Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


10:32 am

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)

I thank Deputy Gannon for bringing forward the Bill. It is quite shocking that it needs to be brought forward at this stage in the history of this country. We are approaching the end of 2021 and I find it very difficult to understand the lack of urgency in the comments of the Minister on this issue. There is a requirement for this to be dealt with quickly so that no more school students are left in situations where they are not getting access to proper standardised and fact-based relationships and sexuality education. That should be happening urgently now.

The Bill is about the needs of all school students, but I wish to specifically address some of the issues affecting LGBTQ+ students in particular. When I was in school, I received no relevant sex education whatsoever. When a student in my class asked the teacher going through sex education about relationships and sexual education for same-sex couples, the teacher responded that they would leave that to the imaginations of the students. That is the full extent of the relevant sexual education I received when I was in school. There is nothing in the response the Minister has given so far today that gives me confidence that other LGBTQ+ students in school are not potentially in a similar situation today.

We know there is a significant variance in how schools deal with sex education and LGBTQ+ issues. Some schools are very good at it and some teachers put a significant amount of effort into it. There are excellent resources available from BeLonG To. However, there are schools that pass over it altogether. We know from what the Minister has said that the elements of the programme cannot be omitted, but we do not know what approach is taken in terms of dealing with the elements of the programme. The lack of a standardised approach is a massive weakness in this regard.

Thankfully, the country has moved on significantly since I was in school. The people spoke on the issue of LGBTQ+ equality in the marriage equality referendum in 2015, but the decision of a strong majority of the people on that day for an inclusive Ireland and for people to be treated equally has not filtered through fully into relationships and sexuality education in schools.

The nine-month delay the Minister is now talking about, which comes after years of delay on this issue, means that another cohort of students will go through the school system with some of them not receiving the support, information and fact-based curriculum they need on this issue. It is completely unacceptable and shocking that, only a few months ago, materials containing homophobic statements for use in the classroom were removed from a website funded by the Department of Education.

How they could have been on a Government-funded website for use in classrooms this year - I will not repeat the homophobic statements in this Chamber because I find some of them utterly shocking and despicable - must be explained. Part of the reason is the lack of a standardised approach, which we are seeking to address through this Bill. Let us be clear about this. We know that if this Bill goes to Committee Stage, it will take time. Getting time in the committee will be a challenge, and it will take time to progress it through the committee. There will be ample opportunity for engagement and consultation in the committee, so moving it to the committee will not mean that this will be resolved quickly. Looking for a nine-month delay before we can even start to seek time in the committee for this means that the Bill will potentially be delayed for years.

I want the Government to look the school students of this country in the eye and explain to them why it thinks this should be delayed for years and why it will not be acted on now and urgently. It should do that today, rather than use these delaying tactics. If we all say we agree with fact-based education on sex and relationships, why not move on it now by having a standardised curriculum? I appeal to the Minister to withdraw the amendment and let us get on with this.


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