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‘Political cowardice’ stopping politicians having real debate on transgender education in primary schools 

A national conversation on Newstalk Breakfast this morning heard that “political cowardice” is preventing Ireland from having a real debate on the issue of teaching transgenderism in schools.

Host Ciara Kelly, who is a former GP, made the comments, as she argued that Irish politicians are “completely out of step with parents” on transgender education in primary schools.

The journalist and former doctor was speaking after President Michael D Higgins waded in on the debate, following steep controversy this week. The President said it was his view that schools should provide “basic information regarding sexuality in the fullest sense”.

While he did not refer directly to the root of contention, transgender education, he made the comments just days after the Primary Catholic School Management Association (CPSMA), which represents almost 90% of primary schools in Ireland, wrote to Ministers to express its opposition to the teaching of transgender issues to primary aged children.

The CPSMA said trans education could lead to “a growing psychological contagion” among children. It also cautioned that children should not be prematurely introduced to “complex” topics around which it said there is no “medical or social consensus”.

It sent the letter after Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said Irish children in both primary and secondary schools should be educated about what it means to be transgender. Since the letter was sent by the CPSMA, both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have come out in support of the idea. Leo Varadkar this week said children should learn about trans issues, while Micheál Martin blasted the letter as ‘unhelpful’.

‘Absolutely terrified’ of debate 

However, speaking on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Ciara Kelly said it was concerning that the letter from the Catholic organisation was being totally dismissed. While discussing Michael D Higgins’ comments, she warned that politicians are trying to “tell parents what they should think rather than listening to what parents want”.

Her co-host Shane Coleman said that the president was yet again“weighing in for the umpteenth time into the political area” was “wrong”. 

“But lots of people are willing to defend it, and no politician has the guts to come out and say it shouldn’t happen – so that’s going to continue,” Coleman said. 

He went on to say he was “hugely disappointed” by the Tánaiste’s comments on the CPSMA and their letter to Government Ministers on the teaching of trans issues in primary schools.

Mr Coleman said he could “guarantee” that there would be silence from politicians on the president’s comments — which he contrasted to the backlash received by the CPSMA by our politicians for voicing opposition.

“Michael Martin’s response to that letter was that it was “unhelpful”. So it’s ok for Michael D Higgins as president, supposedly not engaging in political issues to come out on this issue, but it’s not ok for the CPSMA, whose members are intimately involved in it, to express their views on it. That, to me, is really worrying, and that to me points to a democratic deficit […] I worry we are not having a debate on this,” the presenter said.

Responding, his co-host said:

“I think we are absolutely terrified to have a debate on this and the interesting thing, I think, is that politicians are absolutely out of step with parents. 

“Because parents are discussing this and parents have a view, and it is my understanding, from the feedback that I see on social media and the feedback I get from people talking about this when you’re meeting them at school gates and stuff, is that parents have deep misgivings,” Ms Kelly said.

“By the way, I don’t mind what people’s view is on any of this stuff because everyone is absolutely entitled to their view – but parents have deep misgivings about two things.

“One is about children transitioning young. Parents have deep misgivings about that.

“Also, parents have deep misgivings with this idea that at a certain age you don’t need parental consent. Your minor children, your under-18 children don’t need parental consent.”

‘Parents want their input taken into account’

Ms Kelly said that politicians are failing to listen not only to parents, but to the experiences of other countries, as she pointed to the shutting down of the Tavistock clinic in the UK and recent medical debate over the gender affirmation model of care. She said it was her view the debate needed to happen “whether Micheál Martin wants us to debate this or not”.

She highlighted how the British Medical Journal this week came out to state there is no evidence to support the affirmation model – based on the idea transgender children choose their own gender identity, and are affirmed in that choice.

She said the contentious model has now been scrapped in the UK, Scandinavia and the Netherlands – insisting that this is not an issue that isn’t “being debated everywhere whether Micheál Martin wants it to be debated or not”.

She said that her experience as a former doctor, and also as a journalist, was that “we should listen and talk to parents” on these issues.

“The interface between children and [transgender issues] is fraught with difficulty,” Ciara said, adding: “‘No debate’” is over”.

 “The interface between those two things is very contentious, whether your politicians will tell you this or not, it absolutely is. Parents don’t want no debate. Parents want their input taken into account. I think politicians are telling parents what they should think rather than listening to what parents want,” she said.

Mr Coleman said it was apparent the debate on this issue “seems to be happening everywhere but Leinster House”.

“[It’s] political cowardice,” Ciara Kelly said – in an opinion which was reinforced by her co-host. “That’s exactly what it is,” Coleman said.

“We’re not RTE. We’re not the Dail,” she concluded.

You can listen back to the full segment here.

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