Survivors of symphysiotomy call on Government to open the Gates on Scheme

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Health, Human Rights, Women's Rights

Statement from Marie O’Connor Chairperson Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS) in response to Government shameful attempts to railroad women into redress scheme in a move to try and head off the imminent legislation.

Survivors of symphysiotomy have called on the Government to ‘open the gates’ on its redress scheme, which was announced this morning without consultation. The scheme, they say, remains ‘utterly unjust’ and ‘puts a gun to the head of survivors’. Marie O’Connor, Chairperson of Survivors of Symphyiotomy, the national membership group for around 400 survivors, said: ‘the Government scheme, as announced to the media, appears to form part of a pincer movement designed to force survivors to choose prematurely between legal action and ‘redress’. ‘The current time limits ​being enforced under this discriminatory scheme are unprecedented, unreasonable and unworkable. The gates close in 20 working​ ​days, making it impossible for women to seek independent advice and to make a considered decision. All other redress schemes, with one exception, were left open. We want this draconian expiry date lifted. The gates should remain open, as they were for victims of contaminated blood, those abused in residential institutions, and survivors of the Magdalen laundries.’

​​This is about heading off the litigation that is now at the steps of the High Court. Lawyers for the State have evidently been instructed to delay these cases for as long as possible.’  As the UN Human Rights Committee indicated, the scheme offers no accountability. Survivors of symphysiotomy are being denied both truth and justice.’

‘No terms and conditions are yet available. It is clear however that the scheme is based on two reports, one authored by Professor Oonagh Walsh, the other by former judge Yvonne Murphy. As the UN suggested in Geneva in July, these Government-commissioned reports failed to investigate the latter day practice of symphysiotomy in Ireland. Survivors were excluded from giving formal testimony to the Walsh Report. Hospitals were not even required to produce the date they hold on symphysiotomy.’

‘The authors of these whitewash reports portray symphysiotomy as a practice that was almost always acceptable. Only those symphysiotomies performed after Caesarean section stand condemned. Regulatory capture has ensured the camouflage of the truth: all symphysiotomies were wrong. Regrettably, the State appears committed to continuing to protect the medical profession.’

‘Both the Walsh and Murphy reports significantly minimised the level of damage sustained by the women. The severity and the duration of the injuries inflicted on women are downplayed. The payments now on offer under the scheme are nowhere near the court awards made in these cases.’

‘Irrespective of this so-called redress scheme, High Court cases are proceeding, because survivors want to establish the truth about their operations. Two test cases were before the High Court yesterday for fixing dates. Our advice to any survivor thinking of applying for the scheme is to heed the advice of their legal advisors, apply for €100,000, and keep their legal actions going forward.

‘Regrettably, the Government saw fit to go to the media before speaking to Survivors of Symphysiotomy. All prior information was withheld before today’s announcement.’

‘Survivors of Symphyiotomy remains committed to protecting the women’s best interests. We are doing everything in our power to collectively move things forward and to assist our members in every way possible’, said Marie O’Connor. ‘But the Government appears to have zero interest in adequately compensating members, and still less in establishing the truth about these destructive and involuntary surgeries.’

Marie O’Connor
Chairperson Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS)