Máiréad Enright is a lecturer at Kent Law School and is completing a PhD at University College Cork which examines the legal treatment of questions in Muslim divorce practice in the UK and the United States from the perspective of a multiculturalist feminism.
Power is cautious. It covers itself. It bases itself in another’s pain and prevents all recognition that there is “another” by lopped circles that ensure its own solipsism.’ – Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain
Ireland was examined by the UN Human Rights Committee under the ICCPR last week. The state’s response to the Committee’s follow up questions has been published online. These written answers supplement the oral presentations made by the Minister for Justice and civil servants at the hearings in Geneva. This document is useful as a time capsule of the government’s position on redress for institutional abuse of women and children, because it contains several pages of defence of the official position on reparations for survivors of symphysiotomy. Symphysiotomy is a childbirth operation, which involves breaking a woman’s pelvis, usually before or during labour. It was revived in Ireland in the 1940s by a small group of conservative Catholic doctors, working in state-run or state-supervised hospitals, as an alternative to Caesarean section and was performed in hospitals all over Ireland into the 1980s. (If you need a reminder of the violence and abuse which characterised its practice in Ireland, see here.) On July 1, the Government published Judge Yvonne Murphy’s Independent Review of Issues Relating to Symphysiotomy (the Murphy Report) which outlines a possible redress scheme for survivors. The scheme draws on Professor Oonagh Walsh’s final Report on Symphysiotomy in Ireland 1944 -1984 (the Walsh Report) published on the same date. It is important to stress that the fine print of the symphysiotomy redress scheme has not yet been made public. The State’s written response to the Committee, unfortunately, has introduced yet more ambiguity into an already murky public discussion. Hundreds of women who are members of Survivors of Symphysiotomy, disappointed by the government’s approach to redress, have begun High Court litigation against the hospitals which performed their symphysiotomies, and against the State (invoking the law of negligence and the principles established in O’Keeffe v. Ireland at the ECHR).