Leo Varadkar refuses to intervene in symphysiotomy payment scheme

Minister says judge is independent as Sinn Féin claims process is demeaning

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has refused to intervene in the Government scheme for survivors of symphysiotomy following claims that it is adversarial and demeaning.

Mr Varadkar said the assessor in the scheme, former High Court judge Ms Justice Maureen Harding Clark, was appointed to act as an independent adviser. “That is why I will not attempt to go over her head or overrule her,” he said.


The scheme “is the least adversarial system that could be established”, he said. To date, 235 offers had been made and 222 accepted from 577 applicants.

During questions in the Dáil, Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin claimed serious shortcomings in its operation, “including the disbelieving disposition of its principal and the confrontational and interrogational operation of the process”.

A number of survivors of symphysiotomy, a procedure involving cutting the pelvic bone to create more space during childbirth, sat in the public gallery during question time.

Mr Ó Caoláin called for a “more compassionate and humane approach”.

But Mr Varadkar insisted the scheme had brought about an end to years of uncertainty and costs for the women.

He said it was designed to be simple, straightforward and non-adversarial and aimed to minimise stress.

Ms Justice Harding Clark said earlier this week that almost 100 applicants had failed to provide full documentation.

45 applicants warned

She said 45 had been warned that unless they furnished information showing they had the procedure or an explanation for not providing documentation, their applications would be considered ineligible.

Mr Ó Caoláin said the former judge had described women as “making a full recovery over a relatively short period of time and with no continuing ill effects. Neither of these claims stands up to Irish or international scrutiny.”

The Minister pointed out that the scheme was voluntary and participants could withdraw at any time.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times