President Michael D Higgins, has led the tributes to the cervical check cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan who’s died at the age of 48.
He described her as a person of powerful inner strength and commitment to the public good.
Addressing the Public Accounts Committee in 2018, Vicky Phelan rose to public prominence earlier that year, when she exposed the cervical check scandal.
She’d received a false negative smear test in 2014, but wasn’t informed that it was inaccurate until 2017 – when her diagnosis was terminal.
Vicky refused to sign a confidentiality agreement in a court settlement against the American test lab involved.
The Taoiseach Michael Martin, has described her, as a woman of extraordinary courage and integrity, who made a very significant contribution to public life in Ireland.
President Higgins has paid a fulsome tribute to Vicky Phelan
“It is with the deepest sense of sadness that people across Ireland and beyond will have heard of the death of Vicky Phelan.
All of us who had the privilege of meeting Vicky will have been struck by the powerful inner strength and dignity with which she not only faced her own illness, but with the sense of commitment to the public good and the rights of others with which she campaigned.
Vicky, in all of this, made an enormous contribution to Irish society. Thanks to her tireless efforts, despite the terrible personal toll she herself had to carry, so many women’s lives have been protected, and will be protected in the future.
She will be deeply missed, by all of those who were in awe of her courage, her resilience, offered not only to women but to all of us in Ireland.
She will of course be missed above all by those closest to her. May I express my deepest condolences to Vicky’s parents Gaby and John, her husband Jim, her children Amelia and Darragh, and to all of her family and friends.”
Tánaiste and Fine Gael Leader Leo Varadkar also paid tribute after the death of Vicky Phelan was announced
“Today Ireland has lost a woman of limitless courage, compassion and strength. I want to extend my deepest sympathies to Vicky’s family, particularly to her children on the loss of their incredible mother.
Vicky was a shining example of the power of the human spirit. Her fight to uncover the truth and the courage with which she faced her illness made her an inspiration to us all.
We mourn her as a nation, as a society, and as individuals.
Ar dheis Dé go Raibh a hAnam.”
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD extended her condolences on the passing of Vicky Phelan
“It is with great sadness that I have learnt of the death of Vicky Phelan.
“Vicky was an inspiration to us all.
“The dignity with which she dealt with her illness, in a very public way, was formidable.
“Vicky should never have had to be a campaigner, but her advocacy on behalf of Irish women will never be forgotten.
“I want to extend my condolences to her family and very wide circle of friends; particularly to her husband Jim and her children Amelia and Darragh.
“Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.”
Commenting on the sad passing of Vicky Phelan, Labour TD Alan Kelly said:
“My thoughts are with Vicky’s family, particularly Jim, Amelia and Darragh and all the Phelan and Kelly families. I’m also thinking of her good friends Lorraine Walsh, Stephen Teap and John Wall as well as many others. Vicky brought something special to the lives of all who knew her well and I am very lucky to have been able to call her a good friend over the last five years.
“I have said so many times both publicly and privately that the day I met Vicky, my life changed. There isn’t a person in Ireland who Vicky didn’t inspire in her tenacious fight for justice. When she spoke out on any issue, the nation listened. She used her experiences to help begin what will doubtless be a decade’s long campaign of reform around healthcare in Ireland.
“Many words will be used to describe Vicky over the coming days, months and years. Brave, fighter, disruptor, inspiration, change-maker, straight talker and so many more. Those words don’t go far enough to describe the person that she was and the many legacies she will leave behind. Vicky courageously continued to fight for what was right for her and the women of Ireland right up until the very end. She empowered everyone in Ireland to think differently about their health, to ask questions and fight for the best treatments and health service that everyone deserves.
“As someone who knew Vicky well as a friend, I know that she won’t be defined by the State’s failings but instead by the way she has changed things for the better for the people of Ireland.
“Rest in peace to my dear friend, Vicky. You were the best. Suaimhneas síoraí dá hanam dílís.”
Averil Power, CEO, Irish Cancer Society said:
“Today it is no small understatement to say we are poorer for the loss of Vicky Phelan, but truly richer as a nation for the contribution she so generously made to Irish life.
“Vicky refused to be silent in the face of great personal challenge and the issues she brought to light changed the course of history for women in Ireland. Without her courage and her determination, others would not have known the truth behind the Cervical Check failings.
“Despite her own experience Vicky was a staunch champion of screening and tirelessly encouraged others to take up the offer when it was their turn. Unselfishly – and true to her trademark sense of fairness and conviction – it is the promotion of screening that is such an important part of Vicky’s legacy, which will go on to save many lives.
“Cervical cancer robbed her of her future and left her coping with severe side effects during her final years. Because of her advocacy, others will never have to go through what she went through.
“On top of her national advocacy, which will leave a lasting impression on Ireland as a country, Vicky was so generous with her time and energy to support others affected by cancer.
“She spoke candidly about her own experience, including the physical and sexual side effects of her cancer and treatment, which was a catalyst for better conversations and supports for women facing similar situations.
“In response, the Irish Cancer Society piloted the Women’s Health Initiative, to help women cope with a wide array of symptoms caused by their cancer treatment – including sexual problems, infertility and premature menopause. This ground-breaking programme for women was inspired by Vicky’s openness about the implications of her own cancer treatment, which also helped other women to break their silence regarding their own challenges.
“Most of all we will remember Vicky’s good humour, her empathy, her kind-hearted nature and her openness that contributed so much to Irish life and to the cancer community in recent years.
“We owe her a debt of gratitude that we must work tirelessly to repay by ensuring that women’s health is prioritised and promoted. Vicky’s legacy demands nothing less.
“Our thoughts today are with her children, Amelia and Darragh, husband Jim and all her family and friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam”
Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council said,
“This is an extremely sad day and a huge loss. We would like to express our deepest condolences to her family and friends.
Vicky Phelan was an absolute inspiration to so many women and girls and everyone who knew her. She will be remembered for her courage in speaking out about the failings in our health system, her resilience in the face of adversity, her authenticity and her kindness. Despite the precious little time she had left, she never stopped to speak out and challenge the status quo. She tirelessly and selflessly campaigned for women and women’s health and we will be forever grateful for her contribution to making Ireland a better place for women and girls.
She was a friend of the National Women’s Council and I am honoured to have met her on many occasions.
When we asked young women in 2018 who they saw as a role model, they named Vicky Phelan. Vicky then gave a truly powerful keynote address at our flagship event Femfest for young women in January 2019.
She will be greatly missed. May she rest in peace.”