WHAT was supposed to be a harmless graduation night joke has sparked a national debate on morals and teenage sex.
The graduates of a Cork girl’s school went to their debs ball last night in high spirits. However, a debate raged all around them about whether they were right to place free condoms on the tables.
The ball was organised at the Montenotte Hotel by a committee of friends who graduated from St Vincent’s Secondary School last June.
More than 70 couples – aged between 17 and 19 – attended the dinner dance.
The debate arose after the organising committee had money left over and two girls decided, without consultation with the rest of the committee, to place condoms on the formal place settings in the function room before the event.
One of the girls, Jessica Leonard, told 96FM yesterday that she and a small group of friends decided to place the condoms on the tables “for the laugh”.
“I thought it was hilarious. It’s not as if we are doing a bad thing,” she said.
“And if there are some condoms left over later on in the night, I’ll give them out to anyone who wants one.”
Another caller to the Neil Prendeville Show said the reaction generated by the story in yesterday’s Irish Examiner proved that the Irish as a nation are still very “prudish”.
“I hope people will look at the light side of this. The country is in a right mess and there are more important things going on,” she said.
However, another mother who contacted this newspaper said she was repulsed by the thought of condoms being made available to debutantes and criticised the hotel for allowing it.
“My daughter is attending her debs ball next week in a different hotel and I contacted them and asked if they would allow this kind of thing to happen and they said no way,” she said.
A spokesman for the hotel said it was a private function and was a matter for the organisers.
The father of a St Vincent’s graduate said he was furious that some of the committee members had “gone off on their own” and placed condoms on the tables without consulting the other members. “There was no consultation with the other committee members and their actions have ruined the night for the rest of the girls,” he said, adding that he considered not allowing his daughter attend.
Another father called Joe told 96FM he also had concerns. “Any parent would hope that their children wouldn’t be sexually active at 17. If they are, then OK – you’d teach them the rights and wrongs.
“But then they arrive in to the debs, and there they are – condoms on a plate.”
The girls’ former school issued a statement yesterday, signed by principal Donnchadh O Briain, distancing itself from the event.
“The board of management of St Vincent’s Secondary School wishes to state in the most clear and categorical terms that the school has no involvement whatsoever in the reported event and its organisation.”
Andy Walker, the health promotion manager of the HSE South, said sexual health experts would not encourage sexual activity among teenagers over the age of consent. “But if young people are sexually active then condoms are the minimum precaution.”
He urged young people with concerns about sexual health issues to contact the HSE Youth Health Service.
However, Mary Crilly, the director of the Sexual Violence Centre in Cork, said placing condoms on the table is not the right approach.
A wider discussion around sexual relations should take place first, Ms Crilly said.
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