I never thought I'd be sitting in a room discussing sexual positions with Michael McDowell. Politics is a strange calling though, and along with Jim O'Keefe and Brendan Howlin and a clatter of advisors (all male) I found myself in a ministerial meeting room, not once but three times over the last few days. It all felt like a bad dream, and in the end we differed over the criminal penalties for sexually active fifteen year olds. Rushed legislation is bound to be flawed, and that's why I proposed a 'sunset' clause of two years for the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2006.
The crowds outside was angry but it feels a bit odd to have a state broadcaster egging them on. We TDs were damned if we showed our faces there and damned if we didn't. Someone said to me that there were very few of us there, but someone else was giving TDs a hard time for showing up. Curious having a PD candidate addressing the crowd when their own Minister had forseen stormy waters as long as ten years ago.
The devil is in the detail, and perhaps Part 5 of the Act is the most contentious. Stigmatising fifteen and sixteen year old boys for having sex, while saying to girls of the same age that they won't be criminalised for having penetrative sex, but will be for other kinds of sexual act must be one of the most bizarre pieces of legislation in recent years. It seems doesn't seem like the right kind of message that the Stay Safe Programme is teaching in schools, but even that is hard enough to get details on from the web.
Perhaps some sort of Romeo and Juliet clause that wouldn't criminalise 15 and 16 year old teenagers who have sex with persons less than two years older than themselves would have been a better way to go. The Green Party tabled various amendments, but even the seemingly uncontentious suggestion that the rights of the child should be a primary consideration was opposed by Government. Doubtless the Sunday papers will have a field day.