I am pleased to announce that the surgical symphysiotomy payment scheme commenced yesterday, 10 November 2014. The Government has agreed that the scheme will also include payments for the small number of women who have undergone a pubiotomy. The scheme is designed to be simple, straightforward and non-adversarial and aims to minimise the stress for the women concerned. Many of the women are elderly and may not want to experience the delay, publicity and financial risks that sometimes come with a court case. I met all three support groups representing the women last September and their views have helped to shape the scheme.
Ms Justice Maureen Harding Clark, a retired High Court judge, will undertake the role of independent assessor of the scheme. Ms Justice Harding Clark, as a result of her previous work on the Lourdes Hospital redress scheme, brings valuable experience to the role of determining the appropriate level of award for each individual. The scheme is open to women who are still living and who underwent a surgical symphysiotomy or pubiotomy in the State between the years 1940 and 1990. Awards of €50,000, €100,000 and €150,000 will be offered. Women who have had a surgical symphysiotomy may accept an award of €50,000. For women who have had a symphysiotomy and have suffered significant disability, a higher award of €100,000 will be offered. Where a woman has had a symphysiotomy immediately following caesarean section, an award of €100,000 will be offered and where she has suffered significant disability following these procedures, €150,000 will be offered. For a woman who underwent a pubiotomy, an award of €100,000 will be offered and for women who have suffered significant disability following this procedure, €150,000 will be offered. Details of the terms of the scheme and how to access application forms have been widely advertised. Awards will be exempt from tax and legislation is being put in place, as a matter of urgency, to ensure the women will also be exempt from being taken into consideration for means-tested welfare schemes. The judge expects to make payments to some women before Christmas.
It is not a requirement for a woman to retain a solicitor to make an application. However, the scheme makes provision for applicants to have legal and other advice available to them in preparing to submit an application if they wish. Ms Justice Harding Clark has assured me that if women have questions on any aspect of the scheme, her staff will be available to assist in any way possible.