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Dáil speech by Jan O'Sullivan on the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018

18 April 2018

Speech by Jan O'Sullivan TD
Spokesperson on Housing & Local Government, Enterprise & Innovation

Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018

Dáil Éireann, April 18th 2018

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The objectives of this Bill are broadly in line with the recommendation on Sex Education of the Oireachtas Committee on the 8th amendment, on which I was the Labour Party representative, and we support it as we have supported the recommendations of that Committee in full.

The Committee recommendation was for a thorough review of sexual health and education (including the areas of consent and contraception) in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved with young people; that sufficient time must be provided in the curriculum and that it should be taught by suitably qualified personnel.

It also specifically recommended that “the information should be provided in an impartial and factual manner that is independent of school ethos.”

It is essential that the facts are provided to young people objectively and not through the prism of a particular ethos.

I urge the Government to fully implement this and the other ancillary recommendations of the Committee.

It was particularly concerning from the evidence given to the Committee by the Department of Education and Skills that schools sometimes bring in outside agencies to deliver the SPHE and RSE curriculum and they may have a particular ethos, a lack of objectivity and no training in teaching. They also said in their presentation; 'we know that there are issues relating to the competence and confidence of teachers regarding the delivery of RSE'.

The result is patchy at best. Some schools do a great job and there are really committed teachers who engage with young people and equip them well to deal with personal and sexual relationships and the challenges they bring.  Other young people paint a very different picture in which they are either preached at or faced with a teacher who is uncomfortable with the subject and gives minimal information.

This is so important in terms of the complex world that young people must now negotiate that it has to be delivered by motivated trained teachers.

In its recommendation, the Committee noted a 'clear link between effective sex education and lower levels of crisis pregnancies'. It is absolutely vital that our young people are properly equipped with age-appropriate, modern information and facts, particularly at second level, on issues like contraception and consent, to help inform the decisions they go on to make as young adults.

It is also worth noting that the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills, of which I am a member, is carrying out a review of sexual health and relationship education and has put out a call for submissions.  We will be drafting a report with recommendations on actions to be taken.

This Bill, and indeed the recommendations of the Committee on the 8th Amendment, refer to necessity for Sex Education to be “age appropriate”.  We all understand the importance of this.  Yet, there are posters all over Ireland at the moment with graphic images that are causing young children to ask questions on issues that, in my view, and in the view of many parents, make it extremely difficult to avoid conversations that are not age-appropriate.

Parents should not have this forced upon them or on their children.  I hope those who are responsible for these posters will recognise that images intended to persuade adults to a particular view, are also visible to children. 

It is deeply disturbing that, while we debate how a curriculum should be developed, in an age appropriate way, to equip children to deal with the complexities of sexuality and relationships, our streets are littered with images that are the very opposite in their effect.