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Vicky Phelan Sam Boal/

Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan has died

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said she was “a woman of extraordinary courage and integrity”.

CERVICAL CANCER CAMPAIGNER Vicky Phelan has died aged 48.

She died in the early hours of this morning, surrounded by her family, at Milford Hospice in Limerick.

The news was confirmed by her solicitor Cian O’Carroll to The Journal.

Vicky was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014.

She took the State to court after a chance reading of her medical record in September 2017 showed her diagnosis in 2014 had been delayed due to an inaccurate smear reading in 2011.

In April 2018, she settled a High Court action for €2.5 million with Clinical Pathology Labs US, without admission of liability.

Vicky had been receiving treatment in Maryland in the US but in October 2021 confirmed that she was returning home to Ireland for palliative care after scans revealed new tumours.

In a post on Instagram last year she told followers that, as the new tumours are “far too extensive”, she was no longer eligible for the treatment.

Tributes have poured in today following the announcement.

President Michael D Higgins said: “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.”

‘A national treasure’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin described her death as “very, very sad news”, and said she was “a woman of extraordinary courage and integrity” who stood up for the women of Ireland and for women globally.

The Taoiseach made the comments on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne.

Expressing his “deepest sympathies” to her family, Martin said her statement on the steps of the High Court in 2018 will live long in the memory as an example of “someone who stood up against the system” and stood up for the public interest.

Arising from Vicky’s case, it emerged that many other women’s smear tests were also false negatives.

The 221+ CervicalCheck patient group was set up to support these women and their families. Several other women also reached settlements in the High Court, a number of whom have also sadly died.

Vicky’s campaigning led to an investigation being carried out by Dr Gabriel Scally, resulting in a report in 2018 and subsequent State apology.

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from cervical cancer in 2017, said Vicky “defied all the odds and through her strength and courage became a national treasure”.

In a written statement, the 221+ group said: “Today we have lost our biggest big sister. We are shattered. She told us this day would come but she fought so hard and so well that we couldn’t let ourselves think it would happen.

“Our hearts go out to Jim, Amelia and Darragh, and to Vicky’s mam and dad, her sisters and brothers and her extended family. Our pain is suffocating just now but it is nothing compared to their loss.”

The group then quoted a statement Vicky made two years ago.

At the time she said:

I don’t want your apologies. I don’t want your tributes. I don’t want your aide de camp at my funeral. I don’t want your accolades or your broken promises. I want action. I want change. I want accountability.

The 221+ group today added: “Let those words be her legacy. Cervical screening saves lives.

“It failed Vicky in life. In her memory, those with responsibility must ensure that it never fails others.”

‘Her legacy will be incredible’

Speaking on Today with Claire Byrne, O’Carroll described the campaigner as “one of the most inspirational leaders that we have seen in a very, very long time”.

“She was inspirational because she spoke the truth and she led with sincerity.

“She made connections with people. She radiated a warmth, a sense of humour and she was great craic. She was brilliant company to be in, no matter how sick she was,” the solicitor said.

Labour TD Alan Kelly also paid an emotional tribute to Vicky on the same programme, saying that she used her platform to help many people over the past number of years.

“Sometimes it was just inspirational words, sometimes it’ll be a phone call, sometimes it would be a note to somebody. She constantly helped people and she did so because of what she had gone through.

“She wanted to make sure that Ireland was a better place and that something good would come from what happened. And, my God, did some good come from it because her legacy for this country is incredible.”

In a tweet, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the campaigner was a mother, daughter, sister and champion of women “who took on the State and won”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney also paid tribute to her, saying she “was such a courageous campaigner for positive change”.

“Her energy and determination, despite her own illness and personal sacrifice, has inspired so many others. My deepest condolences and sympathy to Vicky’s family and friends.”

With reporting by Rónán Duffy and Laura Byrne

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