TDs demand public inquiry into symphysiotomy

TDs have told how they were left traumatised and “physically sick” after meeting a group of women who had undergone symphysiotomy during childbirth.

Health Minister James Reilly came under pressure to launch a public inquiry into the practice, which was discussed yesterday in the Dáil for the first time.

There were emotional contributions when the practice of breaking the pelvis during difficult childbirths was described by TDs as a form of institutional abuse and of female genital mutilation.

About 1,500 Irishwomen underwent the procedure between the 1940s and 1980s.

Some of the women were in the Dáil for yesterday’s discussion, which followed their meeting with TDs the night before.

Cavan-Monaghan TD Heather Humphries (FG) said she felt “physically sick” when women told how they were “restrained, with their arms pulled back and held down for the procedure to take place”.

She said: “The stories we heard last night were like something you would have heard happening in a remote part of the Third World in an almost ritualistic way.

“When I heard how women were actually shown a saw before it was used on them, I was horrified.”

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin had requested time to discuss the issue in the Dáil and was joined by Government TDs in calling for a full public inquiry.

“We also urge the Government to introduce legislation amending the statute of limitations as was done in the case of sexual abuse victims,” he said.

Many women who underwent the procedure were left with permanent issues in relation to mobility, incontinence, pain, and depression. Some were left permanently disabled.

Independent TD Mick Wallace became emotional when he said it was “another example of men trying to control women’s bodies” with “male-dominated parliaments doing very little about it”.

Fine Gael TD Regina O’Doherty said: “I don’t think anything in my year in here has effected me in the way this has.”

Addressing the visitors’ gallery, she said: “What you deserve is to be given your life back but that’s not within our gift. So I urge the minister to give these ladies the justice they so richly deserve.”

Kathleen Lynch, junior health minister, said the Attorney General was examining an expert report on the issue and promised the Government would act quickly once it has been considered.

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