Ireland is enraged by the tragedy that over 17 women were condemned to death while their medical results were withheld while Ireland's government tries to take advantage and authorities posture.
Last week was the third one in a row in which the cervical cancer scanning crisis dominated the news in Ireland day after day. In comparison with other political and medical crises here -- and this is both -- that is unusual and probably unprecedented.
What has made this story different and kept it in the headlines for almost a month now is the heartbreaking human tragedy involved. That alone was enough to make it more compelling than anything else, more than the abortion referendum which is now just over a week away or the Brexit outlook which gets worse by the day.
But it's not just the heartrending plight of the women involved. Making the cervical cancer screening crisis even worse is the widespread belief that the women were let down by an uncaring and incompetent heath service, a failure of political responsibility and a cover-up.
The crisis began three weeks ago when it was revealed that an audit carried out by the national CervicalCheck program here in 2014 had shown that the smear tests of 209 women who had been given the all clear after their 2011 tests were found in their next tests in 2014 to be developing cancer. The 2011 smears were rechecked and the mistakes were discovered -- but the women were not told about it.
Last week, in a way similar to the Vicky Phelan case which began this crisis, another woman came forward and condemned the health service and the politicians for the terminal cervical cancer which she had developed. Emma Mhic Mhathuna, like Phelan, had been given an inaccurate all clear after a smear test. She is 37 and the mother of five children.
In one of the most powerful and moving interviews ever heard on Irish radio, last week she spoke of her utter devastation, her grief for her children and her anger at those she holds responsible. She said her life had been robbed from her, that telling her children she was going to die was the hardest thing she had ever done, and that she was afraid her youngest child who is only two would not remember her.
The radio interview was so emotional it had the country in tears but also seething with rage that this could have happened. Public fury increased last week as Mhic Mhathuna gave further interviews on TV and to the papers demanding accountability.
She accused the head of the HSE (the Health Service Executive which runs the public health service in Ireland), Minister for Health Simon Harris, officials in his department and in the HSE, and even Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of doing nothing about a system that had allowed this to happen to her.
"This is what makes it so heartbreaking. I'm dying when I don't need to die. This isn't fair," she said.
The newspaper headlines that followed used the most emotionally charged remarks she had made, mainly about her children, ratcheting up the pressure on the government and turning the cervical cancer screening failure into a full blown political crisis. "The government needs to go. They're not actually capable of minding us, and that is their job, to make sure that we're okay," she said.
That simple statement that it was the government's most fundamental duty to mind its people -- and that it had failed -- connected with listeners all over the country as her harrowing interview was played and replayed. It was devastating. And it was political dynamite.
By the end of last week, the head of the HSE had resigned, following the resignation a week earlier of the head of the cervical cancer screening program. The position of other senior health officials was being questioned and the government was scrambling to contain the crisis, announcing an independent inquiry, full accountability, and financial and medical support for the women affected.
What made the situation even worse last week was the release of internal memos between senior health officials in 2016 which revealed that some of them knew about the inaccurate smear test results and had delayed telling the women who had subsequently developed cancer so that media coverage could be managed.
This was seen as clear evidence of a cover-up and of a system which wanted to limit the damage to itself, even if it meant keeping the women in the dark about what had happened. It was done despite the open disclosure policy which was adopted by the HSE in 2013.
The senior health officials involved appeared to be more concerned at the time (in 2016) about how the issue might be covered by the media than with telling the women who had developed cancer about their earlier misread smears.
One of these internal memos released last week referred to the "risk" involved if the affected women contacted the media. It warned about possible headlines such as "Screening Did Not Diagnose My Cancer."
Seventeen of the 209 women whose smears were misread in 2011 have died and some, like Phelan, are battling terminal or severe cancer. More of these women -- and more of the relatives of the 17 who have died -- are expected to go public with their individual stories. So the public anger that all this is generating is unlikely to subside for some time.
One thing that did become clear last week was that the misreading of smears applies not just to 2011 but to other years as well. Mhic Mhathuna's smear was misread in 2013 and she was diagnosed in 2016.
Her case is more complicated than a single misread smear since it involved an earlier cancer that had recurred. In another case, rather than a cancer being missed there was a failure to accurately categorize it.
The differences in these and other cases underlines the complexity of dealing with cancer. Added to that is the reality that smear test scanning is not perfect and gives a significant number of false negatives, something that is accepted internationally. The problem of misread smears is not unique to Ireland.
None of this in any way diminishes the devastation of the women affected here. What has happened is a tragedy for them and their anger is understandable and justified.
But there are worrying aspects to all of this. Last week Varadkar became emotional when answering questions about the case of Mhic Mhathuna. She later commented on this, saying that he wasn't crying for the mothers like her who are dying.
"He cries for himself, for his political future," she said, calling on him to resign.
Mhic Mhathuna has every right to be deeply angry. But there is no reason to doubt the taoiseach's sincerity.
Her scorn was echoed by some politicians in Sinn Fein and even Fianna Fail who have shamefully politicized the crisis and used it to attack the government. Their attacks have implied that all this could have been avoided, including the mistakes in smear testing, which is simply not true.
When the scandal began three weeks ago it was all about the fact that the women had not been told about their earlier misread smear tests. Now that has changed and it is all about the smear test program itself and why it failed to detect their cancer in time.
But the accusation that our cancer screening programs are less effective than those in other countries is, as far as we know, not true. The forthcoming inquiry should give us the statistics on that.
In the meantime it would be far better if this tragic crisis was dealt with in a calm and non-political manner. And it is worth repeating some of the facts.
Cervical screening is not perfect and a small number of women will get a false negative. The failure to tell the women here about their misread tests did not delay their treatment when they were diagnosed later.
There is a certain irony to the fact that the audit which revealed the mistakes was carried out by CervicalCheck itself to improve the service. It was this audit -- and the subsequent failure to pass on the information -- which got CervicalCheck into so much trouble.
It is also worth noting that there is an alternative interpretation of the memos between health officials released last week which were seen as so damning. The priority of the senior officials involved was to avoid a catastrophic undermining of public confidence in the CervicalCheck program. They knew -- and have now been proven right -- that headlines could do enormous damage to the program.
As a result they delayed passing on the information to the women involved, aware that the women had begun treatment and so such a delay would not affect their health. The intention was to give more time to manage how the information would be released and to deal with the issues it would raise in a way that would minimize the impact on this vital program.
The way these senior officials have been demonized by the media here has been disgraceful. The fact is that the various cancer screening programs introduced here, imperfect though they are, have saved thousands of lives.