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Bruton statement on sex education booklets was poorly informed

By July 1, 2003News

– Release date: 02 July 2003

The Irish Family Planning Association has described remarks by the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, on a new series of sex education booklets as ‘poorly informed’ and ‘most unhelpful’ in addressing the problems of growing instances of Sexually Transmitted Infections and crisis pregnancies in Ireland.

Deputy Bruton issued a statement yesterday (1st July 2003) condemning a series of sex education booklets which were produced by the IFPA and the North Eastern Health Board. The books were originally developed by the British FPA but have been modified for an Irish audience. The launch of the books, due to take place yesterday, was postponed at short notice by the NEHB.

According to Catherine Heaney, Chief Executive of the Irish Family Planning Association, “it would have been helpful if Mr Bruton had actually read the booklets before he cast judgement on them. Contrary to his perceptions, the books do provide comprehensive and accurate information to teenagers about all aspects of sexuality, including advice like ‘ditch boys who try to pressure you or insult you’ and ‘don’t have sex until you’re absolutely sure it’s what you want to do’.

“The booklets do indeed state that ‘your body is yours to share it with whoever you choose’. However, this sentence appears in a paragraph which discusses homosexuality and bi-sexuality. The implication of the paragraph is that it is normal if a young person is gay or bisexual. The paragraph also states that ‘you may choose to share it (sic. your body) with no-one’. If Deputy Bruton has difficulty with different forms of sexuality, he should be upfront about it.

“Deputy Bruton also took issue with how the books deal with the age of consent. Clearly, he is unaware that one of the books actually states that ‘it’s against the law for a man to have sexual intercourse with a girl aged under 17’. The books also advise that ‘the average age when both men and women have sex is now 17. Many wait until they are older’.

“The IFPA firmly believes in providing as much quality information as possible to assist young people in making informed decisions about their sexual behaviour. To this end, we are prepared to work with the NEHB to include a sentence in all of the books which states the legal age of consent.

“Its is both duplicitous and inconsistent of Deputy Bruton to take such a high moral stand on the age of consent when he, just 10 years ago, was party to the abolition of age limits concerning the purchase of condoms. At the time of the passing of the Family Planning (amendment) Act in 1993, as Leader of Fine Gael, he appears to have expressed no opposition to scrapping age limits. It was a sensible decision at the time, because it acknowledged that people under 17 were sexually active and unless they could access condoms, they were at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

“The reality is that a significant number of young people are involved in consenting sexual relationships before they reach 17. This is supported by a number of recent surveys, rates of teen pregnancies and abortions, as well as the growing number of young people accessing IFPA services. There is a real need for a policy and programme response to these trends. As a member of the legislature, John Bruton has not taken a lead in this. Indeed, the Dáil records since 1999 show no proposals or statements from him on sexuality. It is unreasonable for him to moralise when he is failing to deal with issues concerning sexuality at a political level.

The IFPA strongly defended its role in working with health boards and other statutory agencies on sex education materials. “In his statement, Mr Bruton dismissed the IFPA as a lobby group. He seems unaware that the majority of IFPA activities are concentrated in the area of service provision. The association is the provider of certified family planning training to the medical profession and it is well equipped to advise and comment on sexual and reproductive health matters.”