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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.
Lecturer in Law, Kent Law School
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
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
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
Barrister, Law LibraryDublin
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