Fitzgerald personally against lowering age of consent
Minister for Children minister says there may be legal reasons for doing so
Frances Fitzgerald: “I am very struck by what the Crisis Pregnancy Agency said.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has said she personally feels the age of consent shouldn’t be lowered from 17 to 16, but said there may be legal reasons for doing so.
However, Ms Fitzgerald said the debate on the age of consent will be based more on culture and values.
“I think it might be more a values, cultural kind of issue and my personal view when it comes down to that element of it is 17,” said the Dublin Mid West TD. “That’s my inclination.”
The Cabinet this week discussed lowering the age of consent, but didn’t take a decision on it. The issue will be referred to the Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary parties before the Government chooses what approach to take by the end of January.
Fine Gael and Taoiseach Enda Kenny previously opposed changing the age, while Labour is understood to be largely in favour of reducing it to 16, as is Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.
However, Ms Fitzgerald said it is a subject which will not fall on party political lines.
Some advocacy groups this week said they were also opposed and the Rape Crisis Centre said it was “dismayed” the Cabinet was discussing the matter.
Ms Fitzgerald said she was “struck” by their comments.
“I am very struck by what the Crisis Pregnancy Agency has said, by what the Rape Crisis Centre has said. I am struck by the fact that 75 per cent of 15- to 17-year-olds are not having sex at that age, and 25 per cent are.
“I don’t think it’s a divisive, Labour Party or Fine Gael issue. People have very different views. A lot of people have their own gut feeling on it and they kind of think one age or other.
“You don’t want to criminalise young children who are having sex. But I think it is something that we really have to think carefully about. I welcome that it is to go back to parliamentary parties.”
Despite stressing her personal opinion is to keep the age at 17, Ms Fitzgerald said there may be reasons for adjusting it.
“You can vote at 18, you can’t run for election until 21. We have lots of different ages so I don’t think there is anything written in stone about this.
“I don’t think it is absolutely clear. My own personal view would be 17 but there may be legal reasons to get a sort of unified age which from a criminal justice point of view might make sense.
“Having said that I don’t think the young kids involved would be thinking what the law says. It wouldn’t be at the front of their minds.
“You have to ask questions, and these are the questions I’d be asking. What’s the role of law? Is that giving a kind of a carte blanche? Is it saying this is something as a society we think is right?
“Or is it being realistic as saying, ‘actually we allow medical consent at 16’? “I think it is an open question. I have always said 17. I wouldn’t want that put out there at the moment that I’m absolutely committed to 17. That was my view all along, it’s my own personal view, seeing the data I have.”