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Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill 2013 Mary Lou McDonald's Dáil speech

17 April, 2013 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD

I would like to commend my colleague Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin for introducing this Private Members Bill, and the Government parties for deciding not to oppose it.

Introduction of this legislation follows on from the work of the All-Party Oireachtas Support Group for Victims of Symphysiotomy which has had cross-party and non-party support and participation. Unanimous party support for the Bill is a good day’s work for politics.

I would like to join my colleagues in urging the Government to make every effort to ensure this legislation passes through the Dáil and Seanad with speed. Survivors do not have time on their side.

It is important to acknowledge the women who experienced this harrowing procedure who are no longer with us. My thoughts are with them all.

There is of course an irony that this legislation provides for a window of opportunity for women - who endured this barbaric procedure when in the care of public hospitals - to seek their justice through the courts.

By setting aside the Statute of Limitations for victims of symphysiotomy for one year the women can now pursue their cases and this is of course to be welcomed. This is a right they have fought long and hard for. It is a right they deserve.

I only wish that the justice they deserve could be delivered without having to engage with another layer of state bureaucracy – the courts. Of course I also wish this horrific act had never been imposed on their vulnerable bodies in the first instance.

As a mother it is truly difficult for me to comprehend how any medical practitioner could damage a woman’s body in such a brutal manner. The birth of a child is such a precious experience - but for that experience to include the physical holding down of a woman, screaming, as her pelvis is severed with a surgical saw is incomprehensible to me. Yet this is exactly what happened. Pelvises were broken, sometimes the women were conscious, sometimes they were not.

This cruel, brutal procedure was imposed on somewhere in the region of 1,500 woman without their consent over the course of a 50 year period. Many were discharged from hospital without even knowing what had actually been done to their bodies. These heroic women have lived with disabilities and illnesses their entire lives directly attributable to this procedure – symphysiotomy.

Last year the Supreme Court upheld a High Court judgment which found in favour of Olivia Kearney, a symphysiotomy survivor. The court described the procedure which was carried out on Olivia, after she gave birth to her only son by caesarean section when she was just 18 years of age, as wrong, even by the standards of the time. Mr Justice John MacMenamin described it as unfathomable by today’s standards and even by those of 1969. Olivia did not even know the procedure had been inflicted on her until thirty three years later. She suffered thirty three years of chronic pain with no answers.

Our fight for gender equality today is informed by injustices such as these of the past. Perpetrated against women because in the eyes of a conservative establishment our purpose was limited to the home and the bearing and rearing of children.

It is incumbent on every member in this house, and indeed the Seanad, to ensure this legislation is enacted as a matter of urgency so that these brave women can receive the justice they’ve fought so hard for.

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