Symphysiotomy group urges Government to support redress Bill

Legislation would lift statute bar for women who underwent procedure in 60s,70s, 80s

Survivors of Symphysiotomy chairwoman Marie O’Connor said the procedure has caused survivors permanent health problems. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/IRISH TIMES

Survivors of Symphysiotomy chairwoman Marie O’Connor said the procedure has caused survivors permanent health problems. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/IRISH TIMES

Tue, Apr 9, 2013, 15:09

A campaign group has called on the Government to support an Oireachtas Private Member’s Bill allowing survivors of a controversial childbirth procedure to seek redress.

The Bill, published yesterday, would set aside the statute of limitations which currently bars women who underwent symphysiotomies mostly during the 1960s, 70s and 80s from seeking redress.

The procedure involved sawing a pregnant or labouring woman’s pubic bone in half to open the birth canal but left the majority of the women permanently injured, with ongoing back pain, incontinence and difficulties walking.

Colm MacGeehin, legal assessor to the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group, said the statute bar imposes a two year time limit in which someone can take action and that the State Claims Agency would contest such a technicality in a case.

“This Bill would clear the way on all these issues”, he told reporters at a press conference this morning, adding that there was “no way you could credit these operations as necessary, credible or justifiable”.

Of the approximately 1,500 women who underwent the “deeply mutilating” procedure, less than 200 survivors remain. The group’s chairwoman, Marie O’Connor, said many of them “have had to live all their lives with an unstable pelvis”.

Rita McCann, who had the operation more than 50 years ago, described it as “brutality… from beginning to end” and said it caused her permanent damage. “If the lynchpin of your body is broken everything else falls apart,” she said.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who will move the bill on behalf of the 34-member Symphysiotomy All Party Oireachtas Support Group, said the legislation mirrors the wording of a similar bill, put forward in 2000, which enabled survivors of sexual abuse to seek compensation.

He said he was “hopeful that the legislation would be embraced by Government” but added that the group would continue to lobby prior to the Bill’s introduction next Tuesday.

Mr Ó Caoláin said he hoped “that whips would not be applied and that members across the board would be able to record their support for [the Bill’s] passage given the fact that this is probably… the last act that we as legislators can do to really answer the call for justice by the survivors of symphysiotomy”.