Groups divided over €34m redress scheme

Leading campaigners reject plan and suggest Government goes ‘back to the drawing board’

Survivors of Symphysiotomy director Marie O’Connor: “The scheme is to be run by unaccountable, faceless bureaucrats, bean-counters whose priority is cost-cutting.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Survivors of Symphysiotomy director Marie O’Connor: “The scheme is to be run by unaccountable, faceless bureaucrats, bean-counters whose priority is cost-cutting.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 01:00

One of the groups representing women who underwent symphysiotomies has rejected the ex-gratia redress scheme announced by the Government last week, while another has written to women urging them to accept the deal.

At weekend meetings in Dublin and Cork, Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS) members rejected the scheme, which provides for payment of up to €150,000 for women who suffered the painful childbirth procedure.

However, the other group representing affected women, Patient Focus, said it had written to 160 women recommending acceptance. It said the Government offer was the best deal possible.

SoS said the Government must “go back to the drawing board” to develop a new scheme, as well as issuing an acknowledgement that the practice of symphysiotomy was wrong and an apology based on this admission.

It is also seeking individualised assessment of women’s cases by an independent board, independent legal advice and a right of appeal of any award to the courts.

Under the scheme proposed by the Government, most women would get no more than €50,000, rather than the six-figure sums it said they would get if awards were commensurate with cases already decided in the courts, it claimed.

‘Cost-cutting’

SoS said 191 women voted to reject the deal at an extraordinary general meeting in a Dublin hotel yesterday, and 80 voted against it at a meeting in Cork on Saturday.

“The scheme is to be run by unaccountable, faceless bureaucrats, bean-counters whose priority is cost-cutting,” SoS director Marie O’Connor said yesterday.

“The State Claims Agency, an arm of government that has an appalling record in treating plaintiffs, is to run the scheme.

“The agency will decide on levels of compensation based on reports by State-appointed doctors.”

The Government’s proposals were drafted following a report from retired Circuit Court judge Yvonne Murphy on the options for compensating women who underwent the procedure.

‘Unfair and unjust’

Ms O’Connor described the plan as a “grace-and-favour scheme that cuts corners on fairness and is based on the myth that these operations were appropriate.

“The terms and conditions buried in the long grass of the Murphy report are unfair, unjust and utterly unacceptable.”

Patient Focus spokeswoman Sheila O’Connor said: “This is a matter for individual women to decide, not one for taking votes. The majority of women will get at least €100,000, there is no risk, everyone will get something, even where there are no medical notes.

“This is the only offer there is and the only one there is likely to be. Anybody looking at this rationally would say yes to it.”

Judge Murphy in her report pointed out that many of the cases were risky and were not pursued by the plaintiffs, according to Ms O’Connor. “They’re very old, there’s been delay, records are lacking and the defendants are mainly dead.”

‘Job well done’

“To get €34 million for a redress scheme of this type, in the current economic climate, is a job well done,” she said.

Symphysiotomy involved cutting a pregnant woman’s pubic bone to widen the birth canal.

It was carried out on about 1,500 women between the 1920s and mid-1980s. About 80 per cent of the operations were performed in private hospitals.

For many women, the procedure left permanent injuries such as incontinence, difficulty walking and chronic pain.

The practice was rarely used in other European countries when it was prevalent in Ireland.

The State Claims Agency estimates the scheme will take about eight working weeks to put in place.