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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Apr 2018

Vol. 967 No. 5

Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share time with Deputy Bríd Smith at ten minutes apiece.

When we announced that we were introducing this Bill, we were inundated with school students contacting us about the backward nature of the education they had received. I will cite a few examples to give a picture of how large a problem it is this country is facing. Sarah, a student from Dublin, stated:

We were basically told we should wait until marriage to have sex. To emphasise this point, the teacher took a piece of sellotape, stuck it to her hand, ripped it off and showed us the bits of dirt now stuck to it.

She likened this piece of tape to each girl, and her sticking the tape down to her skin as each boy the girl kissed. She kept repeating this action, basically showing us that kissing many boys made you very dirty.

When the tape lost its stickiness, she proudly used this as an example of how we became emotionally unable to "stick" to one person if we keep "kissing all these different boys".

Niamh stated: "I vividly remember the teacher referring to contraception as "the C-word". She didn't like saying it in the classroom as it was against the ethos of the school." Eoin in Cork explained that a teacher briefly listed forms of contraception and noted that these did not always work. She told him and his classmates that they should abstain until they were willing to take on the responsibility of parenthood. No mention was made of homosexuality. I could go on and fill a 20-minute slot with the responses that we received. They are not isolated examples, as demonstrated by recently published research by NUI Galway on smart consent. While it made a number of findings, the headline figure was that 76% of students believed their school sex education left out a great deal of important information.

The truth is that sex education in Ireland is in the dark ages. We are behind the sex education introduced in Sweden in 1942. In 2018, we have sex education where LGBTQ+ people are often not mentioned, contraception is barely referenced, the notion of a need for positive, enthusiastic consent does not feature at all, and there is a contrast between what is taught to boys and what is taught to girls. The sexist so-called gatekeeper model is taught, with girls warned about sexual activity and boys taught nothing about consent.

The reason for this is contained in the importance given to the notion of religious ethos, which informs much of the relationship and sexuality education, RSE, given in our schools. When one reads the Irish Catholic Bishop's Conference document, Guidelines on Relationships and Sexuality Education, one sees why our education is so inadequate. It reads:

Any attempt to communicate "the facts of life" as mere facts without reference to the religious and moral dimensions of human sexuality and without reference to the pupil's need to grow in maturity would be a distortion. Scientific facts are not the whole truth about human sexuality and reproduction. To allow children to become aware of the mere facts without being helped to see them in their rich human meaning would be to deprive them of the truth.

According to the Irish Episcopal Conference's document, entitled Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland, a "Christian practises the virtue of chastity by cultivating decency and modesty in behaviour, dress and speech" and sexual intercourse "is an act of love within marriage".

Unfortunately, most school students receive RSE that is grossly distorted by the religious ethos of their schools. In many cases, it is provided by outside religious agencies. It is a model that is desperately failing young people and wider society. A transformation is needed.

Another NUI Galway report on sexual health and attitudes in 2017 showed that 45% of females and 41% of males reported their first sexual intercourse as having occurred at 17 years of age or earlier. It demonstrated the horrifying prevalence of sexual assault, with 12.5% of females and 2.5% of males reporting experiencing sexual assault where physical force or threats of physical force were used, and 20% of females reporting sexual contact being attempted unsuccessfully in that way. A transformation is necessary when one considers some of the backward attitudes that are still prevalent in society, particularly among men. Of males, 37% agree with the statement that, if a girl acts like a slut, she will eventually get into trouble and 35% agree with the statement that guys do not usually intend to force sex on a girl, but sometimes they get too sexually carried away.

The worldwide prevalence of sexual assault, harassment and rape was seen in the #MeToo movement, where 4.7 million people posted #MeToo comments on social media within the first 24 hours. It expanded from there. It is linked to the pornification of mainstream culture. An article by Dr. Debbie Ging explains what that means very well. According to her, it is not about the greater visibility of sex, but of the greater visibility of sex as sex in which women are degraded, the sexual double standard still prevails and consent remains disputed.

There is a backlash on the street and on social media and in movements against that sexist culture. We saw the large protests in the aftermath of the Belfast rape trial around #IBelieveHer and #WeStandWithHer. Young people are leading that movement with an awareness of the problem of sexual harassment and sexism and an understanding of consent as something that needs to be explicit, mutual and continuous.

Societal change is needed. A key part of that is the giving of objective and factual sex education. Instead of being a laggard in terms of RSE, we want to see the world's best sex education. This Bill will remove the legal barrier to achieving that. We are not just discussing a few tweaks or minimal changes. Rather, we are discussing a fundamental change and the introduction of sex education that is factual, impartial, objective and responsive to the needs of young people.

We are discussing sex education that is LGBTQ+ positive and which teaches in a positive way about all sexualities, including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality, and one that covers all genders - male, female, gender fluid people and non-binary people. The desperate need for this can be seen in the crisis of mental health for LGBTQ young people. A GLEN survey in 2016 found that 56% of LGBT people aged 14 to 18 had self-harmed and 70% had suicidal thoughts.

We need sex education that covers methods of contraception comprehensively and educationally. Currently, there are students who are not taught anything other than abstinence and the model advocated by the Catholic Church. Sex education that covers the termination of pregnancy in an objective manner is needed due to the experience teenagers have where outside anti-abortion groups are brought into schools to give their views. Sex education that teaches about sexual health is needed. STIs in Ireland are rising among young people at an alarming rate; there was an 11% rise in STIs among 15 to 25 year olds between 2016 and 2017. We need young people to be taught about regular testing for STIs and for them to learn that HIV is not only preventable but also treatable. Crucially, we need a sex education that has consent at its very core - consent that has to be explicit, mutual and continuous. It should teach young people that relationships and sexual activity should make them feel good and that pleasure is a measure of consent.

I want to send a very clear message to the Government that this Bill being left languishing on Committee Stage will not be accepted. It is being supported by a wide range of organisations, many of which are here. They and the school students who have pushed it will not accept it simply not going anywhere. They will not accept the Government proposing minimal changes to our current RSE programme. The Bill points to a key issue in Irish society, that is the contrast between the influence of the Catholic Church over our schools, healthcare and society and the attitudes of young people and their aspiration for objective, factual sex education and a modern society. There is no problem with the Catholic Church or other churches propagating whatever beliefs they have about sex but there is a problem with those beliefs being imposed on young people in schools. We need a separation of church and State. It is only a year ago the Government wanted to hand over the national maternity hospital to a religious order. It was forced back by a movement of protest. We are now having a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment which puts the view of one particular religious belief into the Constitution meaning those who are pregnant are restricted in their choices. There is a long, dark history in this country of religious-based laws on contraception, censorship, women's position in workplaces and homes and on same sex relationships. Those laws have been fought against and there have been important victories after campaigns and struggles. All of that points to the need for the separation of church and State.

This is the third Bill we have had on the issue of school ethos. The issue is not going to go away. People will force it and demand that the Bill becomes law and that the movement will develop and grow. There is nothing the Government will be able to do to stop it until we have a full separation of church and State and a secular society.

I congratulate Deputy Coppinger on the Bill. In its simplicity, it does what we have needed for a long time in the State. The Bill complements the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. All of us who were engaged in the process of watching and learning from the Citizens' Assembly and who were engaged in the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution will be aware that one of the strong recommendations from that process, which is connected to the question of crisis and unwanted pregnancy, is the question of non-ethos founded, factually based sex education in our schools. Sex education has been mandatory in Ireland for the past 30 years. It is a crucial element in fertility control and sex control. Research confirms that in Ireland and elsewhere, those who have received proper, factual sex education are more likely to use contraception, more likely to be clean of sexually transmitted diseases and are less likely to experience crisis pregnancies in their teenage years and often later in life. The contribution this measure could make to improving sexual and reproductive health in Irish society will be enormous.

What was formerly called the crisis pregnancy agency of the HSE commissioned research in this area some time ago but it needs to be updated. Much more is needed, particularly from the Department of Education and Skills, not just from the Department of Health.

Sex education works. It could work much better if it was better. We learnt from the deliberations of the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution that in Holland age-appropriate sex education was made compulsory from the age of ten in 2012. Between 2012 and 2016, statistics show that crisis pregnancies in teenagers decreased by 30%. It is quite a startling result. Considering that change in terms of crisis pregnancy, one could extrapolate that a similar result would be shown in the health of relationships, the issue of consent and the question of how young people deal with their sexuality and the issues surrounding it. If one was to extrapolate from the figures in Holland, at least 5,000 or so crisis pregnancies could be avoided in Ireland every year if we were to deal with sexual education in a correct way. It would also curtail the rising levels of sexually transmitted diseases among young people. I learnt today from a group that represents the LGBT+ community that the biggest rise in HIV among men is in teenage young men who are not being educated about protection or about their own sexuality and who face the sort of mental and personal crises Deputy Paul Murphy has talked about.

As has been pointed out, the school ethos trumps all other considerations in the delivery of sex education. The delivery of the relationships and sexuality education, RSE, programme, as it is called, to students at both post-primary and primary level is trumped by the consideration of the school ethos. The RSE programme has been described as too little, too late. Age-appropriateness has been determined largely by the Catholic Church and very little of the primary school programme prepares children for their approaching adolescence and its challenges. At post-primary level, the situation gets even worse, with some of the most vulnerable children, such as early school leavers, missing out on lessons that deal with aspects of RSE most relevant to their needs because such lessons are delayed until the final year.

As a community activist, I can tell the Minister the best sex education is delivered by youth groups in the community. The numbers of young people who go through that service are much more limited than the numbers of young people who go through schools. Most youth services capture the children most at risk, but not all of them. A very limited number of young people get the delivery of proper sex education through the youth services which includes discussion and non-ethos based, factual, biologically correct education. Hats off to the youth services and youth workers who deliver those services in the community. Children with special needs, as a result of disability and challenging behaviours, or children from ethnic minorities, Traveller backgrounds or new communities are very poorly catered for in our system. A very worrying aspect of RSE particularly at post-primary level is that it is contracted out, often to visitor or outside facilitators. The vast majority are from agencies run by or strongly associated with the Catholic Church. When asked at the committee about what regulation the Department imposes on these agencies, we were told by the Department official, Ms Emer Egan:

There is no regulation of such agencies. If an agency has an approach inconsistent with good educational practice and at variance with the policy of a school, the school should not engage it.

The Department does not regulate them. That is quite a shocking fact.

There is very little monitoring or evaluation of what these visitors do in the classroom in practice and there is no national audit of the extent to which they are used or how effective they are. The limited research available indicates around 40% of our schools use them and in some schools, particularly at senior level, 90% of RSE classes are given by outside facilitators or visitors, most of them with a strong Catholic ethos.

The challenges facing our children as they try to develop a healthy attitude to sex and relationships are enormous, particularly in the age of online pornography, sexual predators and widespread misogyny, as has been witnessed in the #MeToo campaign and the recent Belfast rape trial which has brought an admission from young people that they are faced with misogynistic attitudes daily and do not know how to handle them because they are not being educated properly and factually to deal with sex and sexuality.

Our children need and deserve the best preparation for adult life and they are very unlikely to receive it from an institution that has historically shown more concern for its own institutional power than for the children over whom it wielded that power. As Deputy Paul Murphy said, it is about time we stopped paying lip service to this and saw it though to the end so that we have full, proper, non-ethos based education for all children in all our schools and that sex education is made compulsory, as it has been in other European countries. We do not have to look very far for this. Results in Britain, where sex education was made compulsory from an early age in 2012, and in the Netherlands show the positive outcomes when it is removed from an ethos-based system and delivered to children at appropriate levels and appropriate ages and when it is inclusive of all gender and sexual preferences.

It is amazing we are even having this frank conversation in this House and God be with the days one would not be able to say the word "sex" in Dáil Éireann. The fact that we can have this open discussion is a tribute to the Bill and to Deputy Coppinger for bringing it forward. I appeal to the Minister and the Cabinet to see this through as soon as possible and stop delaying giving our children what they deserve.

I thank Deputies Coppinger, Barry and Paul Murphy for tabling this Private Members' Bill. The Government will not be opposing the Bill. This is a very important area in which we need to make progress.

I have requested the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, to undertake a review not just of the content of the curriculum but of how it is taught, and in particular how it is taught in terms of ensuring the right young people have to get factual information about sexual behaviour, sexual orientation, consent, contraception and all of these topics, which must be done on a factual basis. It is the wish of all parents that that would be done. We need to look at the content of the curriculum because some of it, while it was probably progressive in its time in the late 1990s, has certainly been superseded by a lot of changes in the intervening period. For example, the revolution in access to the Internet is a dramatic change to the environment in which all delivery of education in this area needs to be thought of. The change in regard to marriage equality and the change in attitude in this country and in the law must be reflected. The change in the definition of consent in recent years recognises changes in society and needs to be reflected accurately in the curriculum. The curriculum must be taught in an age-appropriate manner so that young people receive factual information appropriate to their age and stage of development.

I have asked the NCCA to look at a number of specific issues in respect of the curriculum, in particular at consent, what that means and its importance. I have asked it to look at developments in contraception and at healthy, positive, sexual expression and relationships. I have asked it to look at the safe use of the Internet, at social media and its effects on relationships and self-esteem and on LGBTQ+ matters. I have put a comprehensive request to the NCCA to look at the extent to which these are dealt with. Some are dealt with well and there have been comparatively recent good developments in the content of the curriculum while others are older and need additional content provided.

I have also asked the NCCA to look specifically at how content is taught. As the committee dealing with the eighth amendment pointed out in its report, there are concerns in the context of its work. The committee raised a number of concerns that because it is delivered as part of a religious education some elements of the curriculum might be missed. It is only fair to point out, though, that all elements of the curriculum must be delivered regardless of the ethos of the school. That is already a requirement. The committee also found that many teachers are uncomfortable with teaching RSE, which raises issues about their own preparedness and planning and the support we provide to them in terms of continuing professional development, CPD, to equip them to deliver. A legitimate concern was raised about the fact that, in some cases, the teaching of these programmes is not led by the teacher but is outsourced. Best practice is that teachers lead, but that does not preclude them from using other sources and materials. The committee was right to ask for a thorough review of sexual health and relationship education and that is what I have undertaken.

It is true and a number of Deputies commented on the absolute revolution that has occurred in Internet access since this curriculum was first conceived. The concerns about Internet safety and the types of abuses that have developed in terms of the Internet are genuine. I commend Webwise, an agency under my Department, for the fantastic progress it has made in developing material such as Be in Ctrl, and Internet safety lockers on sexting, and a number of very worthwhile programmes, the most recent of which involved 80 student ambassadors taking material developed by Webwise but delivering it by student led interventions in their own schools. These are very worthwhile developments and there is excellent material available. I was pleased that the recent all-party committee on children had a discussion on Internet safety. There was general acknowledgement on all sides of the House that the quality of the material being developed by Webwise was of a very high standard. Of course, our main concern is to ensure that high quality material is delivered in an effective way in all schools. That is really important.

Many have commented on the coarsening of relationships through the presence and easy access to pornography. This is a genuine concern. Therefore, it is crucial we equip young people with the appropriate capacities and to be discerning and respectful and to have proper and healthy relationships. As many Deputies have said, it is really important that schools play their part in providing this in an effective way and that we see to it that young people get access to factual and objective information regardless of the ethos of their school. Ethos is important and it does provide young people with a very strong moral anchor in their own attitudes to sexuality and relationships. I do not deny its importance. For many people it provides a very wholesome and strong anchor in their personal development and I respect that, but equally from the point of view of the State, and as Minister for Education and Skills, I am determined that we have a programme of education on sexuality and relationships that is modern, recognises the realities and diversity of our communities, respect for that diversity and the importance of informed consent in all relationships.

These are issues of major concern. The NCCA is best placed to undertake this work. It will have access to consultations carried out on the broadest possible basis. It will have regard to research being carried out in second level schools by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, for example, and it will benefit from the input of many stakeholders in the education world.

We could quibble about some of the content of the Bill. A criticism I have is that providing in primary legislation the material that should be covered in a programme could be limiting in the longer term as issues such those in question develop. We would not want to have to go back to primary legislation every time we wanted to update a curriculum. That, however, is an issue that can be discussed. There are constitutional considerations that must be borne in mind in enacting any legislation. We must make sure we stay on the right side of those because there are constitutional requirements in Articles 42 and 44. It is important that any legislation, as it develops, respects these.

I fully respect, however, the spirit in which this legislation has been tabled by the Deputies concerned. I hope the review the NCCA is undertaking will become available in a timely manner. It is important that the council be given the time to consult those who have a legitimate right to have their say, and it is important that the best professional input be received because the curriculum ought to be designed by people with experience in curriculum development, continuous professional development and teaching. With respect to all the drafters of the Bill, some of whom are education experts, we have to ensure in primary legislation that we respect others who have a role to play, and that is why I believe the appropriate way of proceeding is to get the report back from the NCCA. It will be available to us as we work on this legislation in due course.

I thank the Deputies for introducing this Bill. The Government will not be opposing it.

I am sharing my time with my colleagues, Deputies Fiona O'Loughlin and Declan Breathnach. We in Fianna Fáil acknowledge and support the call from the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas committee on the eighth amendment for improvements in sexual health and relationship education in schools, youth clubs and other settings. Similarly, we acknowledge and support the calls from the joint Oireachtas committee on the eighth amendment in regard to second level schools, and we also acknowledge the concerns expressed in the Dáil Chamber. We acknowledge and support the committee's recommendation for a thorough review of sexual health and relationship education. For the reasons the Minister outlined, however, we have a principled objection to this Bill on the basis that Ireland has never legislated in law for a curriculum of any type. Instead, we left it to expert reviewers, namely, the NCCA, to consult bodies in education. We have never put in law what should be taught in our classes. We have left it to teachers and other experts to decide, and politicians have not got involved. They should not if we want to provide the best possible fact-based and respect-based education.

The Minister has announced a review of relationships and sexuality education in schools, to be undertaken by the NCCA, along the lines called for by both the Citizens' Assembly and the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. This review will cover both the curriculum and support materials in addition to the serious concerns over the delivery of the curriculum to students. It is our wish in Fianna Fáil - we assume it is the broad wish in the Dáil - that this review be carried out, concluded and implemented as expeditiously as possible. That is our one concern over the process. On balance, it seems that the process will actually happen more quickly than legislation, considering the way legislation is going. That has been acknowledged by others. It is essential from our point of view that the process be engaged in as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible.

The joint Oireachtas committee decided some months ago, for its 2018 work programme, to seek expert input and carry out a review of relationships and sexuality education. The Chairman can speak for the committee in that regard in due course. By specifically providing for the content of the curriculum, this Bill goes against all precedent. It is a bad precedent to set. Children and young adults are best served by the NCCA, which effectively involves teachers, educationalists and other professionals seeking expert views from outside groups, as I acknowledge the Deputies who introduced this Bill have done. The council would come up with a detailed curriculum that undoubtedly will have many of the items the Deputies have set out in legislation. On that basis, we cannot support the Bill. I have said this before about other educational matters. I talked about a smart phone ban last week. I would not like to legislate for that. The less legislation in education, the better. The education system, involving teachers and educationalists, can react to matters as they arise. The relationships and sexuality curriculum is over 20 years old. There is no doubt that many aspects of it require review but there are also quite positive aspects. At the time, it would have been highly controversial. I certainly remember controversy. There is little controversy over it now and people support it.

We want to see the review carried out as soon as possible. As a member of the Oireachtas education committee, I invite anybody interested to make a submission to the committee by Friday. As the Chairman will outline, many people have already made submissions. It will take a lot of committee time, which is limited, to hear from everybody. Their voices will be very important.

The other aspect of this Bill about which we have concern is that the amendment on the characteristic spirit of schools has been produced without any consultation with the education partners.

We acknowledge there is an issue. We want to see fact-based and respect-based relationships and sexuality education in schools-----

-----but one cannot just up-end the entire system on which our education system is based without consulting the partners involved. I certainly hope many of them will appear before the education committee. I am sure members of Solidarity who are not members of the education committee will be able to attend its hearings and ask questions in the most thorough fashion.

It is the case that the Minister's review has come at a critical juncture. While issues of sexual abuse and harassment are mentioned in the original relationship and sexuality education syllabus, there is no mention of consent and its importance. We really have to send out the message that what has happened to women, and also men, over decades and centuries is not acceptable anymore and must stop. The education system must play a role in fostering an ethos of respect, consent and equality. We have to do that. The best possible way to do so is not to legislate, which could possibly end up in court cases based on the wording of the legislation, but to leave it to the experts in the NCCA. We are doing that, on balance. We believe this process will end before this legislation could possibly be passed. I would love it if the Minister could give a commitment outlining how long the NCCA process would take and when we will see a new curriculum in schools. That has not been addressed by the Minister. In fairness to him, however, this review comes on foot of various recommendations. It is comprehensive and deals with many issues that need to be addressed. It deals with pretty much all the issues that have been raised in Solidarity's Bill.

It is wrong to legislate for curricula. We do not want circumstances like those in certain parts of the United States, where elections are fought and won on the basis of what should be in curricula. It is not a good way to proceed. We are better off leaving it out of the political system. Obviously politicians have a role, and the Minister clearly has taken the initiative to get the NCCA to start the review, but the job should be left to the experts and kept out of the political sphere. We hope this will lead to better and more comprehensive education for young people, and we hope all interested parties will be able to contribute in this regard.

I acknowledge that there are very many societal concerns over sexual health and education, and rightly so. It is timely and important that a thorough review of sexual health education be undertaken, while appreciating that home and community also have a vital role to play.

I am Chairman of the Joint Committee and Education and Skills, which had agreed in its work programme for this year to undertake a review of SPHE, RSE and matters relating to contraception and consent in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved in education and interactions with young people. On foot of this, the committee agreed two weeks ago to seek written submissions from interested groups or individuals on this important matter. We will consider suitable written submissions and we will invite a number of contributors to public hearings. We have received a number of submissions and we expect to have three meetings. I remind those who are interested that the closing date for submissions is 12 noon on Friday, 20 April. Our report will be forwarded to the Minister and we expect that our examination of this subject, having listened to the experts and stakeholders, will feed into and help to inform the recently announced review of RSE in schools, which will be undertaken by the NCCA. We want to work hand in hand with them. It is important that this review be undertaken along the lines called for by both the Citizens' Assembly and the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and that it cover both the content of the curriculum and support materials, as well as its delivery to students. My party would like the review to be carried out and concluded, and its recommendations implemented, as expeditiously as possible.

Sexual harassment has dominated the news in recent months. Research shows that the experience of unwanted sexual advances often begins at an early age. Shockingly, it sometimes happens at the age of 11 years or younger and we have to empower our young people to deal with this. Change is essential and an obvious starting point is to do this through the education system by, in particular, teaching about equality, respect and consent as well as contraception and sexuality. The current RSE curriculum is 20 years old and a 2007 evaluation revealed that implementation was lower in all-boy schools, which points to a wider issue in respect of gender inequality. Understanding and engaging with responsible sexual education within a broader social context is vital. A cultural shift is needed in the context of talking about sexism, sexual abuse and harassment. Currently, there is a huge disparity between schools regarding what elements of sexual education are taught, if, indeed, it is being taught. It is not necessarily an old-fashioned, religious or conservative view that holds teachers back regarding sex education. It is difficult for them. These are intimate subjects and we all know, having been in the classroom as students, how difficult it is when people are sniggering down the back. Others are not comfortable and they reflect their discomfort in different ways. It is, therefore, difficult for teachers to figure out the best approach. There is an onus on us to help them and I hope the work the committee does will help in that regard. Engendering awareness, respect and equality must be the cornerstone of future work and I look forward to engaging with committee members and NCCA officials in this.

I agree with Deputy Thomas Byrne. While I do not favour a legislative approach to this, I would like immediate action not only on the issue of sexual education but also on the many issues confronting everyone in a changing school environment. At one of my first informal meetings with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I spoke about the need for specific curriculum time both at primary and second level for learning for life, whether that relates to sex education, cookery, healthy eating, the scourge of mental health issues, and the use of social media. Young people are in crisis in respect of mental health with more than ever self-harming. I spent 35 years teaching at primary level and the most effective education programme introduced in respect of RSE was the Stay Safe programme which focused on three strands: "myself, myself and others, myself and the wider community". The programme not only involved the school community but also the parents who were fully informed of its content and took an active part in its delivery. While there is much criticism of church involvement in the education curriculum and while I accept that the world is changing, my boss in the school where I worked was the parish priest. He knew nothing about the Stay Safe programme, but he spoke to the children every week as he visited the classrooms about the three forms of respect they needed to have in life: respect for oneself, respect for one's family and respect for the wider community, which is similar to what was taught in the Stay Safe programme.

I have no issue with the contents of the legislation, but I have an issue with it being enacted. As Deputy Thomas Byrne said, the Oireachtas has never legislated for curriculum contents nor involved itself with it-----

Maybe we should start.

Deputy Declan Breathnach to continue, without interruption, please.

I will deal with that issue shortly. The Oireachtas has always left it to the NCCA.

I have spoken to many youth groups and local authority representatives, North and South, and I made a speech at a recent post-primary student conference in Newry, which was attended by other Members. They highlighted the discretionary time available at both primary and second level. Learning for life is just as important for me and for them as maths, English or other languages. I concur with them that discretionary time, particularly at primary level, has focused for the past number of years on improving numeracy and literacy. Every day, 50 minutes is set aside to call the roll yet there are only 30 minutes for SPHE and RSE at primary level. The clear message from pupils is that this time needs to be increased. The Minister has said that the NCCA will examine RSE and the resources being provided to it, but I am also interested in how much discretionary time is allocated.

The review of RSE should be carried out sooner rather than later. I ask the Minister to outline a timeframe for the implementation of actions to address the myriad issues affecting our young population. Students at the conference I mentioned also said they were more comfortable speaking to an external coach rather than dealing with their teachers. In an article published by Margaret Nohilly of Mary Immaculate College, entitled, Sexuality in the Context of Relationships and Sexuality Education, she says there are huge challenges facing schools. She has called for the teaching of RSE as part of the wider context of SPHE to include teaching children from the earliest age that there are different types of sexual relationship, including homosexuality.

In my teaching experience the family make-up has changed dramatically and that needs to be identified from a very early stage.

The availability of pornography to children as young as ten or 11 years has been referred to. It has contributed to a climate of lack of respect and muddied the waters on the issue of consent. These issues need to be included in any new curriculum in an age-appropriate manner. We need to promote healthy, positive sexual expression and relationships.

Currently, the upskilling of teachers is being provided for by the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST. We need to see how effective the continuing professional development opportunities are and how many are availing of these courses. It is vital that the teacher training colleges make changes to their modules in order that new entrants to the system will be fully equipped to teach all of them, including relationships and sexuality education, RSE. Upskilling should be mandatory, particularly for those coming into the secondary school system. There should be specialist courses for teachers to deal specifically with the areas to which I have referred, including RSE.

It is 19 years since the Department introduced the primary school curriculum. It had great strengths, but in the intervening years of reviews, evaluation and research, not to mention the technological advances of mobile phones, the Internet and instant communication, we have been presented with many challenges and need to enhance and improve the curriculum. Teachers constantly speak about curriculum overload. There is a need for resources, toolkits and further assistance. The national strategy, as referred to, has been to improve numeracy and literacy, but this has led to a lack of focus on learning life skills. Any new RSE programme to encompass the changes in a modern society needs to be mandatory, with adequate time allocated, even if it means using up what is currently discretionary time. We need to develop the child as a whole and I hope changes to the curriculum will happen now, not later.

In my time as chairman of the old North Eastern Health Board the board enlisted teachers to look at all of the issues relating to learning for life, whether smoking or mental health. The programmes are widely available to be adapted across the world. There was a programme related to healthy eating called Bí Folláin in the Mid-Western Health Board region. When people went to use it in other health board areas, they were told that it was subject to copyright. The reality is that endless amounts of programmes could be delivered and modified to suit the Irish curriculum if an effort was made. I do not believe there has been a sincere effort made to reform the curriculum in those 20 years with regard to learning for life.

We will support the Bill. I commend Deputy Ruth Coppinger and her colleagues for bringing it forward. The ad hoc nature of the SPHE and RSE programmes is failing to fully equip young people with positive and informed outlooks on their sexual health, self-care, body image, relationships, gender identity, contraception, consent and sexuality. Now, more than ever, it is very hard to be a young person growing up in the kind of society we have, when there is so much access to smartphones and the Internet. I thought times were difficult when I was a teenager, but I would hate to be growing up now. I have much sympathy for young people, on whom there are many demands and pressures. It is a very difficult time for them. The one thing we can do is to have a proper curriculum, allow them to be informed and have all of the information they need, much more than when we were growing up. I remember that in sixth class we saw a video called "Ready, Steady, Grow" and that was it. There was never any discussion after that. We were probably more traumatised than anything coming out of it. We need to change that attitude which, unfortunately, is prevalent in the country.

The characteristic spirit clause in the Education Act 1998 means that ethos-based schools can essentially derogate from certain aspects of a curriculum that they believe contravene the characteristic spirit of a school. This needs to be addressed and will require political will and bravery on the Minister's part. The Department has sent circulars stating schools are required to teach all aspects of family planning, STIs and sexual orientation, but they have also stated schools should uphold their ethos. This creates a grey area and leaves teachers too afraid or vulnerable to suggest inclusive elements. That is a constant theme. Teachers need certainty and proper resources to guide their students through their formative years. Many teachers do not feel supported, that they are adequately trained, resourced or assisted to teach all aspects of SPHE or RSE. They believe that, by and large, schools treat it as a box-ticking exercise and possibly as a potential distraction from other core subjects. Many teachers have received no formal training in delivering the models and there is no strong insistence on the part of either schools or the Department to achieve the core objectives of the curriculum.

The current curriculum is ad hoc and lacks formal characteristics, sufficient teaching hours, teacher training and support and updated curriculum handbooks. Students with disabilities, both intellectual and physical, can require tailored curriculums to enjoy and receive the same level of information as other students. As much as anyone else, they deserve to know their rights in asserting and withdrawing consent or how to stay safe from STIs, crisis pregnancies, etc. As well as the Bill, I believe the Minister should, through a circular or otherwise, ensure RSE contains aspects that cater for LGBTQI students, students with disabilities, modules on consent and all contraception options in a more certain way than was done in Circular 0037/2010 and give teachers adequate security without concern about school ethos.

I reiterate that we will support the Bill.

I express my wholehearted support for the Bill, with my party, Sinn Féin. It is an incredibly important and worthy issue for us to take time in the House to discuss, especially in the context of what has happened in recent months which have thrown up so many situations where the need for sexual education which is real, inclusive and meaningful has been painfully clear. As a mental health campaigner and Sinn Féin spokesperson on mental health, as well as a parent, I know that we lack in schools the curriculum and supports needed to help to equip young people with a full understanding of their development. Sexual health and awareness will affect them, their friends and community throughout their lives and no knowledge provided with care, consideration and responsibility will serve as anything less than a positive to them.

Sexual health is a physical, social and psychological issue. It is an issue which can be extremely troubling for young people struggling to get to grips with their changing bodies, desires and the pressures they may feel from friends, the media and elsewhere. By equipping them with the ability to enter into their sexual lives with confidence and understanding of themselves, as well as respect and care for those around them, we will be building a bright future from the deeply troubling wake-up call of the #MeToo and #IBelieveHer scandals. Of course, that is only the beginning. We also need to see consideration of law reform to adequately deal with sexual based offences.

The issue of school ethos may be a considerable obstacle to ensuring there is equal and inclusive access to good quality sex education, but it must be dealt with. The primary ethos of any school must be to best serve the student in his or her development as a full and healthy member of society. It is an undeniable fact that the society we have carved out is clearly one where sexuality and our lives as sexual beings are important. It is also an undeniable fact that we live in a society which believes overwhelmingly that LGBTQI members of communities are full and equal members who deserve respect, inclusion and recognition.

It is through our democratic will that we decide the country that we wish to forge together and the future we want to give our children. That democratic will clearly supports the inclusive provision of accurate, open and positive sexual education.

I wish to finish by pointing out that we ask a great deal of teachers. We increasingly ask them to educate our children on a greater and wider range of life topics. It is natural that we increasingly seek professional guidance as we move to more evidence-based education. As we ask more of teachers, they have the right to ask more of the State in terms of ensuring they are supported with good conditions and pay and, most essential, the provision of good educational support and an adequate numbers of teachers in every school.

I welcome the Bill and the decision by the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, to review the relationships and sexuality education aspects of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum. Unfortunately, many modules on the sex education syllabus are outdated in modern society and we need a more inclusive and reflective syllabus. That means being inclusive of young people who are LGBT or who have a disability. The syllabus must be factual and must not be hampered by religious views on the topic. Students must be informed of all contraceptive options. We must remember that just because a school has a Catholic ethos does not mean all its students share the same religious views. Those with differing views are entitled to be fully informed on these topics.

It is very important that SPHE teachers be supported. It is an uncomfortable topic for many teachers, which is why training, supports and a formal structure for SPHE are required. By having these elements in place, we will ensure that young people get the information they need in a professional manner. We should not outsource the teaching of one of the most important parts of the curriculum to agencies or providers which are not under the scrutiny of the Department of Education and Skills.

I wish to mention briefly the importance of making consent a key part of any sex education curriculum in schools. This is a very common-sense proposal and one that I am sure all Members will support.

The objectives of the Bill are broadly in line with the recommendations on sex education of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, on which I was the Labour Party representative. My party supports the Bill as it supports the recommendations of the committee in full and we thank our Dáil colleagues for tabling the Bill. The committee recommended a thorough review of sexual health education, including the areas of consent and contraception, in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved with young people. I take the point that not every young person attends a youth club so it is essential that schools are the main focus. Other committee recommendations are that sufficient time be provided in the curriculum for this aspect and that it be taught by suitably qualified personnel. It also specifically recommended that the information be provided in an impartial and factual manner independent of school ethos. It is essential that the facts are provided for young people objectively, not through the prism of a particular ethos, and I urge the Government to implement that fully and the other ancillary recommendations of the committee, which are also of great importance. The main focus has been on its recommendations that directly refer to the eighth amendment, but the ancillary recommendations are very important.

Of particular concern was the evidence given to the committee by the Department of Education and Skills that schools sometimes bring in outside agencies to deliver the SPHE and relationships and sexuality education, RSE, curricula. Such agencies may have a particular ethos - most of them have - a lack of objectivity and, in many cases, no training in teaching. The Department representatives also stated, "we know that there are issues relating to the competence and confidence of teachers regarding the delivery of RSE". Continuing professional development, CPD, upskilling and ensuring that teachers are properly trained and supported is essential.

The current provision is patchy at best. Some schools do a great job and there are very committed teachers who engage with young people and equip them well to deal with personal and sexual relationships and the challenges that they bring. However, other young people paint a very different picture in which they are either preached to or faced with a teacher who is uncomfortable with the subject, as other Members have mentioned, and gives minimal information and gets out of the classroom as quickly as he or she can. However, this education is so important in terms of the complex world which young people must now negotiate that it must be delivered by trained and motivated teachers. I have met some teachers who are passionate about doing the job well. In some cases, it would be a good idea to cluster schools such that a very motivated teacher can become a specialist and travel around to the different schools. That would mainly apply to post-primary schools.

In its recommendations for a thorough review of sexual health and relationship education in our schools, the committee noted a clear link between effective sex education and lower levels of crisis pregnancies. It is vital that our young people be properly equipped with age-appropriate modern information and facts, particularly at second level, on issues such as contraception and consent to inform the decisions they go on to make as young adults. As the Minister stated, he has asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, to review the curriculum, which is very welcome. The Joint Committee on Education and Skills, of which several other Deputies and I are members, is carrying out a review of sexual health and relationships education and has put out a call for submissions, the closing date for which is the end of this week, after which I presume the committee will draft a report and make recommendations. All of these things are happening.

The Bill is welcome as a contribution to such activity, although I take the point that a Bill cannot, of itself, deal with the complexities of curriculum design, etc. The Bill and the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution refer to the necessity for sex education to be age appropriate. We all understand the importance of that. However, there are currently posters all over Ireland which have graphic images that are causing young children to ask questions and, in my view and that of many parents, some of whom have spoken on the airwaves about the issue, make it very difficult to avoid conversations that are not age appropriate. Parents should not have such posters forced upon them or their children. I hope those responsible for those posters will recognise that images intended to persuade adults to a particular view are also visible to children. I have heard many reports of people bringing their children to school, driving past schools or walking around our towns and cities and their children asking them questions about issues on which the parents wish to have age-appropriate conversations with the children in the context of the kind of education we are discussing, but such conversations are forced upon them because thousands of such posters are visible every day of the week on streets around the country. It is deeply disturbing that while we debate how a curriculum should be developed in an age-appropriate way to equip children to deal with the complexities of sexuality and relationships, our streets are littered with images that have the very opposite effect.

As others have stated, there must be a positive and supportive context rather than a particular ethos. The well-being programme which is starting at junior cycle in post-primary schools is the kind of space in which we can have that positive and supportive context. We want young people to feel good about themselves and positive about the relationships they will form, and we want them to have accurate information. As others have mentioned, it is now a complex world in which young people have digital information coming at them in all kinds of ways. It can be very difficult for them to negotiate that world and they need a positive and supportive context in which to do so.

Members of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution learned that there are currently many gaps in the provision of sexual health and relationships education. Some schools do it well while others do it badly or scarcely at all. The approach on this issue must be inclusive of all schools and students, irrespective of the ethos of schools or the sexual identity, orientation, issues or situations of students. It must be inclusive of the decisions that will face young people in the world in which they live.

This is a really important area and it is welcome that we are debating it. However, my concern is that as we do this, we will walk out the door and see images that will force parents to have discussions with very young children about issues that are difficult enough for them to discuss with children at an appropriate age. I urge those who are responsible to do something about it and to consider the effect on young children.

I wish to share time with Deputies Catherine Connolly and Joan Collins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I taught in a school with a Catholic ethos for 36 years and my colleagues and I were doing exactly what the Bill is proposing. Our relationships and sexuality programmes were factual and objective and contraception was covered in a very comprehensive way. We drew up some of the programmes ourselves, others we took from other countries and we also brought in outside agencies. The Dublin Aids Alliance, as it was then known, was very progressive on the issue.

While ethos may be an issue in some schools that was not my experience nor that of many of my teaching colleagues. My school was involved in the pilot project for the On My Own Two Feet programme, which was very progressive, and which became the basis for the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme. Even though the curriculum dates to 1994 it included subjects such as identity, self esteem, feelings, decision making and assertiveness, which are all still very relevant today. The programme was positively and independently evaluated but vital to its success was the training of the teachers. It took a considerable commitment from teachers, including weekend work, to avail of the training provided. There is a need for specific training for teachers involved in such work. Timetabling is also an issue because it requires a commitment on the part of schools and we know there are conflicting demands on the timetable. Such a subject cannot be an add-on to fill up a teacher's hours, one who may not have the skill set nor interest and who might not be comfortable in delivering such a programme.

The debate needs to be widened to cover other social issues. I speak from the perspective of my recent work with young people in the north inner city. I refer to such issues as drug and alcohol abuse, other addictions such as gambling and social media and cyberbullying. There is a need for a timetabled programme in schools with trained teachers because a different skill set is required. Such a programme would equip young people to make informed decisions, be it about their sexual identity, sexual relations, drugs, alcohol or gambling. We could call it philosophy but it is basically about the need to give young people the ability to think critically. The role of parents is vital and also the community and youth projects that are in place.

I hope the Minister will launch the report which came out of all the discussions with young people, schools, youth workers and counsellors. It is called, Let's Get Specific, and it is about all the issues I raised and giving young people the ability to think critically and make informed decisions.

In the just over two minutes available to me I welcome the Bill and commend Solidarity on bringing it before the House. I have no difficulty in supporting the substance of the Bill. I welcome the Minister's confirmation that he is not going to oppose it. I hope it is the start of a discussion about the much broader issue of child protection. We changed the Constitution in 2012, ostensibly to protect children, but I believe we have utterly failed. One only has to open the newspaper on any given day and there is horror story after horror story. I saw one such story no later than Monday in The Irish Times. I will not go into the details but it concerned a man who was jailed for 12 years who thinks his sentence is too long. We need to empower young people but we cannot begin to empower children to come forward about abuse if we cannot have normal and natural conversations about sexuality in the first place, full of information and within a loving environment. To do that, we need to make available very factual information in a frank way without the influence of the church or any other body, in a dependent manner. That is essential.

Many Deputies have raised the SAVI report in the House. The report dates to 2002. A staggering 47% of the 3,120 people interviewed said that they had never mentioned the abuse they experienced to anybody in their lives. I re-read those figures when I am using them in various debates and each time I am shocked at the high level of non-disclosure. As a society we need to look at that. One third of women and almost one quarter of men who participated reported some level of abuse in childhood, while 40% of women and 28% of men reported some sort of sexual assault during their lifetime. I could quote more and more figures, but the point I am making in my limited time is that the horror of sexual abuse needs to be openly discussed. We need to empower children to come forward. We need to provide services in order that young people come forward. We need to update our data, which essentially means updating the SAVI report. It has taken up to now to confirm that a scoping exercise is in place with a view to producing a new report but the date keeps slipping, and that is simply a precursor to doing a full report. In that context, I welcome the Bill.

I wish to make a few points in the short time available. This Bill, which I fully support, was introduced by Solidarity Deputies. It was submitted for debate during the recent very controversial rape trial in Belfast. It has a bearing on the debate that has surrounded the trial, in particular in the attitude displayed in text messages between the young men involved. Apart from the misogyny displayed, the messages also showed an idiotic, juvenile schoolboy attitude to sex and the worst aspects of so-called laddish culture. For many, the trial raised the need for a serious approach to combatting that culture. Objective, fact-based relationships and sex education programmes in schools will have a key role to play in that regard. I take on board the points Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan made, but I do not think the programmes are consistently applied across the national school system. If we continue with the existing relationships and sexuality education, RSE, approach we are not being serious. An approach to sex education based on the idea that sex is only for married men and women would be considered by teenagers in this country as a joke, something that is not meant to be taken seriously.

Relationships and sex education needs to deal with the realities of the modern world where young people engage in sexual activity. They do not need any hang-ups about it, just a healthy, informed attitude that includes knowledge about contraception, protection against STDs and options for crisis pregnancies. They need to know about grooming, what consent is and is not, what sort of behaviours are acceptable and what they can do about them. They need to know that there are many different types of relationship, genders and families and that all are equally acceptable. The only relationships that are not acceptable are those based on force and domination. Every child should be able to come forward if they are in that situation.

Teachers who work in schools with a religious ethos are employed by the Department of Education and Skills. The Bill would and could take the chill effect out of the 1998 legislation on upholding the ethos of a school. The Department must stop failing young people, parents and teachers and devise a curriculum for the provision of objective sex education in schools.

Before I move on to the substantive point, I must say we were shocked to hear that Fianna Fáil will not support the Bill. Given that the Government is not opposing the Bill, one would have thought at the very least Fianna Fáil would allow the Bill to progress to the next Stage and to amend it if it wants. The excuses made by Fianna Fáil Members are pathetic. Apparently, it is revolutionary and unbelievable to name in a Bill "areas" that can be included in the curriculum and for that reason the party cannot support the Bill. We all know the real reason Fianna Fáil is not supporting the Bill. It is because it does not want to challenge the religious ethos of schools. To say that would be a much more honest way to approach the debate. If they do not support the Bill tomorrow, I ask Fianna Fáil Members to consider where they are placing themselves on the spectrum.

In a European context, to oppose objective sex education is to be utterly backward and reactionary. The Oireachtas committee, on which Fine Fáil had members, recommended that these areas be explored in the curriculum and that it be independent of school ethos. The Bill is exactly in line with what the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas committee recommended. I ask members of Fianna Fáil to consider how they will be viewed if they block the Bill and allow it to fall. The press conference held to launch the Bill was attended by representatives of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the Irish Family Planning Association, the National Women's Council of Ireland, students' unions, Shout Out and a myriad of groups that have backed the Bill and asked that it be supported. It is further reflected in the fact that the Government has stated it is not going to vote it down.

Some Deputies have said there is a review on the way, but we need to put it in context. Asking members of the NCCA, wonderful as many of them may be, to conduct a review of the curriculum means very little, unless we actually challenge the legal right of schools, enshrined in the Education Act 1998, to use religious ethos as a way to censor or not provide sex education. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that the wonderful curriculum they will draft will actually be taught. I know this because I taught sex education in schools and know exactly what happens. A teacher arrives in September and is handed a timetable for geography, history, maths or whatever else and plonked in it is a thing called RSE or SPHE. No training is provided and no assessment is made to determine whether the teacher's personality makes him or her in any way suited to teaching the subject. If a teacher is provided with one day's in-service training, he or she is doing well. We all know that teachers have their own prejudices and, notwithstanding what was said by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, I very much doubt that the sex education being taught in most schools is affirmative of LGBT plus students. We know this because lots of students have written to us about it. The type of sex education taught in schools tends to be about sex between a man and a woman and procreation and reproduction. There are other types of sex that take place in society, but students are not being taught about them.

My key focus is on consent which has become the number one, central issue in Irish society. This was borne out, in particular, in the context of recent rape trials and the highly publicised event at a school where girls' names were written on the walls of a toilet by schoolboys who then rated them as to whether they should be raped. We have a problem. As Dr. Ging from DCU said, a cultural shift in thinking about sexism, sexual abuse and harassment is needed, including in schools. She argued that, with reviewing and updating curricula, we needed to focus on changing practices in schools that might reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and limit development for both boys and girls. According to her, teaching young people about sex should not be viewed as a set of problems to be managed but as an opportunity to empower them as sexual citizens. Such a massive culture shift cannot be achieved solely through a sex education programme, but, obviously, the first place to start is among young people when they are all gathered in schools. Anyone who needs confirmation of the need for a cultural shift only has to look at the toxic masculinity personified in the WhatsApp messages reported in the media. Men and boys are encouraged to be dominant, physical and disregard the needs of women. Women are there only for men's entitlement and pleasure, as we saw graphically in the messages.

Why is it that a defence can be put forward in a trial that, while a person did not say "Yes", he or she did not say "No" either? That is not a defence for a crime of any type other than sexual assault or rape. We have to challenge these dangerous ideas. We know that something is seriously wrong but not because of Government research. The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, report has been mentioned, but it is outrageous that proper State-funded research has not been carried out in this area since 2002. The Sexual Health and Attitudes Galway study carried out last year is very instructive. It was conducted among 1,691 students at UCG and found that 35% of males thought it was okay for a guy to get carried away and end up forcing a woman to take part in non-consensual sex. That is over one in three young men. The study also found that 37% thought that the way a woman dressed could justify her getting into trouble. These are horrific attitudes that must be tackled. Regardless of the niceties Fianna Fáil believes should be included in a Bill, if its members do not think we have a serious problem, there is something wrong with their party. The SMART workshop on consent that was held in Galway achieved an important change in attitudes. The numbers of people who, having taken part in this very short workshop, felt more informed, understood better what consent meant and felt more comfortable rose from 23% to 65%. It was a non-Government funded workshop. It is not acceptable that students and others have to raise funds to do things for themselves. These workshops should be funded by the State and taking place in schools and colleges. The concept of seeking an enthusiastic "Yes" from somebody, rather than a "No", must be popularised. It will be very difficult to bring this about unless we encourage students to challenge established ideas that, unfortunately, are promoted by some religions.

The concept of the girl as the gatekeeper of sexuality is very strong. According to a piece by Dr. Ging in The Irish Times, lots of boys' schools do not provide any sex education at all. There is a lower compliance rate in boys' schools. Girls are obviously meant to manage and gate-keep sexual activity, but girls and women are entitled to a positive sexuality. They are entitled to be taught that they can receive pleasure from sex, that they do not have to be a passive recipient or ashamed for taking part or wanting to take part in a sexual act. The very simple message we should be teaching young people is that relationships and sexual activity should make them feel good, but if they do not, there is something wrong. That is a very simple but revolutionary idea. Unless we put forward the idea of a positive sexuality and pleasure being part of it, including pleasure as a measure of their consent and an element of sexual activity, young people will not be able to determine their own comfort levels when something takes place.

We must be clear that it is not the Internet that has caused all of this. Obviously, the Internet makes things a lot more complicated, but there were problems with attitudes before the Internet. Men did not look for consent before the Internet and these problems did not suddenly start then. This is not just about tackling the Internet but also about tackling cultural attitudes that go way back in time. Sex education that focuses on reproductive and gender normative intercourse is not going to tackle this, but such education is based on the religious ethos of a lot of schools. None of this change can happen if religious ethos holds sway.

I again appeal to all parties in the Dáil not to block the Bill or prevent it from progressing to the next Stage at least. It is being supported and backed by a host of organisations that will not be pleased if it is blocked for very spurious reasons.

I am happy to speak briefly about this matter. All of us in the House want to see the comprehensive provision of sex and relationships education that is fact-based and responsible, but the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, to which the Bill refers, go much further. The committee's report reads as follows:

The Committee recommends a thorough review of sexual health and relationships education, including the areas of contraception and consent, in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and ... information should be provided in an impartial and factual manner that is independent of school ethos.

I repeat that it will have to be "independent of school ethos". As one commentator has observed:

Aside from the less than subtle and patronising tone, there are deeply troubling aspects to this resolution that demand further analysis. Generally speaking it represents a direct threat to the ability of denominational schools to advance their own view of human sexuality and intimacy. Indeed in its own way it is a charter for conflict.

I honestly believe that to be the case. The same commentator observed that questions arise about who exactly will decide whether sex education teaching in schools is impartial:

Who gets to decide the parameters of such impartiality is anyone's guess. Only one thing is clear; if the Committee gets its way [and if the proposition before the House this evening is accepted] it will most certainly not be parents.

This commentator argued that "the last phrase of the resolution ... most starkly encapsulates the intentions of the Committee when it says sex education must be "independent of school ethos"." It is very stark that the committee recommended, with no ifs or buts, that sexual education must be independent of school ethos. This commentator on medical ethics continued:

Not only is this a clear statement of intent, it is also a damning judgement on the perceived capacity of denominational schools to formulate a coherent approach to human sexuality and sexual behaviour in general.  This is effectively a rebuke by the Committee to all parents who would seek to have their children educated in the light of the Christian vision of sexual intimacy ... We may well ask then what does 'independent of ethos' amount to but a statement of breath-taking, arrogant over-reach where the constitutional acknowledgement of parents as the primary educators of their children is [completely] obliterated.

That is the fundamental reason I will not be supporting the Bill before the House. I will also oppose it on further Stages.

I would like to share time with the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the discussion on this Bill. I thank Deputies Ruth Coppinger, Mick Barry and Paul Murphy for introducing it. It is understandable the media and others concentrated on the substantive issues discussed at the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, but it should be noted that sex education was also an important part of the committee's thinking. We made specific ancillary recommendations in relation to sex education. The majority report of the committee concluded that "there is a clear link between effective sex education and lower levels of crisis pregnancies". The committee heard overwhelming evidence to that effect. It is obvious that we need improvements in sexual health and relationships education in schools and youth clubs. The committee noted "the ongoing developments that are taking place in respect of relationship and sexuality education (RSE) and social, personal and health education (SPHE) in our schools" but expressed "specific concern in relation to what is happening at second level". The report continued:

The Committee’s concerns can be summarised as follows.

(a) For many schools, sex education is delivered as part of religious education and furthermore it is delivered on an ad-hoc basis, for example not being covered until late in the education cycle.

(b) Many teachers are not comfortable teaching RSE and therefore it is left to a minority of teachers or it is outsourced to an agency.

(c) As the Committee understands matters, such agencies and their use by schools are not regulated and those delivering the course are not required to have a teaching qualification. It therefore appears to the Committee that any person can set up as an agency to deliver sex education.

(d) The ethos of the school can influence how RSE course content is delivered.

Regardless of whether we are comfortable with it, young people engage in sexual activity. Therefore, they need to hear about the pitfalls of having unprotected sex with regard to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. They also need to hear about proper contraception and relationships. They need to hear facts about abortion. They need to hear all of this in an absolutely unbiased fashion. They need facts, not beliefs. Young people need far more than a few classes in which they are taught about the biology of reproduction and puberty. The word "sex" or any discussion of it is still something to be avoided among some people and groups. Young people have no such hang-ups about it. They are very conscious of the world around them and have access to more information online than we ever had.

To illustrate why is it so important that we educate our young people on sex and relationships in school, I would like to quote from an article in The Guardian by Lucy Emerson:

Sex education matters in primary schools because four-year-olds ask where babies come from, five-year-olds browse the internet and six-year-olds want to be popular with their friends. Sex education matters at home because children want their parents to be the first people to talk to them about growing up, sex and relationships. Yet many parents say they lack confidence to answer their children's questions frankly. Sex education matters in secondary schools especially because this is a time when young people come under new pressures from their peers and are reaching for more independence and considering their own views on love, romance and what is acceptable or unacceptable for them.

I welcome the Minister's announcement on 3 April that a major review of relationship and sexuality education in schools will be carried out. The Joint Committee on Education and Skills recently invited submissions on its review of sexual health and relationship education, including contraception, consent and related matters. It is welcome that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Department of Education and Skills are among the organisations invited to submit written submissions. As I read it, the Bill seeks to address the problems I have mentioned through primary legislation. This is something I welcome. I look forward to engaging with the Deputies as the legislation progresses through the Houses.

I thank those who have proposed this Bill which addresses an important matter that my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, has moved to address. The provision of sex education is an issue of concern. That it was the subject of an ancillary recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly when it considered the eighth amendment of the Constitution is a reflection of this. It was also the subject of a recommendation in the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The Joint Committee on Education and Skills recently invited submissions on its review of sexual health and relationships education, including contraception, consent and related matters.

One of the concerns underlying the tabling of this Private Members' Bill is that school ethos is, in some cases, preventing full and impartial delivery of the relationships and sexuality education, RSE, curriculum. This is one of the reasons a major review of RSE in schools will be carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA. The NCCA review will address the full breadth of the issues raised, including the content of the RSE curriculum and support materials and the delivery of that curriculum in schools. It will cover the impact of school ethos and a wide range of other issues. I am sure the NCCA will consider the issues raised when it carries out its review. The findings of the review will be of assistance in the formulation of a comprehensive and considered response to those findings.

We all recognise that RSE in this country must be fit for purpose and must meet the needs of young people in modern Ireland. There are numerous factors at play here. The Bill we are debating focuses mainly on the impact school ethos can have on how the RSE curriculum is delivered. There is a great deal of uncertainty about what is currently taught in schools during RSE lessons. At present, schools are obliged to teach all elements of the RSE curriculum. No element of it can be omitted on the grounds of school ethos or characteristic spirit. As we heard earlier, every student in the Irish school system has a right to access information about sexual health, relationships and sexuality. This must be delivered in a factual manner regardless of the ethos or characteristic spirit of the school. Schools are required to teach the full RSE programme. Topics in social, personal and health education, SPHE, and RSE are dealt with and addressed in an age-appropriate manner at all levels.

We should acknowledge the commitment of teachers and recognise their professional expertise in dealing with a difficult topic. Extensive resource materials to support implementation of the curriculum are available to schools. This work has been done in partnership with other Departments and agencies, including the HSE, the Gay and Lesbian Education Network and the crisis pregnancy programme. There are some excellent resources available to teachers to support them in delivering the relationships and sexuality education, RSE, curriculum.

The TRUST, or talking, relationships, understanding sexuality teaching, resource developed by the HSE may be used to supplement the RSE curriculum at senior cycle. The resource focuses on consent through the topics of loving relationships, intimacy, assertive communication, understanding boundaries, communicating boundaries without consent and when sexual assault becomes a reality. The Department of Education and Skills works closely with the Department of Health and the HSE on the development of enhanced resources to assist the teaching of RSE in schools. The development of the LGBTI youth strategy is a key commitment for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in the programme for Government and it also makes a contribution towards the Government's broader commitment to continue to strive for full inclusion of LGBT people in Ireland. The Department of Education and Skills is inputting into that process.

Curricular provision of social, personal and health education, SPHE, RSE across primary and post-primary level is aimed at ensuring topics are covered in an age-appropriate manner. As the Minister has stated, it is now time to review the content and the delivery of relationships and sexuality education. The primary level SPHE curriculum used in schools was published in 1999 and the SPHE curriculum framework for junior cycle was published in 2000. Of course, we must also acknowledge the role parents play in the education of their children. The RSE provided in schools, coupled with education provided at home by parents, is associated with the best outcomes for students.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is sharing time with Deputy Mick Barry.

More than 100 years ago James Joyce, in his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, described how a priest, Fr. Arnall, gave lectures to schoolchildren about the evils of the flesh and how they would suffer hellfire and damnation if they in any way gave into feelings of sexuality or even acknowledged it. In that chapter he brilliantly counterposed the denial of sexuality enforced by the Catholic Church which induced feelings of guilt and so on with the completely distorted view of it. He used the symbol of prostitution, with women being seen as sexual objects. In the chapter he captures what would later happen in this state when the Catholic Church was given control of schools and the education of young people. It had really dire consequences as it helped to create a culture where it was legitimate to treat women as chattel, lock them up and treat them as sinners and fallen women, etc. if they had sex outside marriage. It carried right through to the despicable texts we saw exchanged between the rugby players, which appalled everyone. They demonstrated the objectification of women and their sexuality.

There are many complicated reasons for the rotten record the State has in its treatment of women, the prevalence of sexual violence and the high rates of suicide among LGBT and transgender people. The rates are way higher in this country than anywhere else. The role of the church in denying young people in this country proper sex education because of its ethos is absolutely critical. It is frankly worse than ironic and terrible that Fianna Fáil acknowledges that there might have to be change in all of this-----

There must be.

-----but it does not think it should be legislated for. The party has no problem whatever in legislating to allow the church to discriminate in the Equal Status Acts or specifically allow the particular religious ethos of schools to be rammed down the throats of young people. That seems to be allowed by Fianna Fáil, but we cannot insert a requirement in urgently needed legislation to ensure young people are given an objective education about sexuality. We can consider the dire consequences of failing to do so. Deputy Mattie McGrath has said we should have objective education about sexuality and so on but not at the expense of ethos. The problem is that ethos denies objective education about sexuality, LGBT matters, issues of consent and contraception. Certain facts are just left out. If education is partial, leaves certain elements out and twists and distorts them because of ethos, it is not objective. It is distorted and partial. The evidence is clear of the negative impacts on young people and society as a whole. It is particularly clear for women, children and so on arising from the domination of religious institutions. To my mind, it is absolutely right, proper and urgently necessary to insert in legislation a specific requirement to ensure the key issues of consent, LGBT rights, sexuality and contraception are addressed in the education curriculum.

Sex education as taught in schools is inadequate and not for purpose. As the examples given by Deputy Paul Murphy indicate, in many cases, it is a sick joke. The time has come for change, which is being demanded by young people all over the country. Solidarity has put the Bill forward, but young people are driving it. We saw this in the protests on the streets in towns around the country less than two weeks ago. People stood behind banners saying they stood with the woman in Belfast. They demanded that people be educated about consent. It is a protest movement that has put the matter on the agenda and it should be registered in this discussion.

The same sort of young people were in the National University of Ireland, Galway, last summer, attended consent workshops and conducted a consent survey. More than 1,000 people took part. The results of the survey indicated that nobody had received formal education at school about consent. More than three in four people, or 76%, said the sex education they had received at school left out "a lot of crucial and important information".

Young people are demanding to learn about relationships. This week we were told that 19,000 disclosures of domestic abuse against women and kids had been made to Women's Aid last year. From where do the ideas that lead to such abuse come? In the United Kingdom one in four teenagers has experienced abuse in a relationship. What is the story here? We do not know because there have been no surveys carried out. There are no data available. That is why we need relationships education in schools.

What about the child from the LGBTQ+ background sitting in a school where its ethos means that there is no education about LGTBQ+ sexuality or relationships? What is the message being sent if people are invisible? It is that they do not count. Young people are not going to stand for that. All young people are opposed to that type of discrimination, standing up and speaking out against it. The Minister said we needed factual education in schools. That is very good. He also said we had to respect ethos and that he was going to have a review carried out. However, there will not be factual sexuality and relationships education in schools unless the question of ethos is tackled. That does not mean that religious orders cannot teach their views in religion class. However, they cannot block factual objective education in schools. If geography was taught in a school and there was nothing about Spain, Germany or Latin America, it would not be a very good class. The same applies to sex education. It is not unconstitutional. Article 43.3.2° reads:

The State shall, however, as guardian of the common good, require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social.

We need to separate Church and State. We need State-funded education controlled by the State, not by religious orders. We can now say the ethos of a school cannot obstruct factual education as it is not unconstitutional. We will go on to separate Church and State because clearly that is what is needed. There is an old saying in the Labour movement which is applicable to this debate - "Which side are you on?" On one side of this debate we have Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the Irish Family Planning Association, the National Women's Council of Ireland, every students' union in the country-----

-----and young people who are clearly demanding change on this issue. On the other we have the Catholic Primary School Management Association, which is to be expected. The Dáil is meant to give a lead to the country on the issue, but we have Fianna Fáil stating it is going to call a vote in order that tomorrow it can shoot down or try to - I am not sure it has the numbers - a progressive sex education Bill. It is siding with the Catholic right and presenting itself as the dinosaur of the Dáil. It is a moment of truth for the party tonight and tomorrow. Let us watch very closely which way it goes.

The Messiah has arrived.

We can stand on our own feet and had proposed it long before the Deputies jumped on it.

Then vote for it.

We are approaching it in a proper way.

The Deputies have had their opportunity. That concludes the debate.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time tomorrow, Thursday, 19 April.