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Saturday 19 October 2019

'A wonderful mother, daughter and cherished friend' - family of Emma Mhic Mhathúna lead tributes

Emma Mhic Mhathúna
Emma Mhic Mhathúna
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

The family of Emma Mhic Mhathúna have released a statement saying that she will forever be remembered "as someone who fought for social justice in an exceptionally selfless way".

Mother-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathúna (37), who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016 having previously received two incorrect smear results, passed away this morning in Kerry.

Emma Mhic Mhathúna and her children meet President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina in Co Kerry
Emma Mhic Mhathúna and her children meet President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina in Co Kerry

Ms Mhic Mhathúna, whose children range in age from two to 16 years, had sued the HSE and a US laboratory used by CervicalCheck after she was given incorrect smear test results.

Following her tragic passing this morning, Ms Mhic Mhathúna's family said she was "a wonderful mother, daughter and cherished friend."

"Emma, who battled her illness with great valour, passed away peacefully in the comfort of her family’s loving embrace in the knowledge that she had helped to shine a light on important issues which affected not just her own life, but lives of many others," the family statements reads.

"Emma’s unending and unwavering commitment to her children means that her abiding legacy will be that of a great mother. However, Emma will also be remembered as someone who fought for social justice in an exceptionally selfless way during times of great personal challenge.

Emma Mhic Mhathuna, from Baile na nGall, Co. Kerry pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts - after the settlement of a High Court action, also in pic, her solicitor, Cian O Carroll. Photo: Collins Courts
Emma Mhic Mhathuna, from Baile na nGall, Co. Kerry pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts - after the settlement of a High Court action, also in pic, her solicitor, Cian O Carroll. Photo: Collins Courts

"We will miss Emma beyond words, her intellect, her love, her quick wit and infectious smile are irreplaceable to those closest to her in these difficult days. However, we take some comfort in the knowledge that Emma will be long remembered by the thousands of people who have been inspired by her fight for justice, transparency and improved services."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has this afternoon extended his condolences to the family and friends of Ms Mhic Mhathúna.

"I extend my heartfelt sympathy to Emma’s family and friends and especially her children. In her life, Emma did us all a huge service with her advocacy for the HPV vaccine.

"Despite her own tragic experience, she consistently supported the screening programme and encouraged women to continue engaging with the service,” he said.

"I am determined that something positive should come from this tragedy, and it’s my objective to virtually eliminate cervical cancer in Ireland.

"But our thoughts are with Emma’s young family on her early and untimely passing. May she Rest In Peace. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam."

Minsiter for Health Simon Harris said that "sadness has come across the entire country".

"We are so devastated to hear about her passing. My thoughts are with her children," Mr Harris told RTE Radio One.

Stephen Teap and Vicky Phelan have both fought a public battle to get better outcomes for women suffering from cancer diagnoses. Picture: PA
Stephen Teap and Vicky Phelan have both fought a public battle to get better outcomes for women suffering from cancer diagnoses. Picture: PA

Mr Harris said that Ms Mhic Mhathúna's bravery was "unbelievable" and that he will work tirelessly to improve the cancer screening programme.

"She was campaigning only last week for a better screening service and promoting the HPV vaccine.

“We must beat this cancer with vaccination and screening. We are determined to build a programme worthy of women like Emma.

“Something good will come out of the horrific situation that Emma and others have been through.”

President Michael D Higgins said that he was in awe of Ms Mhic Mhathúna's strength throughout her ordeal.

He said: "When I met her and her children in May, I was greatly struck by her poise and bravery, in the midst of what was a very difficult time for her family and friends.

"On behalf of the people of Ireland, I send my condolences to her family, friends, the wider community in West Kerry, and to all those who have shared Ms Mhic Mhathuna's journey as she battled the disease."

Vicky Phelan, whose court case brought the scandal to light, said she knew things were “bad” but hoped medical treatment would “give a bit Ms Mhic Mhathúna more time with her children”.

Speaking on RTE Radio One about the fact her youngest child is just two-years-old, Ms Phelan said: “Will that poor child remember her? That’s an awful thing to think of as a mother.”

Ms Phelan said the Kerry woman had “a huge impact” and was a “formidable woman”.

"I'm really lost for words.

“Her children will certainly know that she fought so hard to stay in this world and to get as much money as possible for them. At the end of the day, those five children are left without a mother.”

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from Cervical Cancer, told RTÉ Radio One that he was "struggling" to cope with the news.

"Another brave mother leaves this world. She got her wings and left behind five amazing children.

“Emma’s pain and suffering is now over but it begins for her kids. It’s very, very sad.”

Liz Yeates, CEO of the Marie Keating Foundation, also paid tribute to Ms Mhic Mhathúna.

"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Emma Mhic Mhathúna. This tragedy reminds us of how the 221 women and their families at the heart of this cervical screening controversy have been so badly let down.

"The Marie Keating Foundation is doing all we can to offer support to these women and those affected and to give them a voice. We offer our deepest condolences to Emma’s children and wider family at this very difficult time."

The Irish Cancer Society also extended their sympathies to the Mhic Mhathúna family.

"Ms Mhic Mhathúna showed tremendous bravery in talking to the nation about her cervical cancer diagnosis. Through her honesty she became a hugely influential advocate for women’s health, and an inspiration to so many. 

"Ms Mhic Mhathúna's important efforts in highlighting the HPV vaccine will mean fewer women will have to go through a terrible disease which has taken her life all too soon.

"Through vaccination and the best possible screening programme for women, we can potentially eliminate cervical cancer in Ireland within a generation. As part of Ms Mhic Mhathúna’s legacy, we must all now strive to do all we can to make this a reality."

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