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Image / Editorial

Vicky Phelan: TDs who didn’t attend CervicalCheck apology show ‘lack of respect’

by Jennifer McShane
23rd Oct 2019

The State apology for those affected by the CervicalCheck scandal – which initially saw over 200 women and their families affected – has been a long time coming. Since the scandal broke, it has been estimated that over 1,000 were affected.  Words are not enough, not now. Not when so many did not live to hear them. But, with the right ones, they can help the healing. Even if the scars will always remain.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the apology in the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon, but straight away, the public, those who attended, noticed how many empty seats were there.

Speaking in the Dáil, Varadkar apologised to the women, their partners and their children for the pain they suffered as a result, and acknowledged that a State apology, “may not provide closure but I hope it will help to heal”.

“We apologise: to our wives, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers – to the men who lost the centre of their lives and who every day have to try and pick up the pieces. The single fathers and grandparents.

“To the children who will always have a gaping hole in their lives. To all those grieving for what has been taken from them. The happy days that will never be. A State apology may not provide closure, but I hope it will help to heal,” he said.

Related: ‘I’ve been battling hardship since I was 19’ – Vicky Phelan 

The gallery was packed with so many women, so many families wronged, yet the absenteeism was painfully obvious. The Dáil certainly wasn’t full and the apology itself was delayed. So many still caught up in The War of the Buttons. It was the same afterwards.

Related: HPV and the HPV vaccine: the facts (and myths) you need to know

Author and campaigner Vicky Phelan has since said she is “very disappointed’ the Dáil chamber wasn’t full for the formal apology. The Limerick woman and others, including the late Emma Mhic Mhathúna know all about the power of using your voice as they became advocates for the women affected by cervical cancer.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One today, Phelan said she was “annoyed” that the apology was delayed over the ongoing “buttongate” controversy.

“That really annoyed me, I was sitting there thinking that all of these politicians knew there were women and families sitting in the gallery waiting for this apology and some of them didn’t think it was important enough to start on time,” she said.

“I was very disappointed to see that it wasn’t more full. It was full for Enda Kenny’s apology to the Magdalene women and everybody has a mother, a daughter or a sister and they all should have been there are far as I’m concerned.”

Related: ‘What do the women of Ireland have to do to get access to new cancer drugs to prolong their lives?’

Lack of respect

Phelan added that those missing had shown “a lack of respect.”

“These are our elected representatives.  I would say to the people who weren’t there, to their constituents, remember that when voting and election time comes around, and these people didn’t see fit or see it as important enough to be there…for what, an hour? These things are a big deal for people, and more people should have been in the chamber for it.”

However, she said the formal apology in itself, meant an awful lot.  ”I really do think that it can help a lot of people to move on with their lives. It’s not going to change things, it’s not going to bring their loved ones back but I did think the apology was more than what we were expecting.”

Throughout, the Taoiseach acknowledged that the system was “doomed to fail.”

“A broken service, broken promises, broken lives – a debacle that left a country heartbroken.”

Following the apology, the CervicalCheck patient support group, 221plus said it was a “watershead moment.”

“It is a first step in the process of rebuilding confidence in the capacity of the State to put the patient first in the delivery of public healthcare generally, and for women’s health specifically.

“For us, the acknowledgement and this apology have huge significance. They are central to the process of healing and of rebuilding our lives, and the lives of those who love, support and care for us,” they said.

Read more: We repealed the eighth: here’s what’s next for women’s health in Ireland

Read more: Why your smear test is nothing to be nervous about

Read more: Laura Brennan’s heroic documentary is a must-watch this weekend

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