“Vicky is a hero” – Limerick councillors pay tribute to health campaigner

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Women's Health campaigner Vicky Phelan

By David Raleigh

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WOMENS’ health campaigner Vicky Phelan is to receive the Freedom of Limerick for her championing of patients rights and unearthing the CervicalCheck scandal.

A special meeting of Limerick City and County council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to bestow the honorary title on Ms Phelan.

She will be only the fifth woman, since 1887, to receive the accolade, which include Anglo-Irish republican revolutionary, suffragette, and actress, Maud Gonne MacBride.

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Mayor Daniel Butler, said he made the decision as a result of being “inundated with calls, texts, and phone calls” from people asking him to honour Ms Phelan after the mother of two announced last month that she was facing end of life care following her delayed diagnosis of terminal cervical cancer which led to the CervicalCheck scandal.

Mayor Butler said people had shown “an outpouring of love and respect for Vicky because of the impact she has had on Irish women and society”.

He said a a number of artists had also contacted him about the possibility of creating a painting or sculpture “to try and express the love and regard that the people of Limerick have for Vicky Phelan”.

Mayor Butler said Ms Phelan is an inspiration to all people, and that she “continues to face her challenges head on with a drive and determination and respect”.

“She has fought a tireless fight for women who have been effected by the CervicalCheck scandal, and her work encapsulates the Freedom of Limerick, and how women should be treated”.

He added that Ms Phelan, an advocate for the rights of terminally ill people to end their sufffering, should also be applauded for “opening up the conversation about end of life, and how that will transform Irish life and society”.

Fine Gael Cllr John Sheahan said it was incumbent on the Council to treat Ms Phelan’s story as sensitively as it could.

He said Ms Phelan should be honoured “because misdiagnosis and late diagnosis has cost this country a lot of lives, and this woman took a brave decision to waive her anonymity in relation to her campaign”.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Catherine Slattery said Ms Phelan’s name is synonymous with the word “courage”.

She said Ms Phelan had forever changed the landscape when it came to raising awareness about cervical cancer, and “for this I cannot thank her enough”.

She also remembered Ruth Morrissey, (39), from Limerick, who died last year after a long battle with cervical cancer after her smear test results were misread.

Fine Gael Cllr Olivia O’Sullivan said Ms Phelan’s courage had inspired her to enter politics, “and convinced me we need more women at decision tables from all backgrounds”.

“There is no doubt that Vicky Phelan’s story has changed women’s health in this country, and shown that we need to do more for women; Vicky is a hero.”

Ms Phelan said she was thrilled to be nominated for the prestigious honour, which has been bestowed on US Presidents John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton; Pope John Paul II; the late Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan; rugby great Paul O’Connell, and Riverdance composer Bill Whelan.

Accepting the nomination from the mayor, Ms Phelan said: “I would be absolutely honoured and delighted to accept your offer of bestowing on me the title of Freedom of Limerick, for two reasons. The first being that, there have only been four women before me who have been honoured with this title, and secondly, I am a very proud blow-in from Kilkenny who has made her home in Limerick.”

“I have always felt welcomed and accepted in Limerick, ever before I became this public figure so I would be absolutely thrilled to accept the offer,” she added.

The mother-of-two was given a civic reception by the council in October 2018.