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Inclusive, fact-based RSE programme is crucial to ending sexual violence – Carroll MacNeill

24th November 2021 - Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, TD

Our current relationship and sexual education (RSE) curriculum requires urgent updating to be brought into the 21st century and turn the tide against sexual and gender-based violence once and for all, a Fine Gael TD has said.

Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Fine Gael Spokesperson on Equality, said, “We urgently need a new and inclusive RSE programme throughout our primary and secondary schools, a programme rooted in respect, consent and science. A programme that is not religion based, but fact and equality based. There needs to be a programme that reflects the settled law of this land and government policy.

“If we are to turn the tide once and for all against the wave of gender-based violence, discrimination, and sexual harassment in Ireland, we need to urgently change the education of our five-year olds and beyond.

“I have been working on this issue since my election almost two years ago. I, alongside Pamela O’Leary, a Guidance Counsellor based in Cork Educate Together, worked to flag and fix a practical issue within existing RSE materials. That issue was the availability of homophobic, sexist and misogynistic teaching material.

“From my engagement with students throughout this time, particularly with secondary school pupils and representatives from Student Unions, I have heard how students themselves want a new curriculum which teaches them about sexual health, consent, equality, and personhood. They want a curriculum that is free from discrimination and religious influence.

“I have raised this over 12 times in Dáil Éireann to date and the Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021, brought before the Dáil today by the Social Democrats, is another opportunity to discuss the details of this issue.

“I don’t believe legislation is needed to implement a different sexual education curriculum, it can be done without it, but today’s Bill does bring this issue to the attention of the Oireachtas and the Government yet again, which I very much welcome.

“In Budget 2022 the Government allocated increased funding for combatting Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (DSGBV). This, along with increased funding for victim supports is extremely necessary and welcome. However, as I have said previously, these supports will only be a sticking-plaster – they will never fix the injury.

“I visited the Men’s Aid office in Dolphin House earlier this week and heard first-hand the male experience of abuse. It is clear that this is not solely a gender specific issue – abuse, harassment and violence is experienced by people across every walk of life.

“We must get to the root of the problem, of what causes people to carry out heinous acts of rape, sexual harassment, abuse, coercive control and more. This can be done through early and age-appropriate education.

“What I am hearing is that when we arm people with the education and knowledge to identify abuse, to identify coercive control, to call out what is and is not acceptable, individuals are empowered to put a stop to it, to walk away and to get help. But this is often learned after the fact, and many times, is too late.

“It appears the rollouts of updated programmes are happening consecutively, one after the other, as opposed to in tandem with each other. It is vital we know what stage the primary and senior cycle programme development is at, and what year we can expect training for teachers and the rollout in schools.

“Until we educate and empower our young people, how can we expect anything to change for the next generation,” asked Deputy Carroll MacNeill.

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