Mixed reaction to symphysiotomy mediation offer

The Government’s offer to establish a mediation process overseen by a judge to determine what women who underwent symphysiotomies want has received a mixed response from those representing the victims.

The offer was outlined yesterday by Health Minister James Reilly at a meeting attended by three different groups including patient advocacy group Patient Focus; Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS), a national membership group for women and their families affected by symphysiotomy and SoS Ltd, a group associated with Patient Focus.

While Patient Focus and SoS Ltd said they believed a “negotiated mediation” rather than litigation “could be less traumatic and time consuming for the injured women”, enabling them to find some closure and move on with their lives, SOS said its members would not be co-operating with “any Magdalene-type redress scheme”.

“We have seen how the Magdalenes, such as Bethany Home survivors have been shafted — we won’t go down that route. We have been mandated by our members to seek a just and fair settlement — not a shabby Magdalenesque scheme,” said chairwoman Maire O’Connor.

Ms O’Connor said that Dr Reilly had failed to condemn the practice of symphysiotomy, a surgical procedure which in effect involved sawing a woman’s pelvis in half, leading to severe lifelong health effects, including extreme pain, impaired mobility, incontinence, and depression.

As symphysiotomy was carried out in Ireland from the 1940s to the 1980s, many of the women are statute-barred from suing the State. Groups representing the women have called for the lifting of the statute of limitations. However, Ms O’Connor said the minister told them yesterday that the Attorney General, Máire Whelan, has advised this was too problematic.

A spokesperson for Dr Reilly said he intended to write again to the AG because he wanted to leave “no stone unturned”.

SoS are seeking negotiated settlements, starting at a minimum of €250,000 compensation, up to a maximum of €450,000. Dr Reilly’s spokesman said in times of austerity, these figures were high, although at least two women who took the legal route for compensation have been awarded sums in excess of €300,000. The spokesman said the Government was in favour of a mediation process overseen by a judge acceptable to the women.

Patient Focus and SoS Ltd said the minister emphasised he did not want the process to be drawn out. “He is aware that many survivors have passed away and that it is necessary to get this matter sorted promptly. He suggested a negotiated mediation rather than litigation as a possible solution,” they said in a statement.

Dr Reilly also told the groups that a long-awaited report into the practice of symphyisotomy, by independent researcher Oonagh Walsh, would be brought to the Cabinet in the autumn.

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