Emma Mhic Mhathúna: ‘I wasn’t going to come into court the victim’

Terminally ill Kerry woman wore her confidence proudly in legal win over HSE and Quest

Emma Mhic Mhathúna, one of the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy, has died at the age of 37. Interview: Sorcha Pollak Video: Bryan O'Brien


Emma Mhic Mhathúna cut an unusually striking figure in the austere world of Court No2.

When the business of the Four Courts began on Friday soon after 10.30am, No 2 was thronged with more than 20 barristers, most of them male and all wearing black gowns. There were solicitors in dark suits and similarly dressed court staff.

The brown oak benches and high courtroom walls, all magnolia and without the benefit of a single painting or photograph, give the place a monastic feeling.

Emma Mhic Mhathúna walked into this dull, stiff world wearing a tight-fitting, bright red, off-the-shoulder formal dress, its hemline flowing on to the floor and trailing along the ground as she made her way to take her seat towards the rear of the room.

Tanned and looking the picture of health, she glanced over at the packed press bench, gave a little wave and smiled. Later, when asked to come forward in readiness to speak to Mr Justice Kevin Cross, she leaned back.

“Hi,” she said, “I’m Emma,” as though there could be any doubt. “Did you hear what I got? What do you think,” she asked of the yet-to-be-announced settlement, adding: “They’d give anything for me not to be in the witness box.”

But before that, there would be much to-ing and fro-ing, the case put back until 11am as the legal teams haggled longer than expected following mediation last weekend.

Children’s needs

It would be 12.35pm before they returned with the deal done.

Lawyers for the Health Service Executive and Quest Diagnostics took their places when the haggling ended over the future needs of Emma and her five children, who range from 15 to two years.

Her particular needs will be brief because, as Mr Justice Cross heard, the missed cervical cancer has now spread to both lungs and to her spine and her condition is terminal.

Her barrister, Patrick Treacy SC, told the court of the €7.5 million settlement, together with an admission of liability by Quest (over the failed screen test assessment) and by the HSE (over its failure to disclose information to her).

“It’s an astronomical sum,” Ms Mhic Mhathúna told the judge who invited her to give evidence, asking her: “Have you got anything you want to say to me?”

Everything was being done for her children, she said. Nothing can replace a mother, said the judge.

Some €1.25 million of the €7.5 million would go immediately to buy a house in Ballydavid, Co Kerry, suitable for the children and their grandparents.

Outside the court, a beaming Ms Mhic Mhathúna said she was proud of what she’s achieved.

‘Fight for justice’

“From the outset, I was determined to fight for justice for my children and the figure replicates the damage that’s been done to them . . . I’m a very strong character. I could have easily gone 10 rounds with the HSE and Quest but they realised what they were up against.”

The admission of liability was important for her and for all women, she said, “because, the higher the money and the more apologies they have to give, the more they’re going to have to make changes because nobody likes parting with money”.

Her children had suggested the striking red dress, she said. It was inspired by Anne Corkery of Kerry and she wore it because it showed off her confidence.

“I wasn’t going to come into court the victim,” she said. “I came in a victor and so red is a symbol of standing for women.”