Irish Mobilize Young Decision Makers

Last week, the Irish Family Planning Association held that country's first ever Young Decision Makers' (YDM) conference in Dublin. Following a model established in successful YDM meetings in Portugal, Spain, and Finland, the Irish YDM marks a two-front effort to scale up advocacy for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in a country that has traditionally been seen as a bit behind on these issues (especially when compared to other countries on the continent).

First, the YDM model serves to mobilize young decision makers—members of political parties, those holding elected positions, and other well-situated advocates—at the country level to advocate for better national policies on a wide array of SRHR issues. Given the age of these advocates, policies affecting youth are naturally prominent, if not paramount, on the agenda.

Second, the YDM meetings are explicitly coordinated to bridge concern about national issues to equal concern with the role of governments as donors in promoting and prioritizing SRHR in developing parts of the world. This is, of course, all the more important in the current global climate as U.S. shenanigans that undermine SRHR at every turn mean we've got to rely on other donor countries to fill the decency gap. Consider the lackluster support by the U.S. for condoms in combating HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa—that gap becomes a public health nightmare that other donors must repair.

Youth issues are particularly crucial for the Irish as more than 1/3 of their population is under the age of 25 (larger than the European Union average of about 29 percent). And, the time may be right for change. The law currently makes all sex under the age of 17 illegal (of course, it is worth mentioning that most teens in Ireland initiate sex at or before 16 years of age, thus this "crime" is pervasive on the Emerald Isle). A recent Supreme Court decision, however, means that this law must be reconsidered.

Thankfully, along with the fertile ground for a realistic change in outdated laws, Ireland's approach to sex education is more progressive than most might think. In 1995, Ireland instituted a nationwide program called Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) which aimed to "promote an understanding of sexuality" and "healthy attitudes and values toward their sexuality in a moral, spiritual and social framework." The language itself is startling, particularly for Americans who cannot even get new, supposedly progressive, Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress to drop the tired mantra of teen pregnancy prevention as the rationale for why young people need sexuality information. The Irish are light years ahead.

The program is not perfect, however. Research released earlier this year which was presented at the conference, sheds light on the fact that RSE's implementation is falling short of desired outcomes. Problems of oversight on implementation, poor teacher training, and the universal scourge of discomfort in addressing sexuality issues with young people, remain significant obstacles. Yet, Ireland's national program far surpasses anything we have in the United States and makes the Bush administration's promotion of abstinence-only programs look appropriately like 18th century thinking. And, surprise, surprise: participants at the YDM reported that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are gaining access to Irish schools and providing incorrect and religiously themed programs.

The young decision makers gathered in Dublin last week also spoke about the need for basic reproductive health care services, including legal abortion. Advocates in Ireland continue to battle for the right to choose and a new innovative campaign, Safe and Legal, has been launched to galvanize and magnify these efforts.

One thing that struck me in Ireland and that was raised at the YDM was the issue of access to condoms. It is not that they cannot be found. This American likes a pint of Guinness as much as any Irishman and in each pub I ventured into, condom machines were in each of the restrooms (or the jacks, as they call them). The issue in the urban areas is thus not so much access as it is price (though access and price are issues outside of urban hubs). The price of a condom in the average pub is about 4 Euros—about the same price as an additional pint. That's a problem. Cost is high in pharmacies as well. Part of this problem is that condoms are taxed as a luxury item in Ireland which means they cost 10 to 20 percent more than they should. The YDM shed light on this and a change in the rate of taxation on condoms, at a minimum, is essential.

Going forward, the young decision makers gathered in Ireland will be creating a statement of priorities to move country-level policy. With the creation of an organized group of young decision makers in the country, these priorities have an actualizing element that can make a difference. European countries need these types of groups in this important time of transition and expansion of the European Union. Indeed, other counter forces are at work in countries like Poland and in Brussels to turn back the clock on SRHR. Let's make sure they don't get a free ride.

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  • invalid-0

    Below is an example letter that will prove invaluable to concerned readers when defending against the baleful anti-family, uncivilised attack as defined above.

    I would ask any reader interested in the true facts on the undemocratic insidious attack on our families would go to and read the real understanding of the Irish situation and how good people are fighting back.

    Harry Rea


    Dear Principal

    I thank you for you prompt reply to my letter of 19 June.
    Unfortunately though I found it failed to reassure me of what I had asked and I am forced to write again in a more formal way than I had hoped.

    In my previous letter I apologised for its length but stated that I wanted to lay out the position at the outset, as clearly as possible, of the relationship that I believe must legitimately exist between a parent and any body that cares for their child to ensure the safety of that child.

    I hoped that if I was in error you would helpfully point it out to me but I also hoped where you were unable to raise any such objections to it that the confirmation I sought would be forthcoming and my wife and I could proceed without further ado to choose a school for our daughter.

    In my letter to you I quite properly made no reference to the value system that operates in my family because it is a private matter and of no interest to anyone else. However, lest anyone misconstrues my legitimate serious concerns for the welfare of my children, in the light of a recent challenge to the concept of family subsidiarity in their current school, I advise you that they are entirely consistent with the Christian principles that form the basis for Bunreacht na hÉireann [ The Irish Constitution ] and obviously the ethos of any school must also follow suit.

    It has been pointed out to me by a Principal that children spend only 15% of their childhood days in a school setting, hence 85% of their formation is under the control of their Guardians.

    I appreciate the candour of the Principal but therein lies a grave misconception and probably one that might be the cause of a lot of misunderstanding.

    The truth is and the law is very clear here that children are 100% of the time under the control of their Guardians. They and they alone are responsible for their education.

    Schooling is but a subset of a child’s education, albeit a very significant one.

    Children whilst they are at school are in the care of the Board of Management who are acting “in loco parentis”. The Board does not have any authority over the children themselves and can only ever act with the informed consent of a child’s Guardians. Where this is a Married Family this means with the joint power and authority of the Husband and of the Wife.

    A school does not legally have the right to have a child on its premises except with the written consent of all the child’s Guardians and this must necessarily be part of the enrolment procedures. It would constitute a very serious breach of trust if a school were to teach a child without this consent and a failure of a Guardian if they were to confuse a child by teaching them one set of values whilst at home and allowing them to be taught a different set in their designated school.

    Not having received a satisfactory response from you and needing to move on I am forced to seek confirmation on the following simplified point only.

    Can you confirm that if I enroll my child at your school, you will not involve my child – by the delivery of any programme or event to her by the school or by a third party or by requiring her to be excluded from the delivery of such a programme – in any aspect of the non-mandatory curriculum including RSE and other values-laden programmes, without having first secured my consent in writing for the school to deliver such a programme or event.

    I do not believe I am asking here anything other than for you to confirm that this is your understanding of the law, which we all hope will never need to be invoked, and to respect family authority.

    My wife and I only have a finite number of schools to choose from. A failure from you to respond in the affirmative to my request for confirmation of the position detailed above and in my previous letter would render it unsafe for me to send my child to your school and constitute a denial of my family’s rights to send my child to “a school recognised by the Minister under the Education Act, 1998” and of my child’s right to be educated by her parents.

    This has become an urgent matter for my family and I beg you to give me your confirmation on the above by return.

    God bless

    Con Serned

  • invalid-0

    William Smith has got a great grasp of the situation in Ireland. The comments made in response to William’s blog are very much in the minority in Ireland now.

    The recently published study on attitudes and behaviour to sex, sex education and relationships in Ireland demonstrates how much Irish people have moved on.

    The study which surveyed 7,441 participants (but unfortunately left young people out). Almost all (99.4%)individuals surveyed believed that young people today should receive sex education on at least one of the following subjects.

    sex and sexual intercourse
    sexual feelings, relationships and emotions
    safer sex and STIs

    There was little variation between support for teaching each of the subjects. 98% supported education on contraception, 99% supported education on safer sex, followed by 96% support for sexual feelings, relationships and emotions. Education on homosexuality was the least supported but it still had 94.2% support.

    With this sort of support it is surprising that the implementation of sex education in Irish schools is not stronger. It is not surprising that young people are coming together to demand their right to sex education.

    Moreover because of a number tragic cases, Irish people are very clear that parental rights to control the education/information a child or young person gets does not exist for the benefit of the parent. It only exists for the benefit of the child/young person.