Tuesday 16 October 2018

Even in death, Emma makes the powerful quake on her final journey

Mourners pay their tribute. Photos: Frank McGrath, Mark Condren
Mourners pay their tribute. Photos: Frank McGrath, Mark Condren
Emma’s remains pass Leinster House Photos: Frank McGrath, Mark Condren
Emma’s children Oisín and Donnacha. Photos: Frank McGrath, Mark Condren
Vicky Phelan. Photos: Frank McGrath, Mark Condren
Michael D Higgins and wife Sabina with Emma’s daughter Natasha. Photos: Frank McGrath, Mark Condren
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

At 2.33pm, the hearse carrying the remains of Emma Mhic Mhathúna reached the bottom of Kildare Street and slowed to a crawl as it passed Leinster House.

Applause rang out sharply amid the silence of the crowd of politicians gathered there, many of the women dressed in red as a tribute to her courage.

Even in death, the high- profile CervicalCheck campaigner had a power feared by the authorities, in the truth that she spoke - and she did not hesitate to exercise it.

Even in death, she made them quake.

There was no sign of the Taoiseach, nor any of the front bench ministers among the gathering at the Dáil - though Leo Varadkar had sent his Aide-de-Camp to the funeral.

There was no sign of Health Minister Simon Harris.

Vocal vaccine sceptic Danny Healy-Rae stood alone as the hearse passed, while Micheál Martin, surrounded by Fianna Fáil TDs, stood and applauded as Emma's remains passed by.

It was, of course, the Fianna Fáil, Progressive Democrats and Greens coalition that had presided over the introduction of the CervicalCheck programme that was subsequently found to have been 'doomed' from the start.

Emma's remains also passed by the Department of Health. How many nameless officials within were also quaking at the brutal unvarnished truth of the coffin passing before them?

Of a woman, dead at 37, her five motherless, grieving children following behind.

Her family had explained the point of this drive-by as "a final and departing effort to encourage those within to hold a mirror up to the organisations and agencies that they preside over".

It was "a request to those organisations and agencies to commit to ensure that Emma's tragic situation will never happen to another Irish mother or woman again".

As a parting gesture, it was effective beyond all words - but it was also deeply emotional to see the stricken faces of her family as they passed by Leinster House.

At the steps of the Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough Street, in mellow autumnal sunshine, her family and friends met again after the long journey up from the Dingle peninsula.

Again, we saw Emma's five children, Natasha, Seamus, Mario, Oisín and Donnacha, standing strong together, with Emma's father Peter and her uncle, John Moran.

President Michael D Higgins led the mourners with his wife Sabina, who enveloped Natasha (16) in a warm embrace.

Vicky Phelan, whose High Court settlement broke open the CervicalCheck scandal, was present with her solicitor, Cian O'Carroll, who also represents victim Ruth Morrissey.

There were over a thousand people at the church where Emma had come every morning to light a candle before attending the little gaelscoil across the road in the Department of Education, where her mother, Annette, had worked.

Chief celebrant Fr Paddy Moran revealed that the brave victim of the CervicalCheck scandal had been writing a children's book and shared with them the opening two chapters of her unfinished story, which told of an idyllic summer in Kerry.

Fr Moran said that Emma had spoken with no malice, anger or bitterness of the official apologies she had received.

Instead, she had been just a mother thinking first and foremost of her children, he said.

To Emma, he expressed thanks for being such a powerful force of nature and a wonderful force for good.

"Thank you for the hope you expressed that people are good and have a capacity to learn from mistakes and that what happened to you should not happen to any other woman in our land," he said.

After the Mass, daughter Natasha bravely and unwaveringly read aloud a message from broadcaster Ryan Tubridy, describing Emma as "a mother, a campaigner, a fighter and a woman in a ball-gown taking on the people who needed to be challenged".

Irish Independent

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