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Government to consider special law to allow legal claims by symphysiotomy victims

The government will consider a suggestion from Gerry Adams to waive the statute of limitations for victims of the practice.

Gerry Adams (right) with some of the survivors of symphysiotomy outside Leinster House in March. Over a fifth of the women who underwent the practice did so in Co Louth, which Adams represents.
Gerry Adams (right) with some of the survivors of symphysiotomy outside Leinster House in March. Over a fifth of the women who underwent the practice did so in Co Louth, which Adams represents.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE TAOISEACH has said he will consider a request from Sinn Féin to introduce legislation waiving the statute of limitations for survivors of symphysiotomy - allowing them to seek damages from the State.

Party president Gerry Adams made the suggestion in the Dáil this afternoon, pointing out that a similar measure had been adopted in 2000 waiving the legal limits within which a victim of institutional abuse could seek redress in the courts.

Adams said that of the estimated 1,500 women who were subjected to the practice without their will, only about 200 were still alive, with many now elderly and frail.

The Louth TD said one woman who had recently won a court action over an unjustified symphysiotomy had been able to bring her action simply because of a technicality – but that the manner by which she was able to bring her court action would not apply to most others.

‘Imperative’

It was “imperative” that the limitation be lifted – if only for a fixed period – so that the other women could seek compensation An amendment to the Statute of Limitations Act 1957, Adams suggested, “would get the support of every Deputy in this chamber.”

Kenny agreed that the practice “belongs to the Dark Ages”, and said he would forward Adams’ suggestion to the Minister for Health for his consideration.

Adams said Sinn Féin was prepared to introduce legislation of its own to give effect to its proposal, but encouraged the government to introduce the legislation itself as the topic was not “a party political issue”.

“We can rectify it so far as it’s possible to show that we, as legislators, are prepared to uphold their rights as citizens,” Adams said.

Kenny added that the Minister for Health, James Reilly, was reflecting on the recent rulings in similar cases before making any new policy decisions in the matter.

The practice of symphysiotomy involved the sawing open of the pelvis and pubic joints, purportedly to ease childbirth. The practice often left victims in significant lifelong pain or incontinent, and in some cases caused the women to become dependant on wheelchairs.

Read: ‘Unreserved sympathy’ for women who suffered symphysiotomies

More: Dáil hears calls for justice for survivors of symphysiotomy

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