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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Leah Farrell

Family pay tribute to Vicky Phelan: 'Her passing will leave a void in our lives'

The 48-year-old cervical cancer campaigner died in the early hours of this morning.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 14th 2022, 10:45 PM

VICKY PHELAN’S FAMILY has paid tribute to her after she died in the early hours of this morning. 

Vicky was 48 and is survived by her two children, Amelia (16) and Darragh (10).

Her husband Jim said her death will leave a void in their lives that “at this point seems impossible to fill”, in a statement posted on Facebook.

“It is with an immense burden of grief that earlier today we bade our final farewell to our beloved Vicky. She was the heart and soul of our family unit and her passing will leave a void in our lives, that at this point seems impossible to fill,” the statement said. 

“We cherish the memories of a loving wife, mother, daughter and sister, whose ability to deal with the struggles of life has inspired not only ourselves but an entire nation.” 

The cervical cancer campaigner had the disease for several years. She died in the early hours of this morning, surrounded by her family, at Milford Hospice in Limerick.

Vicky was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. She later took the State to court after a chance reading of her medical record in September 2017 showed her diagnosis 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.

Tributes to the young mother have been paid from all quarters since her death was announced.

President Michael D. Higgins said in a statement:

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.

The president continued, “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.”

Padraig McKeon, a spokesperson for the 221+ CervicalCheck patient support 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.”

He said Vicky had “raised her voice in 2018 because she wanted those in power, those with the responsibility to learn from their mistakes.”

Fellow CervicalCheck campaigner Stephen Teap, who lost his own wife Irene to the disease in 2017 paid tribute to his “good friend, who defied all the odds”:

Tributes have come from across the political spectrum too. Taoiseach Micheál Martin released a statement, saying: 

“I am deeply saddened at the passing of Vicky Phelan. On behalf of the Government of Ireland, I extend my deepest sympathies to her husband Jim, children Amelia and Darragh, family and friends. Vicky was a woman of extraordinary courage, integrity, warmth and generosity of spirit. She made a very significant contribution to public life in Ireland and Vicky’s actions and commitment will live long in the memory of the entire nation.

“Vicky ensured the embedding of the principle of full public disclosure in the area of public health. She stood up for the public interest, particularly in relation to the CervicalCheck scandal. She was an outstanding advocate for women across this country, and across the globe. The people of Ireland have a deep affection for Vicky, and will always hold her contribution to public life in the highest regard.”

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

Former RTÉ broadcaster Charlie Bird, who has been diagnosed of Motor Neurone Disease, paid an emotional tribute to Vicky this morning:

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney also paid tribute to the campaigner 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.”

In a statement, the Irish Cancer Society expressed its condolences following her death. CEO Averil Power 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 CervicalCheck failings”, Power said.

The CEO of the HSE Stephen Mulvany said: “It is with great sadness I learned this morning of the death of Vicky Phelan. My deepest condolences to Vicky’s family. I extend my condolences to all those touched by the sorrow of cancer. Ireland has lost a great advocate for women’s health.”

Clinical director of CervicalCheck, Noirin Russell, tweeted: “I am so sorry to learn of the death of Vicky Phelan today. My deepest condolences to her husband Jim and children Amelia and Darragh.

“Vicky’s tenacity and selflessness in advocating for women’s healthcare will never be forgotten. Ar Dheis De go raibh a hanam.”

Russell recently apologised for insensitive comments made in 2020 where she suggested that the women affected by the controversy knew they had not been wronged by CervicalCheck.

Chief executive of Ireland’s four cancer screening services, Fiona Murphy, said she was “deeply saddened” to hear of her death.

“Vicky was a strong advocate for cervical screening who dedicated her last years to effecting real change for women.

“I extend my condolences to Vicky’s children Amelia and Darragh, husband Jim and her parents John and Gaby,” she said on Twitter.

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

Dr Scally said that she was “a great woman” who had helped him with his research and had “brought women’s health to the fore”.

“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.
“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.”

Vicky was a regular guest on RTÉ’s Late Late Show throughout the last few years. Producers of the show tweeted to offer their sympathies:

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly also paid tribute to the mother of two, saying she has left “a legacy of enormous and enduring impact”.

Minister for Higher Education and former health minister Simon Harris said she “made our country a better place”. 

“Everyone who came into contact with her was the better for it. Her advocacy and determination brought about change. Her kindness and decency brightened lives,” Harris tweeted. 

“The most incredible advocate I’ve ever met. Thinking of her family and friends.” 

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the news was “utterly heartbreaking”:

Vicky Phelan, a Kilkenny native, lived in Limerick and today, the Mayor of the City and County of Limerick Cllr Francis Foley paid tribute to her, saying “she tirelessly campaigned for better healthcare for women. Her search for answers uncovered the Cervical Check scandal and she used her voice to advocate and support other women who had been affected and were fighting for justice.”

A book of condolence has been opened in Limerick city and County Council headquarters in Merchant’s Quay and will remain open for one week. The Irish flag is being flown at half-mast as a mark of respect for the women’s health campaigner who was a recipient of the Freedom of Limerick. In addition, an online book of condolence is open at

In February of this year, Vicky was conferred with the honour of Freedom of Limerick to honour her for her work.

Includes reporting by Press Association

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