Campaigner Vicky Phelan has hit out at Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s response to the CervicalCheck scandal saying he is “all talk and no action”.
Ms Phelan said she did not believe Mr Varadkar thinks the controversy is “as important as it is” when every woman in the country has to have smear tests.
She was awarded the Fitzgerald Bible Bruff Award for 2018 at the weekend – exactly one year after being given a terminal cancer diagnosis, having earlier received a false negative smear test result.
Ms Phelan is credited with lifting the lid on the CervicalCheck scandal and received a standing ovation as she accepted the award at the Thomas Fitzgerald Centre in Bruff, Co Limerick, on Saturday night.
The award is named after former US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy and is bestowed on those who inspire others to seek justice by taking responsibility for political or social action. Previous winners include Philomena Lee and Sr Stanislaus Kennedy.
Speaking before she accepted the award, Ms Phelan praised Health Minister Simon Harris for his efforts to improve screening standards, but she was scathing in her assessment of Mr Varadkar’s response to the crisis.
“At least you know that there is a willingness there [with Mr Harris], where there isn’t in other parts [of Government].
“I wouldn’t have that same confidence in the Taoiseach, put it that way. He doesn’t inspire me with confidence.
“I think he is very much all talk and no action, and I just don’t get [the] sense that he thinks this is as important as what it is really, when you consider half the population in the country are women, and every woman in this country has to have a smear,” she said.
On January 12 last year, Ms Phelan was given between six and 12 months to live with no hope of a cure for her cervical cancer.
After declining a palliative treatment plan she discovered a so-called ‘wonderdrug’ Pembrolizumab (Pembro) through her own research.
Since then she has successfully campaigned for the drug to be made available to all women diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Speaking on Saturday night, on the first anniversary of her terminal diagnosis, the mother of two said her tumours had shrunk by 60pc – which she attributes to Pembro.
Celebrating the milestone with her husband Jim, and their children Amelia (12) and Darragh (7), she punched the air and said: “I’m actually after outliving my prognosis.”
She said she was “humbled” to receive the award, adding her “wish for the new year is to improve outcomes for people with terminal illness”.
“That’s not necessarily just cancer. But cancer, unfortunately, is the one that is killing everybody in this country. The numbers are really creeping up. We are now at one in three, it was one in four.”
Ms Phelan said she will continue to put pressure on the Government to achieve her aims in fighting for others in similar situations.
In response to Ms Phelan’s comments, a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said: “The Taoiseach has the highest regard for Vicky Phelan.
“When they met last year he was impressed by her courage, and by her commitment to the CervicalCheck programme.
“Her input and advice continues to guide the Government’s response.
“The Taoiseach, like Vicky, has said he wants something good to come out of this controversy. That means implementing the Scally Report in full and working to ensure that cervical cancer becomes a rare disease through the expansion of the HPV vaccine to boys, and improving screening by becoming one of the first countries in the world to bring in the new smear test.”