By Cate McCurry, PA
All publicly funded schools should adhere to Government policy by including LGBTI+ relationships in all sex education programmes, the Tánaiste has said.
Leo Varadkar said the Government is very explicit on the issue and has included it in its Programme for Government.
He made the comments after a new sex education programme for Catholic primary schools stated that the Church’s teaching on marriage between a man and a woman “cannot be omitted”.
The relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme was developed by the Irish Bishops Conference.
“Tánaiste, teaching children that relationships can be placed in a hierarchy, depending on sexual orientation, should be anathema in any modern republic," says @RoisinShortall during leader's questions.
Why is the RSE programme for children being written by Bishops? pic.twitter.com/NBGBC0vTvl
— Social Democrats (@SocDems) April 29, 2021
It also described how sex was a “gift from God”.
There are 2,800 Catholic primary schools around the country, accounting for 90 per cent of all primary schools.
Mr Varadkar said Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Minister for Education Norma Foley will make a statement on plans for sex education in primary schools.
Co-leader of the Social Democrats Roisin Shortall said that teaching children that relationships can be placed in a hierarchy depending on sexual orientation should be “anathema” in any modern republic.
“Last month, incredibly, the Vatican reaffirmed that the Catholic Church cannot bless same sex unions because God cannot, quote, ‘bless sin’,” she told the Dáil.
“That was the Church’s position. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
“But it is not the State’s position, it is not the public’s position.
“We had a marriage equality referendum in this country in 2015, which passed by a huge majority, and same sex marriage is every bit as valid as heterosexual marriage.
“Tanaiste, teaching children that relationships can be placed in a hierarchy depending on sexual orientation should be anathema in any modern republic.
“Do we really want LGBTQ+ children in schools, who may be struggling with their sexual orientation, to be taught that their relationships are in any way less worthy, meaningful, loving, or deserving of respect than their heterosexual peers?
“Because that is the influence of this programme.”
She added: “So can you tell me, why is it that in 2021 relationships and sexuality education for our children is being developed by Catholic bishops?
“Why does the Education Minister remain silent on this?”
Mr Varadkar said the Programme for Government is very explicit that it will develop inclusive and age-appropriate curricula for RSE and Social, Personal and Health Education (SBHC) across primary and post-primary schools, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships.
“So that is the Government policy, it’s the Government position, and it is what we expect to be upheld in publicly funded schools,” he added.
“As things stand all schools have to have an RSE policy that has to be developed in consultation with school management, parents, teachers and students as appropriate.
“The schools programme for RSE is developed and taught in the context of the school’s RSE policy.
“The ethos of schools should never preclude learners from requiring the knowledge about the issues, but may influence how the content is treated.
“Access to sexual and health education is an important right for students, and it’s a mandatory part of the curriculum in our primary schools and post primary schools for junior cycle.”
Ms Shortall said it was “wrong” that the church is given a choice about the type of education children receive, but Irish parents are not.
“As long as the church controls 90 per cent of schools, that choice will be absent,” she added.
“This must change and change as a matter of urgency.”