‘Emma Mhic Mhathúna’s bravery will never be forgotten’

Leo Varadkar, Vicky Phelan and others pay tribute to Kerry woman following her death

Tributes have been paid to Emma Mhic Mhathúna following her death at the age of 37.

The mother-of-five had been diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year.

She was one of the 221 women with cervical cancer found to have received incorrect smear tests during a clinical audit of past tests by the CervicalCheck screening programme.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar 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,” he said.

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

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

“But tonight 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.”

In June, Ms Mhic Mhathúna and her five children settled a legal action over the controversy for €7.5 million.

Speaking after the settlement, Ms Mhic Mhathúna said: “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.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris paid tribute to Ms Mhic Mhatúna's bravery in fighting cervical cancer, describing her as a courageous campaigner in promoting the benefits of the HPV vaccine and screening.

“I am very sad to hear of Emma Mhic Mhathúna’s passing. She showed incredible bravery in fighting a terrible disease. My thoughts are with her family especially her five children on this dreadful loss,” Mr Harris said.

“We must beat this awful cancer through vaccination and screening. We will work to build a programme worthy of women like Emma.”

Earlier, Mr Harris told RTÉ's This Week that the Patient Safety Bill, which will legislate for mandatory open disclosure, will be part of her legacy.

“I think we’ll be doing this [the Bill] as a legacy for Emma; something good will come out of the most horrific situation that Emma and others have been through.

“I know from all of her campaigning that that’s what she wanted. She wanted to make sure that we created a screening programme that was worthy of her and worthy of her children, worthy of all women in this country.”

Limerick woman Vicky Phelan, whose High Court settlement in April exposed the non-disclosure of incorrect smear tests, said Ms Mhic Mhathúna had a "massive impact".

Recalling Ms Mhic Mhathúna’s emotional radio interview in which she expressed concern that her youngest child would not remember her, Ms Phelan said: “I think that had a massive impact on the pressure that was put on the Government at the time [over the CervicalCheck issue].

“She had a huge impact and in fairness to her she was a formidable woman.”

Stephen Teap, who learned about his late wife Irene's incorrect smear tests after the CervicalCheck controversy broke, said Ms Mhic Mhathúna had demonstrated courage.

“Another brave mother leaves this world, gets her wings and leaves behind five amazing children. Her pain and suffering is over but it’s now all about her kids,” Mr Teap said.

‘Incredibly brave’

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin expressed sadness at Ms Mhic Mhathúna's death.

“Emma was an incredibly brave and courageous person who sought the truth so that others would not have to go through the same challenges she and her family went through.

“At the heart of all Emma’s actions was a constant desire to protect and insulate her children. Emma’s powerful personal testimony should be a beacon to all of us who want a health service that never forgets that its primary concern is the welfare of the patients it serves.

“Emma’s honesty and bravery will never be forgotten by the generations to come. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dhílis.”

President Michael D Higgins said: “I was greatly saddened to hear that Emma Mhic Mhathúna has died.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 Mhathúna’s journey as she battled the disease.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Ms Mhic Mhathúna’s bravery in the face of so much tragedy “has inspired many people”.

“Her legacy and strength will impact on cancer healthcare for the better. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and five children.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also paid tribute to Ms Mhic Mhathúna.

“So sorry to hear the news of the death of Emma Mhic Mhathúna. Thoughts are with her young family.”

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said that "the hearts of the nation goes out to her family on this saddest of days.

“Her courage has changed the health service. We all need to ensure that women’s health remains a priority focus in screening and delivery.”

Fine Gael TD and former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said Ms Mhic Mhathúna's "strength and bravery will never be forgotten.

“My thoughts go out to her family and five children. May she rest in peace.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times