Mammy, do you not love me? Read on…
Yesterday morning I woke to the sound of a young mother of five children weeping from my radio. Emma Mhic Mhathuna, the girl who fronted the HPV vaccine advertising campaign in Ireland, revealed that she was informed yesterday that she has terminal cervical cancer. Emma, the 37-year-old mother, whose children range in age from 15 to 2 and a half, is one of 209 women whose cervical smear tests were incorrectly reported, and when the results were found to be incorrect, the information was withheld from them. This is 21st Century Ireland.
Yesterday we heard from Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died aged just 35 in June of last year. They had two small children, now aged 3 and 5. Irene had two incorrect smear results. Stephen has only been told in the last couple of weeks that Irene’s test results were incorrectly reported and that when the error was discovered, the truth was kept from them. Irene is one of 17 women who were told that their smear tests were clear when they were not, and who subsequently died. This is 21st century Ireland.
This scandal broke last week when a brave terminally ill Limerick mother of two, Vicky Phelan aged 43, sued and won damages for being given an all-clear result from her smear tests that in fact showed abnormalities. She refused outright to sign a gagging clause and as a result, this entire scandal has been revealed to the nation. Vicky’s children are aged 12 and 7. This is 21st Century Ireland.
Yesterday in the Irish Parliament, the Director General of the Health System accused those questioning him of ‘hysteria’. What an appropriate word. When the errors were discovered, an internal memo in his organization was circulated in March 2016 with the following instructions:
• Pause all letters
• Await advice of solicitors
• Decide on the order and volume of dispatch to mitigate any potential risks
• Continue to prepare reactive communications response for a media headline that ‘screening did not diagnose my cancer’.
There was no mention of any woman in that communication. The wagons were circled.
The state denied it had any duty of care towards Vicky. They fought her all the way and she had to prove that the misdiagnosis meant she would die earlier than expected. The Cervical Check took two years to inform her doctor of the ‘misdiagnosis’ and it was a further 15 months before she was informed. All of this is too late for Vicky and too late for Emma – both of whom are in advanced stages of cancer. And far too late for the women like Irene who have died. This is 21st Century Ireland.
This country has not done its women proud. While every country has its scandals, in Ireland, it seems that girls and women are at the centre of the worst of them. Although not related to the outrageous Cervical Check issue, women across this country are talking about being a woman in Ireland. No one is accountable for what happens to them.
Young unmarried mothers were incarcerated for years in so-called Magdalen Laundries, their children were taken from them and, if they survived, they were often sold for adoption. The state colluded. No one was accountable.
Women whose unborn babies are diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities have to travel to England to end their pregnancies as a potential jail sentence of 14 years hangs over anyone who carries out an abortion in this country. Similarly, with underage girls who are victims of incest, abuse and rape – any termination of pregnancy cannot be undertaken in this country. The United Nations Committee for Human Rights has found that Ireland’s law prohibiting and criminalising abortion has violated the human rights of a woman.
Today Irish women can take little comfort from the pronouncements of one of the leaders of the Catholic church, Bishop Dermot Farrell who has stated that abortion is ‘far worse than rape’. This is 21st Century Ireland.
The anguished words of Emma have been ringing in my head for the past two days now often reducing me to tears – tears of anger, tears or sorrow, tears of utter helplessness. You can listen to her here .
Last night I read the transcript of an interview given by Emma to an Irish radio station. It is the most heartbreaking thing I have read in such a long time.
This is Ireland in the 21st Century and this is what we have done to women and children up and down our country. I am so ashamed.
This is what Emma said about giving the bad news to her children:
“Shuigh mé síos agus dúirt mé leo tá mé ag fáil bháis … Oisín, tá sé sé bliana d’aois, chuir sé ceist, an mbeidh mé ag teacht ar ais, ná téigh aon áit Mamaí, nach bhfuil grá agat domsa? Ní thuigeann sé.
I sat down and I said to them I am dying…Oisín, he is 6 years of age, posed a question, would I be coming back, don’t go anywhere Mammy, do you not love me? He doesn’t understand.
Neither do we, neither do we.