Friday, 30 April 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I support the Order of Business as outlined. A week is a long time in politics and since the House last met, Arlene Foster has signalled that she will be standing down as First Minister and as leader of the DUP. I pay tribute to Arlene Foster. Politics is a difficult game for all of us and nowhere is it more difficult than in Northern Ireland. I wish her well and acknowledge her work on behalf of the unionist community and of all of those she has represented during the past five years as leader of her party.
I want to raise with the Leader an issue in respect of the announcement during the week by the Catholic bishops regarding their relationships and sexuality education, RSE, programme, Flourish, for schools. We all want our children to flourish. I am talking about children of all religions and families. We want to ensure that all children are respected and nourished, whether they come from single-parent homes, care homes, traditional homes or if they are children of same-sex couples. That is of very great importance. I acknowledge my Catholic upbringing in a Catholic school. Those times were very different and those within the LGBTQI+ community were stigmatised, shunned and ashamed. I often think about what they had to go through. Thankfully, we live in a different country now.
In 2015, we had an equality referendum in which we, as a country, acknowledged that love is love and respect is respect. That is of very great importance. While schools can have their ethos, and families have their own particular ethos, it is very important that RSE is taught on a health-based premise within all of our schools. I call for a debate on the introduction of an updated RSE programme based upon respect for all.I also want to raise an article by Carl O'Brien inThe Irish Timesthis morning, in which he brings our attention to the fact that 4,500 children have not returned to school following closures during the pandemic. For more than half of them, this is because of health issues but that is not the case for the others. They will be our forgotten children. I have a major concern, which I have no doubt is shared by many in the Chamber, that these children will be absolutely left behind. We need to put together an urgent task force to ensure this does not happen. Children leaving school without literacy and numeracy can lead to a life of deprivation and sometimes criminality. This is an urgent situation for all of us.