at risk in the process.

Great strides have been made in the early detection of cervical cancer in Ireland since the free screening programme was launched in 2008, with incidences of the disease falling year on year as a consequence. However, the reduction in cases has not been spread evenly across the country with some areas having more occurrences than others, and an undoubted factor in this is failure of some women for whatever reason to take up the screening opportunity that is now very readily and conveniently available.

If a factor in the relatively low compliance rate in Co Monaghan is a deficit of information, then the awarenessraising campaign launched last Saturday by Cavan/Monaghan Dáil Deputy and Government Minister Heather Humphreys should go a long way to remedying that disadvantage. Minister Humphreys joined with members of the Monaghan Women’s Network, local GPs and health professionals and representatives of other women’s organisations to impart potentially life-saving messages about how to access the screening service and how important early detection can be in combatting this particular disease.

Very importantly, the local campaign carried with it a strong element of reassurance in addition to the facts and figures. One imagines that many of the women in Co Monaghan not availing of screening are aware at least to some degree of its availability and importance, but other factors are at play in their non-compliance with it. Concerns over the nature of the procedure involved are perhaps the uppermost deterrent in the minds of those not attending to this important health consideration, so it was instructive of the Monaghan campaign to call on authoritative voices such as that of local general practitioner Dr Illona Duffy to provide detail on how the procedure is carried out and how women’s concerns in this regard are taken account of and alleviated in the process. If more women are fully aware of the relatively quick nature of the test involved, and how preferences they may have in relation to where and by whom it is carried out can be sensitively and discreetly accommodated, they will assuredly be more willing to avail of this vital safeguard for their current and future health.

Those who have organised and endorsed the current awareness-raising campaign in relation to cervical cancer are to be complimented. We would respectfully echo and amplify the call being made to Co Monaghan women to avail of the free screening opportunity available to them and to fully inform themselves about the other measures they can adopt in terms of habit and lifestyle to safeguard themselves.


The issue of women’s health is inextricably bound up in the debate over whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution which is shortly to take centrestage in political and public discourse. The first moves by the Government this week to initiate the process that will lead to an early summer referendum on the question are to be welcomed.

While the time it has taken to reach this stage has often carried with it an impression of reluctance by the Government to grasp the painful nettle of abortion law reform, it also denotes an approach of care, consideration and inevitably of conscience that is appropriate to the address of this extremely sensitive and complex issue.

While the Referendum Bill which Minister for Health Simon Harris TD and his Department must now set about drafting, and the outline of the wording of the question that will be put to the people, will not be published until March, this week’s events undoubtedly signal the official commencement of a debate which in reality has been going on in both public and private for a great many years.

The questions of whether and how to change our country’s abortion legislation are often seen as a clash of extreme and opposing views, those championed by those who do not want to countenance abortion under any circumstances and those put forward by those favouring unfettered abortion on demand. This is a fallacious perspective, but one that has understandably arisen from the fact that the loudest and most strident voices tend to drown out those of more moderate timbre, especially in the social media vehicles of communication which many now have recourse to in order to air their views.

The reality is that there is scope within this debate for nuanced, qualified and evaluative views, and it is in that broad middle ground rather than on the margins of the extremes that this question must be interrogated and settled in a manner which produces not merely acceptable but rigorously applicable future legislation. It is the intention of this newspaper to afford space in the weeks and months to come to all those who wish to have their say on the Eighth Amendment referendum and the issues which lie at its heart.

We hope that our columns will reflect the tone and tenor of the wider discussion which the country will be engaged upon, with strongly argued but mutually respectful views presented by those with clearcut stances on how abortion should be legislated for in Ireland in the future, and important contributions also from those with perhaps less sharply defined but no less sincerely held and thoroughly thought out viewpoints.

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