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'I had to use my voice': Vicky Phelan awarded the Freedom of Limerick

The campaigner is being honoured for her work highlighting the CervicalCheck controversy.

Vicky Phelan accepting the award this evening
Vicky Phelan accepting the award this evening

Updated Feb 3rd 2022, 7:18 PM

CAMPAIGNER VICKY PHELAN has been awarded the Freedom of Limerick this evening for her work seeking justice for women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy.

The honour is reserved for people who have made exceptional or unique contributions to the common good or to persons who have made outstanding contributions to the life of Limerick.

The decision to bestow the award was unanimously approved at a special meeting of Limerick City and County Council in December.

President Michael D Higgins is among past recipients of the award. 

Accepting the award this evening, the campaigner said she was “delighted to be here today to accept this myself”.

“I often say I never thought I’d see myself doing the kind of campaigning and advocacy work I’m doing now.”

“Once I started, I couldn’t stop. 

We still have a long way to go but I do believe we have achieved a lot over the last four years

She said she was “absolutely compelled to speak out because I knew it was helping other people” and that she saw a “huge amount of people out there who were suffering and didn’t have a voice like I did, so I had to use that voice”. 

Vicky Phelan is originally from Kilkenny and has lived in Limerick for many years.

“I’m not a born and bred Limerick person, but at this stage I’ve lived longer in Limerick than in Kilkenny, so I think you could say I’m a Limerick person now,” she said. 

As the fifth woman to receive the honour, she urged for more women to be considered as recipients in the future.

She dedicated the award to Ruth Morrissey, a fellow CervicalCheck campaigner who died in 2020 at age 39.

I would like to dedicate this award to a born and bred Limerick woman who I think would also deserve this recognition – Ruth Morrissey. This is for Ruth.

Other past recipients of the award include Maud Gonne, US Presidents John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton, Pope John Paul II, UL Founding President Dr Ed Walsh and rugby player Paul O’Connell.

“It’s going to enable me to herd a herd of sheep up O’Connell Street and not get penalised for it. It goes back to those kind of days. But you know what? It’s the symbolism of it,” Phelan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme earlier today.

There’s very few people who get this type of award and I’m only the fifth woman. So, for me, that means a huge amount. 

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Mayor of the City and County of Limerick, Councillor Daniel Butler, said: “Vicky Phelan is an inspiration to all of us. She is a tireless fighter for women who have been affected by the CervicalCheck scandal, and her work encapsulates the Freedom of Limerick, and how women should be treated.

“Her work has transformed the lives and saved the lives of Irish women and helped us talk of end of life in an important way, in turn helping to make Ireland a richer and more equal society.

“Despite her own health, she continues to face her challenges head on with a drive and determination that has won the love, admiration and respect of the people of Limerick, Ireland and the world.”

“She is being honoured for her work in uncovering the CervicalCheck scandal and her tireless support of other women who have been affected and are fighting for justice – a fight that continues. Her work encapsulates the ideals of the Freedom of Limerick,” Butler concluded.

Additional reporting by Lauren Boland

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Céimin Burke

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