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Mixed response from symphysiotomy survivors to lifting statute of limitations

One group representing survivors has given a guarded welcome to the news, while another is uneasy about the idea.

Members of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group, seen at Leinster House during a visit last year.
Members of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group, seen at Leinster House during a visit last year.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

SURVIVORS OF SYMPHYSIOTOMY have offered a mixed reaction to the news that the Government will accept an opposition bill raising the statute of limitations, and allowing survivors to take civil cases against the State.

The government will this evening accept a bill from Sinn Féin which will raise the statute of limitations for survivors, giving them one year to lodge legal action over the surgical procedure that was practised for several decades.

Symphysiotomy is a procedure where the pelvic hinge is deliberately severed, and was carried out between 1942 and the late 1980s – purportedly to facilitate childbirth.

However, the practice had been long since abandoned in other jurisdictions and left many women incontinent, in chronic pain, and in some cases disabled. In most cases the procedure was unnecessary; the procedure was often carried out after the child had already been delivered.

Last night the Minister for Health, James Reilly, confirmed that the government would accept the legislation, but outlined what he said were some flaws in the Bill that would need to be addressed at later stages of the legislative process.

The Survivors of Symphysiotomy group offered what it said was a ‘guarded welcome’ to the news that the government would allow the Sinn Féin proposals to pass the first step on the road to becoming law.

Group chairwoman Marie O’Connor said the news was “a modest victory for our members”, but said it was a victory “that needs to be built on”.

She took issue with Reilly’s claims that the Bill had flaws, saying it had been carefully modelled on similar legislation in 2000 which raised the statute of limitations for survivors of abuse in residential institutions.

“We reject the indication that further Government action and, by implication, further processing of the Bill should await the publication of the final Walsh report,” she said.

The SoS group has rejected the draft version of that report, commissioned by the Department of Health, as a ‘whitewash’ – and argues that its findings have been trumped by the Supreme Court ruling which could clear the way for future cases.

However, another group representing survivors, Patient Focus, said it was more optimistic about the prospect of a redress scheme, which its members prefer over the prospect of civil cases.

Patient advocate Caitriona Molloy said Reilly’s Dáil speech included a commitment to resolve the situation “as quickly as possible, in an expeditious manner” – which, when combined with his criticisms of the SF bill, suggested that a redress scheme could be pursued instead.

“I think people need to have a choice to do what they want to do,” Molloy told TheJournal.ie. “The problem with going through the courts for the women is that they need to get medical reports to prove negligence, and people can still defend the cases too.

It would be “a lengthy process for any of these elderly women, and I think if you read between the lines of what the minister was saying last night, he said the legislation was flawed for the fact that it didn’t think it would meet the women’s needs. How else would they do that?”

Molloy said a redress scheme, which would be quicker to operate and less cumbersome for survivors to engage with, was the “most respectful” way to address their problems.

Column: Symphysiotomy was seen as a gateway to childbearing without limits

Read: More about symphysiotomy on TheJournal.ie

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