Belfast Telegraph

Judge to lead compensation process

Survivors of a barbaric practice carried out on pregnant women without their consent will know by February what compensation package they will be offered.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly appointed high-profile Judge Yvonne Murphy to help find closure for women who have been affected by symphysiotomy.

However, the Government has rejected calls to revise legislation on the statute of limitations, which puts a time limit on when redress can be sought in the courts.

"The Government is fully aware that this decision represents a material change to its earlier position, but it believes the ability to deliver an outcome that provides the widest possible support to the women is enhanced," the Department of Health said.

"Government is keen to ensure that whatever funds are available are directed towards the women who have suffered - and not towards paying legal costs.

"In this context, Judge Murphy has been asked to engage with insurers with regard to their liabilities in relation to these procedures."

Symphysiotomy was a barbaric practice carried on women during childbirth which involved a surgeon deliberately breaking the woman's pelvis to make delivery easier.

It is believed up to 1,500 women may have endured the procedure between 1944 and the early 1980s. It was gradually replaced by caesarean section but evidence shows the procedure was carried out in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda until 1984.

Victims were given no information prior to or after the surgery, and there was no informed consent.

Women were left with permanent ailments, including incontinence, chronic pain, prolapsed organs and neurological and psychological problems. Some were left permanently disabled.

Judge Murphy will work with representatives of the women, the State Claims Agency and insurance companies in a bid to find a solution in the next eight weeks.

She will also meet liable parties to explore and negotiate what would be a fair contribution towards a fund, which Government would also contribute to.

Dr Reilly, who met women who had undergone the procedure in August, wants an outcome that will recognise the trauma and hurt endured by so many.

"I have listened closely to the testimony provided by the women and I cannot help but be moved by their stories," he said.

"I am determined that their situation will now be addressed having been ignored for so long by previous Governments.

"The appointment of an independent person of Judge Yvonne Murphy's calibre will hopefully bring closure for these women for the years of suffering they have endured."

Judge Murphy was chair of the report on clerical child abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin, which uncovered decades of abuse had been ignored because clerics were effectively granted police immunity.

She has eight weeks report back to the minister, when an independent report on the issue by Professor Oonagh Walsh - commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer - will be published.

Support group, Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS), accused Government trying to blindfold the women by setting up an opaque and closed-ended process designed to lure them away from their legal actions.

Marie O'Connor, chair, said members are dismayed at the Government's failure to engage with their demands.

"Despite our best efforts, we failed to get clarification on any aspect of what is a pre-determined process," said Ms O'Connor.

She claimed Judge Murphy's appointment is a smokescreen to hide the minister's refusal to entertain the group's offer of a negotiated settlement based on members' legal actions.

Survivors have unanimously mandated the SoS national executive to meet the judge on their behalf to see if a settlement based on truth - and on an accepted medical negligence scale - can be progressed.

"If not, our legal actions will continue and we will see test cases in the High Court in 2014," Ms O'Connor added.

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