Cervical cancer controversy dominates our thoughts

There is no doubt about the issue dominating the airwaves and headlines in all of the media for the past few days, and likely to do so over the next week: the ongoing cervical cancer screening controversy.

At the time of my writing this column, it is still very much in the air as to the exact sequence of events, who knew what, the when and the where.

Internal disputes are already breaking out between the HSE and the Department of Health, and between various other agencies within the health field. It is truly alarming for women and, of course, will lead to huge doubts about the whole cervical screening process itself, even though everyone involved has implored women not to give up on the programme. The programme itself is highly necessary, particularly so to young girls of between 12 and 14 years of age.

I must commend, highly, the sheer courage and bravery of Vicky Phelan. She is facing certain death and yet has decided to come out and tell her story in full. She has moved from RTE to TV3 to BBC to Chanel 4, on radio and TV. She is intent on telling her story and that is why her truth will shine bright in a morass of mis-truths and the side-stepping of issues.

I have to say that Simon Harris, Minister for Health, is doing his very best to be up-front and precise in what he says, but many times what he says is immediately disputed by someone else within the health sector.

It is a huge crisis and, most of all, we think of the young Vicky Phelan, aged 43, a with husband and two young children, a little boy of seven and a girl of 12. I heard her on the Ray D’Arcy radio programme yesterday saying that her little boy came home from school crying, saying “mammy all the children in school are saying that you’re going to die very soon. Is that right? Is that right?”

I hope that soon clarity can be achieved and, with clarity, a way out of the morass, so that all of the other women who fear the veracity of the results they have already obtained will have their worries assuaged or a programme laid out for them.

I hope the full facts will soon emerge of the 17 women who have died. Some may well have had other natural causes. Some may well have died in other ways, but it is essential that the full truth be explored and explained as quickly as possible. The matter is too serious to let it just rumble on and on.

Listening to the radio on May 1, I heard the wonderful song/hymn “Bring Flowers of the Rarest, Bring Flowers of the Fairest” sung by Fr Sydney MacEwan. His voice is so sonorous and yet entirely lyrical.

It moves me every time I hear it. It catches at the heart and at the throat, and evokes memories of long ago – childish processions to the shrine of Our Lady in the month of May. The innocence of it all in a world now full of complexities, doubts and worries. Somehow that hymn, sung on May 1 every year, is in its way heart-breaking also.

We had wonderful rugby over last weekend. The four provinces were playing last Saturday. In the afternoon, we had Connacht versus Leinster.

I saw it all on TG4 and, of course, it did not really matter that I could not follow the full commentary as Gaeilge, because it is the game that matters most. The whole game was, apart from the huge score which Connacht registered, an all-out tribute to John Muldoon, who was retiring after a wonderful career.

I have a distinct interest in Connacht ever since the TDs and senators marched out to save Connacht many years ago, with me at their head, because the IRFU were going to let Connacht go out of their care and we wanted to maintain Connacht rugby as a unique province on its own.

It was a wonderful game and John Muldoon played it to his very best, invoking a capacity audience to roars of excitement and delight as he powered on. What a pity there are not enough John Muldoons in other fields of rugby. He is truly unique and will be such a loss to rugby in general, and to Connacht in particular.

That night then, we had Ulster versus Munster, and I saw that on BBC2 because they always show whenever Ulster is playing. That proved to be a disappointment for Ulster in that they drew with Munster when they were expected to win. The score was 24-24, but it was a powerful game and made for excellent viewing.

To crown it all, we had Katie Taylor winning her fight against the Argentinian, Victoria Noelia Bustos, and adding another belt to her strap. As readers will know, I have always admired Katie Taylor and always follow her progress. I have also great faith in her ability and her dedication to her sport.

We are all busy with Holy Communion and Confirmation festivities happening at the moment within our immediate families and, indeed, with young people from other families we know. Despite all that is happening, these two milestone events for young people are great occasions and should always be treated with full enjoyment.

The president has started a good debate recently about history and the Leaving Certificate, suggesting that it should be a compulsory subject for students. I fully agree with him. I think a student who has not studied history is not fully educated in every sense, and I have always been a strong supporter of history as taught in our secondary schools. I hope the president’s words will not fall on deaf ears.

That is my lot for now.

Hope to speak to you all again next week.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go Fóill,

Mary O’Rourke

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