IHREC calls on Government to reconsider ex-gratia Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme - IHREC - Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

IHREC calls on Government to reconsider ex-gratia Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission today wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald T.D. expressing concern at the recent Government announcement of the Surgical Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme.

Addressing the Commission’s concerns, Chief Commissioner Emily Logan said: “The Commission wrote in detail to the Government on 1 October last recommending that the Government take steps to address the human rights of the survivors of symphysiotomy procedures. Those steps were directed at meeting the State’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In announcing a limited ex gratia payment scheme, the Government is limiting survivors’ access to an effective remedy for the damage sustained, which would be otherwise available under a scheme established on a statutory footing. The time limit imposed where applications must be made before 5 December 2014 (or 14 January 2015 in exceptional circumstances) makes it extremely difficult for the women involved to seek independent advice in making their decision. In addition, the waiver of legal rights under the scheme are also of concern.”

As well as calling for a reconsideration of the current payment scheme announced, Ms Logan also called on the Government to address the other two key concerns identified by the UN Human Rights Committee, namely the need for a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy and the need for a process whereby perpetrators (including medical personnel) can be prosecuted and punished where violations of human rights occurred.

ENDS/

For further information please contact:

Fidelma Joyce, IHREC, Tel: 01 8589601, Mob: 087 783 4939,  Follow us @_ihrec, www.ihrec.ie

Notes to Editor

In June 2014, the IHREC (designate) submitted its report to the UN Human Rights Committee, the supervisory treaty mechanism under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ahead of Ireland’s Examination of its Fourth Periodic Report by the Committee over two days in July.

During the hearing, the Irish Delegation, headed by Minister Fitzgerald faced a number of questions from the Committee on its handling of historic symphysiotomy procedure cases. After hearing the State’s response to the questions put, the Committee issued its Concluding Observations which now form part of the State’s human rights obligations.

The Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observation No. 11 to the State (2014) stated:

Symphysiotomy

The Committee expresses concern that symphysiotomy, childbirth operations which sever one of the main pelvic joints and unhinges the pelvis, was introduced into clinical practice and performed on approximately 1,500 girls and women in public and private hospitals between 1944 and 1987 without their free and informed consent. While noting the publication of a report by Professor Walsh in 2012, the review of the findings of the report by Judge Murphy and the planned establishment of the an ex-gratia scheme for the survivors of symphysiotomy, the Committee expresses concern at the State party’s failure to: (i) initiate a prompt, and comprehensive independent investigation into the practice of symphysiotomy; (ii) identify, prosecute and punish, where still possible, the perpetrators for performing symphysiotomy without patient consent; and (iii) provide effective remedies to survivors of symphysiotomy for the damage sustained as a result of these operations (arts. 2 and 7). 

The State party should 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. It 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. (emphasis retained.)

On 1 October, the IHREC (designate) made recommendations to the Government identifying three key components of the Human Rights Committee Concluding Observation 11, namely:

  1. The need for a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy.
  2. The need for a process whereby perpetrators (including medical personnel) can be prosecuted and punished.
  3. The need for an effective remedy to the survivors of symphysiotomy for the damage sustained, including fair and adequate compensation and rehabilitation, on an individualized basis. It 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.

On 1 November 2014, the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and Equality Authority merged to form the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014.

On 6 November 2014, the Department of Health announced its ex gratia scheme which addresses only the third of the obligations on the State, namely the need for an effective remedy to the survivors of symphysiotomy for the damage sustained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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