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Redress scheme not enough

Last week the Government announced the establishment of an ex-gratia redress scheme for women who underwent symphysiotomy.

The overwhelming majority of women entitled to redress are likely to receive just €50,000; a fraction of the damages they would receive if they successfully pursued civil litigation. Later this month, when Ireland is examined by the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Survivors of Symphysiotomy will argue that no ex-gratia scheme can discharge the obligations which the Government owes to these women. They are right to do so.

The State employed those who needlessly performed symphysiotomies in public hospitals. It knowingly permitted unjustified symphysiotomies to be performed in private hospitals which delivered maternity services on its behalf. In breach of its legal obligations, it failed to halt these operations.

Now the State must ensure that these women receive effective reparations for the abuses perpetrated upon them.

Although the State now accepts that post-Caesarean symphysiotomy is indefensible, its position on the wrongfulness of other symphysiotomies remains ambiguous. Redress is to be paid in the absence of any public admission of wrongdoing.

This is not good enough. While some women may choose to participate in an ex-gratia redress scheme of the type outlined by retired judge Yvonne Murphy, others will pursue legal action so that their claims can be properly heard and assessed.

The Government’s refusal to lift the Statute of Limitations for survivors, and its insistence that women give up other legal claims as a condition of participation in the redress scheme, can only been seen as attempts to close off women’s access to the courts.

Each woman is entitled to an effective and comprehensive inquiry into the circumstances of her symphysiotomy. That inquiry should be demonstrably independent of government, the medical profession and the State Claims Agency.

An independent body must be empowered to make findings of fact encompassing both individual and state responsibility. To do this, it will require all necessary powers to compel evidence.

It is noteworthy that Judge Murphy was unable to fulfil all of her terms of reference because the information necessary to estimate hospitals’ insurers’ contribution to a redress scheme was not forthcoming.

Like the Magdalene women, symphysiotomy survivors were abused because they were women, by powerful individuals who subscribed to a particular religious ethos.

Ireland now has the opportunity, and the responsibility, to ensure that all citizens who find themselves in this position can rely on the State to hold vested interests to account.

Máiréad Enright

Lecturer in Law, Kent Law School

Maeve O’Rourke

Barrister, Thomas Bingham Chambers, London

Dr Louise Crowley

Senior Lecturer in Law, University College Cork

Dr Louise Kennefick

Lecturer in Law, NUI Maynooth

Dr Eilionóir Flynn

Senior Lecturer in Law, NUI Galway

Dr Fergus Ryan

Lecturer in Law, NUI Maynooth

Dr Sara Ramshaw

Lecturer in Law, Queen’s University Belfast Professor

Patrick Hanafin

Chair in Law, Birkbeck College

Professor Fiona de Londras

Chair in Law, Durham Law School

Professor Marie Fox

Chair in Law, Birmingham Law School

Dr Ruth Fletcher

Senior Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary University of London

Colin Murray

Senior Lecturer in Law, Newcastle University

Dr Aoife O’Donoghue

Senior Lecturer in Law, Durham Law School

Dr Julie McCandless

Lecturer in Law, London School of Economics

Dr Sinéad Ring

Lecturer in Law, University of Kent

Katie Dawson

Barrister, Law LibraryDublin


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