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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 21 January, 2020

Decriminalisation of people with intellectual disabilities having sex welcomed

Instead, the status of a ‘protected person’ will be created for people who can’t give consent.

Image: Shutterstock/Rock and Wasp

THE GOVERNMENT IS to repeal a law which made it a criminal offence for a person with an intellectual disability to have a sexual relationship.

The repeal of the ban on people with intellectual disabilities having romantic and sexual relationships has been welcomed by Rehab, one of the country’s largest disability charities.

New legislation repeals the previous blanket ban which prevented an individual having a sexual relationship with a person who has a mental health difficulty or an intellectual disability.

The new rule will come into effect after Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald signed the commencement order for the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017.

The law will consider whether a person with an intellectual disability has capacity to consent to a sexual relationship, rather than just outlawing such relationships because they have a disability.

Rehab said that the previous law “acted as a barrier to the fundamental right to marry and found a family, which is provided for under the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

Protected person

To safeguard those who can’t consent to sexual relationships, a new category of ‘protected person’ has been created.

This will be defined as someone who lacks the capacity to consent to a sexual act by reason of a mental or intellectual disability, or a mental illness and is incapable of understanding, evaluating or communicating in relation to a sexual act.

It will now be illegal for a person to have a sexual relationship with a protected person.

Kathleen O’Meara of Rehab said: “This is an important step forward in opening up the law around sexual relationships for people with disabilities.

While, it is the case that this new law could have gone further to create a more disability neutral law, we believe this change in the law will provide greater opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities to assert their human right to marry and to found a family.

“It will also open access to essential sex education and sexual and reproductive health services for people with intellectual disabilities just like everyone else.”

Column: Tackling the taboo – relationships, sexuality and disability

Read: Call for repeal of ban on people with intellectual disabilities having sexual relationships

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