There is an urgent need for adequate sex education for young people that is “informed by science, not religion”, the Dáil has heard.
Social Democrats education spokesman Gary Gannon said the issue has "already spanned" three successive education ministers but has not yet been properly addressed.
He was speaking as he introduced his Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill which seeks to “ensure that every single student and school that receives State funding will receive the same fact-based health, relationship and sex education regardless of their school’s ethos”.
The Dublin Central TD said the Bill “balances the right of a school to protect its ethos and the right of a child, more importantly, to receive relationship and sex education that is informed by science, not religion”.
He said some schools have programmes that are “biased and not providing objective information, precisely because of religious teaching that places one form of relationship in a hierarchy over others”.
He said the programme created by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference - Flourish - states that “the church’s teaching on marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted, and that puberty is a gift from God. These are not facts. This is preaching.”
Mr Gannon said “I fully accept that many schools that are under a religious patron teach a fact-based curriculum but it is an injustice to leave this up to chance”.
The party’s Cork South-West TD Holly Cairns said that “Irish universities and colleges have to deal with the impacts” of the lack of education, running consent and information classes “in response to shockingly high rates of sexual assault”.
She said “we need the State to wake up and realise that it is 2021”.
Minister for Education Norma Foley did not oppose the Bill but called for a nine-month delay and said its content should be "informed by the development work that is currently being advanced".
She said it was a crucial issue that needed to be addressed and two development groups have been established, for primary and post-primary schools to oversee the development of an updated curriculum.
She said a new curriculum for the Junior Cert cycle is expected to be in place for September 2023 following consultation next year on a “draft updated specification”.
But Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked “where is the senior cycle? Where is the primary cycle” programme. She said these programmes should be developed contemporaneously and not consecutively.
Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan said that when he was in school he received no relevant sex education whatsoever. When a student in his class asked the teacher about relationships and sex education for same sex couples, “the response received was ‘I will leave that to your imagination’”.
He told the Minister that there was “nothing from the response you’ve given so far that actually gives me confidence that other LGBTQ+ students would not potentially be in a similar situation today”.
Sinn Féin spokesman on mental health Mark Ward said "it's now 2021 but it feels like it's 1921 sometimes and in particular for LGBTQ+ given the lack of inclusion in the current department model".
Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín said however that the Bill “is actually an attack on pluralism. It is an attack on diversity. It’s a one size fits all Bill.”
He said 1950s Ireland was an “extremely uniform place. You either fitted into the uniformity of society or you had to keep your head down. But the Social Democrats Bill is a mirror image of that uniformity.
“The ethos and policies are radically different but the Bill is just as rigid, as uniform and stifling as well.”
Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae said the Bill “represents a slippery slope where boundaries, whether matters such as gender roles and gender identification….. would allow for the opening of a basket of confusion for children to decide how they wish to be identified. And then would open the school system for exploitation of revolutionary education and not in a good way.”