Friday 9 December 2016

Government is only causing more hurt and anger among women with efforts to silence those who suffered brutal birthing procedure

James Gallen

Published 26/11/2016 | 02:30

Former Minister for Health James Reilly Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
Former Minister for Health James Reilly Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

This week's controversy regarding symphysiotomy illustrates the ongoing trend of the Government minimising the extent to which historical abuse is framed as a question of legal rights and responsibilities, but is instead an exceptional crisis or moral panic.

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Symphysiotomy is a surgical procedure designed to enlarge a woman's pelvis during childbirth by partially cutting the fibres which join the pubic bones at the front of the pelvis. It is estimated 1,500 women were subjected to this between 1944 and 1984. In November 2013, then Minister for Health James Reilly appointed Judge Yvonne Murphy to review all relevant literature on symphysiotomy, assess the priorities of survivors, and assess whether an ex gratia scheme would be cheaper for the State than allowing litigation to proceed. Judge Murphy's report noted that the preference of victim-survivors was for a public apology and an individualised payment of €250,000 to €450,000. Her report framed an ex gratia scheme as removing the burden of litigation and argued that such an approach would justify awarding a lesser sum. Judge Murphy calculated that redress through the courts would cost €95m, whereas redress through an ex gratia scheme would cost €34m. The report recommended a reduced payment from €50,000 to €150,000 and declined to recommend an apology from Government.

In November 2014, the 'Surgical Symphysiotomy Ex Gratia Payment Scheme' was published, adopting Judge Murphy's recommendations.

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