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Coveney: 'Sex education isn't about religion. The State must ensure young people get the facts'

He said young people today are exposed to much more explicit forms of pornography and sexual content than any generation before them.

Image: Sam Boal

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said he is not satisfied with how sex education is being taught in Irish schools.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie about his thoughts on the upcoming referendum, which will be published later this evening, the Cork TD said a lot more can be done to prevent crisis pregnancies, including the improvement in education.

“I think there is a consistency issue here across schools that I think we need to improve on,” he said.

Last month, Education Minister Richard Bruton ordered a full review of sex education in schools due to the fact that certain elements of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme in schools is 20 years old.

There have been concerns raised in the past about what information is being conveyed to young people, particularly by religious groups who give talks to students on sex education.

Earlier this week, RTÉ reported that some State schools had paid out more than €10,000 over the past two years to outsource teaching about RSE to a Catholic agency.

In 2014, TheJournal.ie reported that during one class students were taped together by wrists during a sex education talk by Catholic group. The group responded by stating that it does not have a negative view of sex.

Sexual health

When asked about religion playing a role in the sex education of Irish school children today, Coveney said:

Sexual health isn’t about religion. I am a practising Catholic and my religion is important to me, but I think there are things the State need to do to ensure that everybody gets the medical facts and understands the risks of not having a clear understanding of sexual health at an age that is necessary now in Ireland, [and that is] reflective of the reality of what teenagers get up to, and the influence of alcohol and drug use and so on.
I think we can do more in this area and it shouldn’t be about religion one way or the other – this is about understanding the facts and vulnerabilities of women, in particular, but also young men understanding the need for respect for both their own and other people’s’ bodies.

Coveney said society, and legislators, cannot shy away from the reality that young people today are bombarded with sexually explicit images on a daily basis.

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He agreed that people have to stop underestimating the extent of young people’s knowledge around sex and relationships.

I have been through college and I was no angel there I can tell you. I talk to a lot of young people today and there is a knowledge there. They are exposed to much more explicit forms of pornography and sexual content than any generation before them and we as policy makers have to think about that and try and respond to it in a responsible, but also realistic manner and that needs to be part of education.

This why the Health Minister Simon Harris is pushing ahead with a comprehensive schools education programme, said Coveney.

The three-year programme due to be rolled out will include:

  • revised and enhanced resources, lesson plans and other supports for teachers in both primary and post-primary schools
  • implementation of sexual health promotion training for professionals in youth sector, those working with at-risk groups, and for parents
  • a new sexual health and ‘safer sex’ public advertising campaign
  • a sexual health initiative with higher and further education sector
  • a repeat of the general population survey on sexual health and crisis pregnancy to provide up-to-date data to support implementation

“In other words, we need to be preparing people for the realities that are dangerous today, that young people are going to face, and if we do that in a more comprehensive way, and if we work with teachers in terms of training and understanding we can do a lot to reduce unwanted pregnancies and crisis pregnancies in Ireland,” said Coveney.

The full interview with Simon Coveney on how he came to form his views on the abortion issue and upcoming referendum will be published later this evening.

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