The legacy of 39-year-old CervicalCheck campaigner Ruth Morrissey, who died at the weekend, must be to bring cervical screening “home” to Irish laboratories.
That’s according to CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan and Mrs Morrisey’s solicitor Cian O’Carroll, who supported the Limerick woman during her legal case.
Mrs Morrissey was one of a number of women whose cervical cancer was missed after smear tests were misread.
She took a test case against the HSE and two laboratories at the centre of the CervicalCheck controversy and won in the High Court in 2019 and again in March this year when the verdict was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Ruth and her husband, Paul, were subsequently awarded €2.1 million in damages.
The death of the mother of one on Sunday prompted heartfelt tributes to the CervicalCheck campaigner, who was described as gentle, lovely, brave and kind and who fought her legal case for the benefit of others.
An emotional Vicky Phelan, whose own case brought to light issues with the CervicalCheck programme, described Ruth as a "gentle soul".
"She was just one of those kinds of people, who thought about everyone else,” Ms Phelan said on the Today with Sarah McInenreny Show on RTÉ radio.
Mrs Morrissey’s solicitor, Cian O'Carroll said Ruth reluctantly stepped up to become the person who “would have to pay the price” and make the sacrifice in the legal test case.
“She saw the importance of what she was being put through for others and I think took well-justified strength and satisfaction from ultimately what she was able to achieve for all of the other women through her sacrifice,” Mr O’Carroll said on RTÉ radio.
Cervical cancer survivor, Lorraine Walsh, also expressed sadness that Ruth had spent the last two years of her life “fighting for what was right, fighting for the truth, and fighting for justice”.
Ms Walsh said: “She fought a really hard battle for herself and for the rest of us”.
The emotional tributes, however, were also tinged by anger that Ruth endured an ordeal in the courts but never received an apology.
Mr O'Carroll said commitments made by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, when he was Taoiseach, that cases would be resolved through mediation rather than the courts never transpired for Ruth and others: “That was not the experience Ruth Morrisey had.
"She looked across at a team of 17 lawyers on the other side in her case."
Ms Phelan said Mr Varadkar's comments that all women affected by the cervical screening controversy were given an apology were insensitive: “Really there should have been an apology sent by both the HSE and the State at the end of March when the Supreme Court came to its decision.
"After my court case, I got a written apology from the HSE — Ruth got no such apology whatsoever."
Ms Phelan and Mr O'Carroll said the only lasting legacy that could honour Ruth’s memory is to ensure that CervicalCheck screening is brought “home” to Irish laboratories.
“A huge legacy I think for Ruth — and for me, when it's my time — is to bring screening home. I think that would be a huge legacy to leave for any of the women who are going to die as a result of this,” Ms Phelan said.
Mr O’Caroll said “meaningful improvement” in the CervicalCheck programme would be a lasting legacy for Ruth.
He told the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk radio: “This new national laboratory that was announced over a year ago that was going to allow Ireland to bring screening home.
"That is essential and work needs to be advanced on that rapidly."
People used RIP.ie to pay their respects to Ruth for her bravery and selflessness and to thank her for standing up for women.
One tribute read: “Ruth was a beacon for the women of Ireland, we owe her tremendous thanks for fighting the fight to protect us and demand better for us."
“A true warrior. Thank you for all you did for the women of Ireland,” another stated.