'My Hero' | 

Charlie Bird says his ‘heart is broken’ as he leads tributes to Vicky Phelan

The mother of two died aged 48 surrounded by her family at Milford Hospice in Limerick in the early hours of this morning

Charlie Bird and Vicky Phelan

Neasa CumiskeySunday World

Charlie Bird has said his “hero is gone” as he led tributes to Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan today.

The mother of two died aged 48 surrounded by her family at Milford Hospice in Limerick in the early hours of this morning.

Hordes of public figures and politicians have taken to social media today to pay tribute to the Limerick woman, whose legal case against the HSE and a US laboratory exposed the CervicalCheck scandal in which hundreds of Irish women were given incorrect negative smear test results.

Former RTÉ broadcaster Charlie Bird, who struck up a close friendship with Ms Phelan since his motor neurone disease diagnosis last year, wrote that his “heart is broken” in an emotional tweet.

He said: “My heart is broken just hearing about the passing of Vicky Phelan. Over the past year she gave me great support to keep fighting my terminal illness.

“This whole country should be in mourning at the passing of this remarkable human being. My heart is broken. My hero is gone.”

President Michael D Higgins praised Ms Phelan’s “powerful inner strength and dignity” as well as her contribution to Irish society in an official statement.

“It is with the deepest sense of sadness that people across Ireland and beyond will have heard of the death of Vicky Phelan.

"All of us who had the privilege of meeting Vicky will have been struck by the powerful inner strength and dignity with which she not only faced her own illness, but with the sense of commitment to the public good and the rights of others with which she campaigned.

"Vicky, in all of this, made an enormous contribution to Irish society. Thanks to her tireless efforts, despite the terrible personal toll she herself had to carry, so many women’s lives have been protected, and will be protected in the future.

"She will be deeply missed, by all of those who were in awe of her courage, her resilience, offered not only to women but to all of us in Ireland.

"She will of course be missed above all by those closest to her. May I express my deepest condolences to Vicky’s parents Gaby and John, her husband Jim, her children Amelia and Darragh, and to all of her family and friends.”

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said: “Ní Bheidh A Leithéid Ann Arís. Vicky Phelan, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Champion of Women, Campaigner who took on the State and won. Rest in Peace.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ms Phelan’s passing was “very sad news” and extended his sympathies to Ms Phelan’s family.

Speaking to Claire Byrne on RTÉ this morning, he especially praised Ms Phelan for refusing to sign a non-disclosure agreement which would have meant her case did not go public.

"I think this is very, very sad news. I think she was a woman of extraordinary courage and integrity for the people of Ireland, but not just the woman of Ireland but women globally,” he said.

"To her husband and family, we extend our sympathies.

"I think in the history of this country, I think her actions particularly in terms of not signing a confidentiality agreement at that particular time, in her statement on the steps of the High Court, live long in the memory as an example of someone who stood up against the system and the normal conventions of actions and so on.

“To say ‘No, I'm not signing that, I want this revealed in the public interest’. And she stood up for the public interest."

He later tweeted: “Very saddened at the passing of Vicky Phelan, a woman of great courage, integrity, honesty and generosity of spirit.

“She will be long remembered as someone who stood up for the women of Ireland, and globally. Our condolences go to her husband Jim, Amelia and Darragh, friends and family.”

And CEO of the Irish Cancer Society, Averil Power, said that Vicky’s campaign work made the nation “truly richer”, remembering her for her “kind-hearted nature”.

“Today it is no small understatement to say we are poorer for the loss of Vicky Phelan, but truly richer as a nation for the contribution she so generously made to Irish life.

“Vicky refused to be silent in the face of great personal challenge and the issues she brought to light changed the course of history for women in Ireland. Without her courage and her determination, others would not have known the truth behind the Cervical Check failings.

“Despite her own experience Vicky was a staunch champion of screening and tirelessly encouraged others to take up the offer when it was their turn. Unselfishly – and true to her trademark sense of fairness and conviction – it is the promotion of screening that is such an important part of Vicky’s legacy, which will go on to save many lives.

“Cervical cancer robbed her of her future and left her coping with severe side effects during her final years. Because of her advocacy, others will never have to go through what she went through.

“On top of her national advocacy, which will leave a lasting impression on Ireland as a country, Vicky was so generous with her time and energy to support others affected by cancer.

“She spoke candidly about her own experience, including the physical and sexual side effects of her cancer and treatment, which was a catalyst for better conversations and supports for women facing similar situations.

“Most of all we will remember Vicky’s good humour, her empathy, her kind-hearted nature and her openness that contributed so much to Irish life and to the cancer community in recent years.

“We owe her a debt of gratitude that we must work tirelessly to repay by ensuring that women’s health is prioritised and promoted. Vicky’s legacy demands nothing less.

“Our thoughts today are with her children, Amelia and Darragh, husband Jim and all her family and friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly also issued a statement today, which read: “Today we have heard the very sad news of Vicky Phelan’s passing. I send my deepest condolences and sympathies to Vicky’s family on their loss.

“Vicky leaves a legacy of enormous and enduring impact which has touched the lives of many people, and in particular women and families affected by cervical cancer.

“My thoughts are with Vicky’s family and many friends on this sad day.”

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