A bill to prevent schools from using their religious ethos to avoid providing objective and factual sex education is to be debated in the Dáil.

Launching the Objective Sexual Education Bill, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said the curriculum should cover contraception, sexuality, gender, LGBT+ issues and consent.

Her bill aims to remove religious ethos from the relationships and sexuality education curriculum and, while Ms Coppinger welcomed the major review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in schools, announced by Education Minister Richard Bruton this week, she said changing the curriculum will have no impact if schools can opt out of it on the basis of ethos.

“There is no point in reviewing how it is taught if schools will still be allowed to ignore it if if doesn’t fit their religious views. This bill will remove the religious barriers from the teaching of sex,” said Ms Coppinger.

The proposals have the support of groups such as Rape Crisis Network Ireland, National Women’s Council of Ireland, USI, the Irish Family Planning Association, and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

“The way sex education is taught to young people in schools is not fit for purpose. It is hampered by the religious ethos of schools and is not factual and objective,” said Ms Coppinger.

“Young people are told to abstain, rather than being taught about important issues, like consent.”

Also attending the launch was Clíona Saidléar from the Rape Crisis Network Ireland. She welcomed the Bill, which would make the issue of consent a core part of sex education for every child.

Consent and mutual respect are the fundamental building blocks for not only healthy sexual relationships, but a good society.

“We believe these values and tools should be universally taught to children, regardless of religious or school ethos,” she said.

Secondary school student Megan Brady said the sex education she has received has been “far from adequate”.

“My sex education, like so many others, was outsourced to a Catholic marriage counselling service, which had some extreme biases when teaching us,” said Ms Brady.

She said the education young people receive is very dependent on the school and even the individual teacher.

“The one sex education class I did get from my school was more or less a half an hour on natural family planning.”

The sixth-year student added: “We need to be having honest and realistic conversations in our classrooms.

Schools need to be a lot more concerned about protecting the safety of their students rather than the ethos of the school. We need to be having conversations about consent, different sexualities and different genders and this can’t just happen in secondary school, it needs to be spoken about in primary schools.

Niall Behan, chief executive, Irish Family Planning Association, said that while some schools are getting sexuality education right, others are failing young people, leaving them to seek out information about sex from unreliable or even dangerous websites.

He said: “Contraception and abortion are misrepresented or ignored; issues of consent and bodily autonomy are rarely discussed. Underlying these problems is the ethos of the schools.”

The bill, which was moved in first stage last week, will be debated in the Dáil on April 18.

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