Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Michelle Devane and Grainne Ni Aodha

Irish cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan dies aged 48

PA Wire

Irish cervical cancer campaigner and mother-of-two Vicky Phelan has died aged 48.

Ms Phelan, from Limerick, grabbed the attention of the Irish public after bringing a High Court case over how her cervical smears were handled, which ultimately prompted a series of reviews of Ireland’s cervical cancer screening programme CervicalCheck.

Her case prompted other women to come forward and raised questions about the quality of the programme, about how women should be involved and informed about their own healthcare, and the issue of open disclosure.

Despite receiving a terminal cervical cancer diagnosis, Ms Phelan actively campaigned for better healthcare and better accountability in the healthcare system.

The PA news agency confirmed she died in the early hours of Monday morning.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin paid tribute to Ms Phelan, describing her as a “woman of extraordinary courage”.

“This is very, very sad news,” he told RTE Radio. “I think she was a woman of extraordinary courage and integrity, who stood up for the women of Ireland, but not just the women of Ireland, but women globally.”

He extended his “deepest sympathies” to her family.

Vicky Phelan died aged 48 (PA Wire)

“I think in the history of this country, I think her actions, particularly in terms of not signing a confidentiality agreement at that particular time, and her statement, and on the steps of the High Court, will live long in the memory as as an example of someone who stood up against the system and the normal conventions of actions and so on to say ‘no, I’m not signing that, I want this revealed in the public interest’ and she stood up for the public interest.”

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said Ms Phelan inspired so many people by her “courageous campaigning”.

“Very sad news,” Mr Coveney wrote on Twitter.

“Vicky Phelan inspired so many people by her courageous campaigning, her warmth and her determination, despite her own illness. Deep condolences to her family.”

Former Labour leader Alan Kelly paid an emotional tribute to his friend, saying the news of her death was “devastating”.

“She was the most incredible human being probably I’ve ever met,” Mr Kelly told RTE, as he extended his condolences to her family and fellow campaigners.

“I suppose what’s really shocking today is Vicky always fought back and she was always the most resilient person I’ve ever met.

“I suppose in your heart of hearts you know the day will come but still a shock because she always rebounded so many times.”

Ms Phelan meant “so much to us all”, the director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor, said.

She wrote on Twitter: “Such incredibly sad news – there aren’t enough words to describe the loss of Vicky Phelan, sincerest sympathies to Vicky’s family and friends, Vicky meant so much to us all and we have so much to thank her for all she did for women in Ireland.”

Dr Gabriel Scally, who led the review into Ireland’s cervical cancer screening programme, paid tribute to Ms Phelan and her impact on Irish healthcare.

“She was a great woman and I’m very privileged to have known her and worked with her on the inquiry and she was enormously helpful to me,” he told RTE Radio.

“She has had a remarkable effect, I think, not just around CervicalCheck but some of the things that she exposed, such as the issue of patients being told when something goes wrong, and having a right to know when something goes wrong.”

He said that her work had “really brought women’s health to the fore”.

“I think, in years to come, she’ll be regarded as having a really seminal influence on healthcare in Ireland and changing it towards a much more patient, sensitive and respectful system,” Mr Scally added.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald described Ms Phelan as a “champion of women” who took on the State and won.

Ms McDonald wrote in a post on Twitter: “Ni Bheidh A Leitheid Ann Aris.

“Vicky Phelan, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Champion of Women, Campaigner who took on the State and won. Rest in Peace.”

Ms Phelan was awarded the freedom of Limerick earlier this year, and was named as one of the BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women around the world in 2018.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.