On July 17th I spoke in the Dáil during Statements on the Commission of Investigation into Ireland’s Mother & Baby Homes. During my speech, I questioned the government’s decision to appoint Judge Yvonne Murphy to chair the Commission of Investigation, given that she was responsible for drafting the symphysiotomy redress proposals which have been entirely rejected by survivors. I quoted Marie O’Connor, chairperson of Survivors of Symphysiotomy, who told the UN Human Rights Committee, “The scheme is based on the official lie that these operations were medically acceptable. It forces women to waive their legal and constitutional rights before they know the outcome of this State's process. There is to be no independent board, women will have no right to independent doctors, nor will their lawyers have a right of audience”.
After I spoke, Minister for Children James Reilly told the Dáil, “I wish to correct a remark which Deputy Wallace put on the record erroneously. With regard to symphysiotomy it is not true that women would not know the award they would receive before waiving their rights to go to court. They would have the information and make a decision based on it, which is only right and proper.”
However, the Minister’s comments were incorrect. Referring to the women affected, page 53 of the Murphy Report (which has been adopted by government) states, “Claimants would have to discontinue their legal proceedings and acknowledge that participation is in full and final settlement of claims they may have against any party arising out of their symphysiotomy procedure including the State”. This goes even further than the Magdalene redress scheme, drawn up by Judge John Quirke, as it proposes that claimants also be barred from suing private sector entities, such as hospitals and nursing homes.
Questions were also raised about the Murphy redress scheme by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, during the Oral Hearings on Ireland’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on July 14th & 15th. Committee member Professor Yuval Shany queried whether the scheme is compatible with the ICCPR given the requirement that claimants waive their right of access to the courts as a condition of participation in the scheme – he was also critical of the fact that there is no right to appeal decisions taken under the scheme and claims will not be individually assessed.
In their Concluding Observations on Ireland, published last week, the Committee recommended that Ireland, “initiate a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy, prosecute and punish the perpetrators, including medical personnel, and provide an effective remedy to the survivors of symphysiotomy for the damage sustained, including fair and adequate compensation and rehabilitation, on an individualized basis. [Ireland] should facilitate access to judicial remedies by victims opting for the ex-gratia scheme, including allowing a challenge to the sums offered to them under the scheme.”
I fully support the UN recommendations – they are a clear vindication for Survivors of Symphysiotomy who have fought a long and hard battle for truth and justice.