Human rights and symphisiotomy

Sir, – As human rights lawyers we note with great concern the proposal that records of applicants to the symphysiotomy payment scheme would be shredded after March 20th.

This would reinforce the harm done to women by the physical and symbolic destruction of official medical records attesting to the abuse and harm they experienced.

Furthermore it would lead to the destruction of vital records and evidence that might be of assistance in future legal, historiographical and political processes of recording the symphysiotomy in Ireland and ensuring accountability for these instances of inhumane and harmful treatment.

The UN Human Rights Committee has called for a “prompt, independent and thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy” leading to prosecutions where appropriate.


It is likely that Ireland is under a positive obligation to hold such an inquiry under the European Convention on Human Rights.

That these records would be returned to the applicants to the scheme is, thus, of paramount importance.

We note that applicants to this scheme were obliged to provide “relevant supporting records”. They were not informed that these records would be destroyed, that they should send or retain certified copies, or that by applying to the scheme through submission of these records they were at risk of losing this documentary evidence of their medical mistreatment.

The limitations of data storage at hospitals are such that such records, if destroyed, might not be capable of retrieval elsewhere, and in some cases processes for accessing records can be so difficult to navigate as to be almost inaccessible.

Thus, we call on Ms Justice Harding Clark to reconsider this, and to ensure that all records are returned to the applicants to the scheme, by registered post, at the earliest possible date. Under no circumstances should they be destroyed.

We also endorse the call from Marie O’Connor of Survivors of Symphysiotomy that applicants to the scheme be asked for their consent to these records being archived.

– Yours, etc,


University of Birmingham

Dr Liz Campbell, University of Edinburgh

Dr Susan Leahy, University of Limerick

Prof. Shane Kilcommins, University of Limerick

Dr Liam Thornton, University College Dublin

Dr Shane Darcy, Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway

Dr Mark Coen, University College Dublin

Prof. Aoife Nolan, University of Nottingham

Dr Brenda Daly, Dublin City University

Dr Aoife O’Donoghue, Durham University

Mairead Enright, University of Kent

Dr Illan Rua Wall, University of Warwick

Dr Catherine O’Sullivan, University College Cork

Dr Eimear Spain, University of Limerick

Dr Tanya ni Mhuirthile, Dublin City University

Prof. Siobhan Mullally, University College Cork

Emma Slattery BL, Barrister at Law

Dr Roderic O’Gorman, Dublin City University

Dr James Gallen, Dublin City University

Dr Alan DP Brady, Trinity College Dublin, Barrister at Law

Dr Aoife Duffy, Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway

Maeve O’Rourke, Barrister, 33 Bedford Row, London