Irish Council for Civil Liberties Press Release – for immediate release
Tuesday 9 December 2014
Proposals by Health Minister Leo Varadkar TD that require symphysiotomy survivors to waive their human rights have been strongly criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).
Speaking ahead of a joint press conference with Amnesty International Ireland and the leading survivor representative organisation, Survivors of Symphysiotomy today (9 December 2014), the Council has voiced its deep reservations about Varadkar’s scheme, which closed to applicants last Friday (5 December 2014).
Leo Varadkar’s symphysiotomy payments scheme includes a “deed of waiver and indemnity” that will require survivors accepting payments not only to irrevocably waive all their rights and entitlements, but also to “indemnify and hold harmless” the people responsible for the suffering imposed upon them. The waiver explicitly includes “all doctors, consultants, obstetricians, surgeons, medical staff, midwives, nursing staff, administrative staff” as well as the “Medical Missionaries of Mary and/or any Religious Order involved in the running of any hospital”.
ICCL Director Mr Mark Kelly said:
“Leo Varadkar is proposing that women who have spent their entire adult lives in pain should be required to waive their rights forever in exchange for a once-off payment from the State. Worse than that, the Varadkar waiver requires women accepting payments to facilitate the impunity of those who could be held responsible for their injuries, expressly including doctors, consultants, obstetricians and the Medical Missionaries of Mary which ran a hospital (Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda) where much of this surgical abuse was perpetrated.”
“This runs directly counter to this summer’s recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee that the State should initiate a prompt and independent inquiry, identify, prosecute and punish the perpetrators and facilitate access to judicial remedies. For the Minister to flout the UN’s recommendations and women’s rights in this way is simply unconscionable”, Mr Kelly added.
The comments further echo the significant level of frustration apparent from the Chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Committee Sir Nigel Rodley, during his recent visit to Ireland, on the treatment of vulnerable survivors of these procedures. Speaking last week (Monday 1 December 2014) to Newstalk FM’s Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Shona Murray, Sir Nigel said:
“I simply don’t understand how the state can look the other way at what seems to have been systematic assault on people who weren’t in a position to resist or even give consent in many cases. We called for prosecutions explicitly and I would hope, I have to hope, that the recommendation won’t be ignored.”
The ICCL is calling for the ex gratia payments scheme to be set aside and replaced with measures consistent with the UN Human Rights Committee’s recommendations. Should the current payments scheme remain in place, it is imperative that the Varadkar waiver be amended to ensure that it does not preclude women who accept payments from pursuing those directly responsible for their injuries, the Council says.
Irish Council for Civil Liberties
Tel. + 353 1 799 4503 Mob: +353 87 9981574
Note to editor:
• Symphysiotomy is a cruel and dangerous childbirth operation that unhinges the pelvis, severing the symphysis joint or sundering the pubic bones. Ireland was the only developed country in the world to practice these childbirth procedures in the mid to late 20th century.
• The current version of the Symphysiotomy redress scheme can be found on the at this link:http://www.payment-scheme.gov.ie/Symphyisotomy/Symphyisotomy.nsf/page/Terms%20of%20the%20Scheme%20and%20Application%20Forms-en
• The waiver of rights is set out in Schedule 1 to the scheme (at pages 38-39) and is available directly at this link:http://www.payment-scheme.gov.ie/Symphyisotomy/Symphyisotomy.nsf/0/A8B200BE1D7D9A6880257D89003DDABA/$file/Terms%20of%20The%20Surgical%20Symphysiotomy%20Payment%20Scheme%20-%2010%20Nov%202014.pdf
Under the terms of this waiver, the list entities / bodies / individuals who will enjoy impunity in relation to women who accept payments includes:
The Attorney General;
The Minister for Health;
The Minister of any Government Department in the State; Any other organ of the State; The State Claims Agency; The Health Service Executive; All former Health Boards in the State; All local authorities in the State; All hospitals, nursing homes, former hospitals or former nursing homes in the State whether public, private or otherwise and/or their insurers; All doctors, consultants, obstetricians, surgeons, medical staff, midwives, nursing staff, administrative staff, Boards of Management, associated with all hospitals or nursing homes, former hospitals or former nursing homes in the State whether public, private or otherwise and/or their insurers; The Medical Defence Union and all or any of its members or former members; The Medical Protection Society and all or any of its members or former members; The Medical Missionaries of Mary and/or any Religious Order involved in the running of any hospital and/or their insurers.
• The UN Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations on Ireland were published on 24 July 2014 in Geneva. They are available at the UN’s website athttp://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2fC%2fIRL%2fCO%2f4&Lang=en
• The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, in partnership with colleagues, submitted a detailed ‘Shadow Report’ of human rights issues in Ireland to the Committee in advance of the July hearings. Copies of this report can be downloaded here.