Call for lifting of statute on operations


IF GOVERNMENT does not lift the statute of limitations for symphysiotomy victims there is a danger all cases may be dismissed, an Oireachtas committee was told yesterday.

The Survivors of Symphysiotomy group addressed the Joint Committee on Justice yesterday seeking support for a one-year lifting of the statute, so victims of the controversial childbirth procedure could begin their cases.

The urgency for bringing in the legal change was emphasised by group chair Marie O’Connor.

If the statute was not amended, many women now in their 70s and 80s may “go to their graves” without justice, she said. If defendants succeeded in arguing that hearing the cases was unfair because too much time had passed then “all survivors’ cases” would be dismissed, she said.

The lifting of the statute would “not open the floodgates”, as some 200 women survive, she said. Some 1,300 women who underwent the operation between the mid-1940s and mid-1980s are now deceased.

The operations were “covert” and it was 30 to 50 years before many women learned their pelvises had been broken in childbirth, she said. In many cases the date of knowledge, by which eligibility to take a case is measured, presented difficulties, she said.

Almost all operations were “grossly negligent” and carried out in preference to safer Caesarian sections, she said. The surgery was a “form of institutional abuse”, she added.

There were “close parallels” between the survivors of symphysiotomy and victims of residential abuse for whom the statute of limitations was lifted in 2000, Ms O’Connor said. The women had mainly been in hospitals overseen by the State, their innocence was betrayed by doctors when they were vulnerable and the operations were involuntary, she said.

Psychological damage was a ground for lifting the statute for survivors of sexual abuse and was a reason for delay in taking the symphysiotomy cases also, she said. There was support among Government Ministers for the initiative, she added.

Separately, in a statement, the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group described the Walsh report as “an elaborate apologia for an abomination” and criticised the early leaking of it to the media.

The report will be published officially today.