Being a woman in Ireland in 2018

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:

Next steps

• 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, chuirceist, 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.



Filed under Ireland

19 responses to “Being a woman in Ireland in 2018

  1. I don’t have the courage to listen to her voice. Such enormous tragedy for each and every family and the public “services” of health lied and connived. Ireland may have been a Catholic country for centuries but I suspect that will just doesn’t truly value women and their lives. Evocatively expressed Angela and thanks for sharing the story.

    • And so it goes on the poor woman is still fighting in court…the laboratory in question wanted psychological assessments if her five children before making an offer of payment. The law process is pretty grim for someone with little time. Brave lady.

  2. Angela, my tears flow for all the women of Ireland… I’ve been reading these stories also and was lost for words, except those of unbridled anger. I can’t imagine the heartbreak of all the women and their families who have been ‘tossed aside’ as it were, their lives, their health, their families, being deemed worthless…
    How can this happen in the 21st century as you say.. it should never happen today, or yesterday.. and certainly not tomorrow.
    My heart goes out not only to the women of Ireland, but to all women anywhere who are treated as lesser citizens…where they are valued less than men, where covering up wrong diagnoses is more important than admitting errors.. where political power is more important than humanity.. and where small children ask “do you not love me?”

    • It’s a cruel world for many and you put it so succinctly. More horrendous news in Ireland this week of trafficked children from the 1940s to the 1960s with harrowing stories of children being forcefully taken from their mothers. There is no end to it.

  3. sarthure

    Well said, thank you for writing this.

  4. Jill Williams

    Well put Angela
    And here is the a piece where the HSE boss tries to wriggle away from accountability – shame on him

  5. jpmtcc

    OMG!!! Another great shame on Ireland. Such beauty in the country-side. Such great history, such awful history. Will there ever be any government of the world with honor? So difficult to hear her voice. I hope there will be some family with resources who will step up and give her boys a future. It would be some measure of peace to her to know that before she passes.

    • It’s a dreadful quandary for a lone parent with terminal illness leaving five young children. What would any of us do in her circumstances? I agree that it would be lovely if someone generously did offer them a home and love and care. She is a brave woman. Thank you for dropping by.

  6. I can’t read this and not weep. NZ had its own cervical cancer scandal (with the predictable massive cover-up) in the 1970s and 80s. Thankfully two very brave (women) journalists investigated and eventually heads (male, medical) rolled and new systems were put in place. But of course it was too late for many women and for their children left motherless. I sometimes think there will be no real change because we women are so undervalued and ignored.

    • I think you have hit the nail on the head there. Women are not as valued as men in so many ways. I hope that the families who suffered in NZ were compensated in some way. It seems to be one scandal after another here with regard to women and no end in sight! Than you for dropping by. 🙂

      • Ireland has taken a step forward this past week with the abortion referendum. I noticed in our newspapers here, a call to follow suit and give women more control over our lives.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. It made me cry and it made me so very angry. I was in Ireland last week for a family funeral and drove along country roads plastered with Anti-Abortion posters. On the radio I heard the argument that anyone who voted to legalise abortion could not in all conscious think about stepping inside their church the following Sunday or any Sunday. That’s a nasty trick to pull because there is nothing wrong with wanting to live in a secular state where the rules of a religion are not also the laws of the land. Isn’t that what we would want for the rest of the world? Abiding by the tenets of your religion should a personal choice, not a legal requirement
    Yes, Su Leslie, sometimes it does feel as though nothing will change but then I think of the Me Too movement and the brave women who spoke out and were eventually heard. Not that it’s solves everything, not even a fraction of what needs to be done, but it has already toppled a few empires and sent abusers to jail. It takes women like Emma Mhic Mhathuna to speak out and for us to listen and share and say this isn’t right.
    We are not a minority, I take comfort in that, not that we speak with one voice or think with one mind, but because when injustice is done to us because we are women we have a shared understanding of what that feels like. And we can take courage and support from that understanding

    • Bridget thank you fir such a wonderful response. It seems that being female grates with major religions as the main ones seem to treat their women as lesser beings. The Referendum was carried but still is being debated in the ugliest of terms, not least by some of the bishops of the RC church. One brave lady exited mass last week when the priest announced that anyone who voted for repeal was not welcome in ‘his’ church. The shame of it was that others lacked her courage. They are not done yet. Me too did make a difference and of course we had the infamous rape trial in the north, the aftermath of which appalled many. Change comes slowly, but it does come, although too late for too many. Thank you for dropping by.

  8. It is worse in Ireland that I imagined! I confess that I could not bear to hear her voice. And to think she and others might have been saved. There is an assault on women’s reproductive rights even in the US. Thank you for speaking up about women’s issues!

    • It’s fairly awful in any society where a particular religion dominates. I can’t think of one that does NOT treat women as unequal or inferior in some way. We have yet another scandal breaking here regarding children illegally trafficked for some 20 years where children were registered as the offspring of couples who paid for them. Another lost generation of women and children. Depressing stuff!

  9. Well said Angela. You articulate the unbelievable and ongoing scandals very well. But in Ireland little ever changes. There will be judicial enquiries, tribunals etc., long drawn with no one held accountable. Eventually some new scandal will consign the old to history.

    And it’s hard to see the end of it with the self-serving political system whose existence depends on promising enough to win votes but then delivering nothing at all.

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