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€34 million redress scheme for Irish women whose pelvises were broken during childbirth

The Government has said that the payments will be ex-gratia – in other words, no blame admitted.

Survivor Rita McCann in Dublin last year.
Survivor Rita McCann in Dublin last year.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

THE GOVERNMENT HAS just announced a redress scheme for women who have suffered decades of pain and disability as a result of symphysiotomies.

However, according to the Department of Health the scheme will be ex-gratia – in other words, it is not an admission of liability.

The fund, to be administered by the State Claims Agency, will be about €34 million. There are currently up to 300 survivors alive today, and each of them will receive between €50,000 and €150,000 each.

Those who had a symphysiotomy and whose injuries cleared within 18 months will receive €50,000 if they enter the scheme. Those with longer, more complex injuries with lifetime affects will obtain €100,000. And those who had a symphysiotomy described as an ‘on the way out’ procedure – one that was done after a Caesarean Section – will receive €150,000. About 10 women fall in the third category, 240 in the second and 100 in the first.

The Department explained the decision to make the scheme ‘ex-gratia’ as “relieving (the survivors) of the burden of pursuing their case through the courts”.

This, the Government claims, “will help to draw a line under the issue for those affected” and said that it “recognises the pain and suffering that many of the women who underwent this procedure suffered”.

To date, in a very small number of cases, insurers of the hospitals and the obstetricians who carried out the procedures have been found liable by the courts. However, Government recognises that the women affected are of advanced years, that such court cases can take a long time to come to a conclusion, and that not all women will want to pursue what can be a difficult case through the courts.

Entry into the scheme will mean the women give up their right to take legal proceedings.

The State Claims Agency believes it can begin taking applications for the scheme in about eight weeks time.

“Indefensible and wrong”

It also noted that “by today’s standards” a symphysiotomy would not be recommended, and that, in relation to ‘on the way out symphysiotomies’ (performed after a C-Section) it “supports the Supreme Court’s position that the procedure was indefensible and wrong”.

Symphysiotomies were performed in Irish hospitals up to the 1980s, long after they were discontinued in other jurisdictions.

The procedure involves breaking the pelvis before, during or after childbirth. It then remained permanently widened.

The women, who regularly meet for demonstrations in Dublin, have described the operation as barbaric and cruel.

The brutal effects of a symphysiotomy

The victims, the majority of whom were in their early 20s and having their first child, have suffered chronic pain, incontinence, walking difficulties, sexual problems and other issues for their entire lives as a result.

The Department of Health has said the compensation will be paid on an ex-gratia basis, meaning there will be no admission of liability by the State.

However, some survivors may still wish to pursue their cases in court. Survivors of Symphysiotomy, one of two support groups representing the women, have also complained to the United Nations committee on human rights and are due before a hearing on 14 July.

Two reports into the practice are due to be published this afternoon. One was carried out last year by Professor Ooonagh Walsh, while the second was commissioned in November with a focus on the compensation aspect.

The first was dismissed by survivors because Professor Walsh did not engage with any of them prior to publication.

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Criticism of James Reilly

Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS) also criticised the Minister today, accusing him of “deliberately” keeping survivors “in the dark”.

They said he was “determined to ambush survivors as part of a strategy to disempower”.

“Dr Reilly went on a solo run this morning, bringing proposals with him to Cabinet that SoS was given no prior notice of, whose status even his own officials, at the eleventh hour, were unable to confirm,” the group, which represents the vast majority of victims who are still alive, said in a statement.

“We were 75 minutes’ notice of a 2 o’clock meeting in government buildings. This makes a mockery of consultation, and shows a determination on the Minister’s part to ambush survivors. We are calling for his resignation.

“No admission of wrongdoing”

“The reality is that the Minister has no interest whatsoever in the views of survivors of symphysiotomy. He has never listened to SoS. What he doesn’t understand is that this is about truth, not money. There has been no admission of wrongdoing by this Government. The official lie that symphysiotomy was acceptable practice still stands.”

The group’s National Executive will examine the scheme and it will be up to members what policy to adopt.

“In any scheme of this nature, the devil, as always, is in the detail. Schemes have been getting steadily worse in recent years. We will not be railroaded into ‘redress’,” chairperson Marie O’Connor concluded.

“While we have no knowledge of what is being proposed, no ex gratia scheme can meet Ireland’s obligations under international human rights treaties, as SoS will testify at the UN Human Rights Committee hearing in Geneva on 14 July.”

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