Of course, the reality is that our teenagers have sex. However, that it is a fact does not make it right or inevitable, which is the message I want to send to the people. Legalising sex for that age group is wrong. Moreover, it is out of touch with the values and aspirations of the vast majority of parents, who want to live up to their responsibilities to their children and to nurture, value, mind and protect them while they remain children.
In matters of the age of consent, we must remember that the law is not just a decider of guilt or innocence. It is a code for living that defines what we deem as acceptable in the standards and aspirations of our society. As a father, I speak for hundreds of thousands of parents who want to set higher goals for their children. They refuse to accept early teenage sex as inevitable, acceptable or, in some ways, prescribed. In a mediatised world where promiscuity is increasingly promoted and sometimes celebrated, the vast majority of parents want to do what they can to bring their children up and give them the sanctuary of boundaries and the safety net of appropriate controls. The State should do likewise.
Section 5 of the Bill is a concern, as it exempts all females from prosecution. The section is problematic. Last Tuesday, the Taoiseach told the House that we must try to deal with two main issues, namely:
to ensure the laws are not discriminatory on grounds of gender — the 1930s Act was about boys — and to ensure that they provide the defences required by the Supreme Court decision if they are to sustain their constitutional validity. These are the two crucial issues with which we must deal in a way that satisfies the judgment.
The Bill patently fails the Taoiseach's first test, as section 5 is obviously discriminatory. It may be unconstitutional and throws up serious anomalies. It was drafted on the back of a box of Panadol in the Fianna Fáil Cabinet room. Let us be absolutely clear, this is a Fianna Fáil Bill. I said here on Wednesday that when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform wanted the ultimate, expert legal opinion, he simply looked in the mirror, but I was wrong. Obviously, when he wants that opinion now, he simply looks to a Fianna Fáil committee. He has become a new type of PD, the prostrate democrat, who lets himself be walked all over by his political lessers to stay in office.
The last two weeks have exposed the shallowness at the core of the Minister's politics. Get the retaliation in first, respond off the cuff, trash anyone who disagrees and sneer at anyone who challenges such a political and legal colossus. We are all but knee high to the great man himself. I remind the Minister of the words of a real leader, Ghandi, who said, "It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom; it is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err."
In the past few days, people have been looking to the Government to protect their children. In recent years, however, they have been looking for something just as important, and every bit as absent — leadership, leadership that acts from courage and conscience, leadership that makes the tough, often unpopular decisions, leadership that is most notable by its absence in this Government.
The Taoiseach says there is no "reaction" in this case. I want the country to be under no illusions. It is not conscience and duty that bring the Government to its senses and to this House today, what brings it here today is public fury. In its own blind panic, it has been found out yet again, only this time the stakes are immeasurably higher. This time the guilty walk free, and hope and innocence are crushed in their wake.
As a legislator, but more importantly as a father, my heart goes out to the children who have been betrayed by the depraved adults in these cases. My heart goes out too to the parents and the families who are trying to put their broken children, their shattered lives, back together again. Betrayed once by adults, they have been betrayed all over again by this State. They have seen plenty of law but no actual justice.
This is, perhaps, the most dangerous time we will witness in this House. I have never seen such a gap between a Government on one side and the people on the other. Perhaps if any good has come out of this, it has given people a sense that in the end, they are the ones who are in power. A year from now they will decide how they want to be governed.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said in the newspapers and here again today: "When the dust settles and the frenzy stops, I will be seen to have acted with competence, honesty and courage." He did not have his script for delivery this morning — that is competence — and I could go into what he has done in the past couple of years. He makes his defence that he did not know and could not be ready and that when this came to a constitutional test, the carriage was between the Attorney General's office and the DPP's office. There could only have been one of two results, either it would be deemed constitutional or not. The Minister should have been ready for the possibility that the Supreme Court would deem that section to be unconstitutional.
The Taoiseach this morning said the Attorney General should have known. Perhaps he has taken out his crossbow because if the Attorney General should have known, so should the Minister. In terms of competence, honesty and courage, the Minister fails on all three counts.