Women’s voices have once again been silenced by the Government’s Payment Scheme. This is a scheme that, contrary to what UN prescribed, offers no right of appeal nor any protection of women’s legal rights. On the contrary, the scheme forces women to indemnify their abusers as the price of restitution, a mere €50,000 in most cases to date. The sole Assessor, a former High Court judge, who has been given unfettered powers, has decided to eschew High Court norms by refusing to consider survivor testimony or to accept the reports of independent medical experts. its scheme is now poised to exclude as many women as possible either from any restitution at all or from anything more than the minimum payment. This, combined with the scheme’s draconian waiver aimed at stripping women of their right to a judicial remedy – a right prescribed by the UN Human Rights Committee and highlighted by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties – has serious human right implications.
The scheme appears to have adopted a highly adversarial attitude towards survivors, based on a view that the State is at risk of false claims. The recently announced threat to impose time limits for the furnishing of hospital records comes, although such records have been systematically withheld from some of our members for a decade or more, is worrying. Specialist reports from non-treating medical practitioners will not be accepted because they are based on women’s own accounts: such testimony has been repeatedly dismissed by the scheme, both orally and in writing, as lacking credibility. So, reports from medical specialists, which would be acceptable to the courts – as would the evidence of plaintiffs – are unlikely to be accepted.
Moreover, applicants without records are required to undergo MRIs for proof of surgery: MRIs of the pelvis have never yielded such proof, so these ‘tests’ will invariably disqualify those obliged to undergo for them. Meanwhile, those with with proof of surgery are set to receive no more than €50,000 in the vast majority of cases. All the indications are that a paper trail (going back over over 60 years in some cases) will be required to establish proof of ‘significant disability’, despite the fact that, in very many cases, such records do not exist. The scheme assumes, wrongly, that women received specialist treatment for complaints such as chronic pain, walking difficulties incontinence or depression; that general practitioners kept records, especially in the 1950s, 60s and 70s; and that such historic records are accessible today.