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SCALLAN: No, Ireland should not lower the age of consent to 16

Last week, as if to highlight the continuing moral degradation of Irish society, one NUIG professor took to the radio to outline how Ireland’s age of sexual consent should be lowered to 16.

Dr. Pádraig MacNeela – a lecturer and sexual health researcher at NUIG – made the comments last week in the course of a Newstalk interview.

To take a slight detour before we get into the topic at hand, this situation might give you a sense of déjà vu, since MacNeela is not the first NUIG academic to come out with controversial takes on teenage sexuality.

In 2019, you also may have heard of NUIG’s Kate Dawson, who advocated for including “porn literacy” in schools’ sex education to “remove the stigma.”

As previously reported by Gript, Dawson advocated for a “porn workshop” which included games for school children involving words such as “gang-bang,” “bondage,” “fisting,” “anal ass-eating,” “MILF,” and more:

Notably, Dawson and MacNeela have worked together on research regarding sexual consent and other topics.

Regardless, MacNeela’s advocacy for the age of consent to be lowered came after the government’s Budget 2023 saw girls aged 16 and up being offered free contraception – despite the fact that Ireland’s age of consent is 17.

As a result, MacNeela has advocated for lowering the age of consent, making four main arguments in defence of his position.

Firstly, according to Dr. MacNeela, the “contradiction” between giving out condoms to children is one reason why Ireland’s age of consent should be lowered:

“I suppose there is a contradiction there inherently anyway – because the age of consent for medical procedures is 16 in the first place. That’s going to be in there anyway, I suppose this new development adds to that. And maybe brings into sharper relief just that contradiction between what happens in your healthcare, and what could happen on a legal side.”

To be clear, I agree wholeheartedly that it’s an absurdity to give contraception to children who are under the age of consent, and the government is seriously wrong and out of line for doing it.

But the way of rectifying that contradiction is to stop giving young teenagers condoms – not to lower the age of consent. The sick and twisted part is that we are facilitating literal children having sex – not the fact that there’s a discrepancy. To lower the age of consent to bring it in line with the condom use is simply ludicrous – MacNeela has the whole thing backwards.

In the course of the interview, the lecturer then goes on to make an even less sensible argument. He claims that, because some teenagers in Ireland are already having sex, that means we should lower the age of consent:

“You’ve got other pressures as well: we know from the last HBSC national survey in 2018… that a quarter of 15 to 17-year-olds are sexually active. So your laws should reflect what people are doing.”

Note that if a quarter of teens are having sex as MacNeela claims, that means that three quarters – the overwhelming majority – are not having sex. But apparently they don’t count, and we should simply focus on the minority who are, so we can lower the age to reflect that. He ignores the 75% who are not sexually active, and zeroes in on the minority who are to justify his point.

It’s also worth noting that while the title of the Newstalk segment is “Should Ireland lower the age of consent to 16?”, by MacNeela’s logic, if the law should “reflect what people are doing,” that means we should truly lower it to 15, because some 15-year-olds are apparently having sex as well. If the argument is valid for 16-year-olds, by that metric, why shouldn’t 15-year-olds qualify?

In fact, children of all ages have sex. There are children who are having sex at 11 and 12 in Ireland. Does that mean that we should lower the age of consent to 11 or 12, because some people are doing it?

Clearly, that would be disgusting and gross, and I’m sure MacNeela wouldn’t support it. We all draw a line in the sand regarding these things for a good reason. But that just shows that the argument is fundamentally nonsensical.

20% of Irish teens have consumed illegal drugs – which is higher than the European average – according to drugs.ie. Does that means we should legalise 13-year-olds smoking weed and taking ecstasy?

Thankfully, MacNeela seems to even address this point later in the interview, saying that just because some teens drink alcohol doesn’t mean we should legalise drink – which is a welcome acknowledgement. But this flies in the face of the point he just made regarding sex.

The argument is absolutely ludicrous on its face. The purpose of the law is not to reflect what people are doing – it’s the precise opposite. It’s to shape good behaviour in society and stop people from doing bad things that they are inclined to do.

Lazy people litter if they’re not punished, so we bring in a law against littering. Inconsiderate people leave their dog’s crap on the ground if they’re allowed to, so we bring in a law against fouling. Some people rob and shoplift if they can get away with it, so we bring in a law against theft.

At no point do we say “Well, people are robbing and littering, so we need to change the law to reflect what people are doing.” That’s clearly preposterous. If we agree with the principle that young teens should not be having sex, which the vast majority of people do, then that’s what our laws should reflect – not encouraging the bad behaviour.

MacNeela continues on to make possibly the most absurd argument of all: simply comparing Ireland’s age of consent to the European average:

“If you look at different European states, we’re kind of out of line…you’ve got anywhere between 14 and 16 would be the norm in other EU states [for the age of consent]. So I suppose that would bring it into line more.”

To call this a bad argument would be to give it too much credit. Not only is it a bad argument, it’s not an argument at all.

Saying “other European countries do it” doesn’t prove that it’s a good idea to lower the age of consent. That just means that other European countries are run by weirdos who apparently don’t care about the corruption of their countries’ youth. It’s not even remotely close to a defence of the position.

As an aside, the fact that saying “We’re out of step with the European norm” is seen as an argument on this and so many other issues shows just how sycophantic we are as a country. It’s like it would never occur to us that maybe others have gotten it wrong, and we’re the ones who are right. We have no confidence in our own judgement, and need to constantly look to Europe for approval, even when they’re clearly the ones who are off-base.

Regardless, MacNeela has one final argument up his sleeve – that we shouldn’t criminalise adolescents:

“In addition, then, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has also said that we should avoid criminalising adolescents.”

We actually sent an email to MacNeela asking him to clarify his position, and in fairness he elaborated on this point:

“This is a complex issue and needs extensive legal consideration and consultation – e.g. to ensure that issues such as age difference, being in a position of authority, and so on are adequately and appropriately dealt with from the point of view of protection of the young person.”

And those are all fair caveats. Clearly, whatever about two 16-year-olds having sex, that’s a far cry from a 16-year-old and a 55-year-old having sex.

For example, in Germany the age of consent is 14 years, but only if both partners are under 18. A 19-year-old having sex with a 14-year-old will still be done for statutory rape. Which seems more reasonable.

But when you lower the age of consent, you are saying “I think this person is mature enough to consent to sex.” And we need to think about what that truly means.

For example, parents of 16-year-old children still get child benefit – the key part of that being “child.” 16-year-olds who work receive a different minimum wage to an 18-year-old employee. We don’t let 16-year-olds vote, join the military, get married, or do a whole host of other things, because we understand they they don’t yet have the mental maturity to consent to such life-altering decisions. And yet sex, which carries the risk of pregnancy, STIs and more, is undoubtedly a life altering decision.

In the interest of fairness, I will publish Dr. MacNeela’s statement of his position in full at the end of this article, and link to the full Newstalk interview above so you can view it yourself. But so far as I can tell, at no point did the good doctor come within an ass’s roar of an actual argument for lowering the age of consent. And the fact that these topics are becoming mainstream points of discussion, in a country which wants to teach kids about highly inappropriate content already, is frankly concerning.

At the big picture level, the day we as a society stop being such sex-obsessed weirdos and start allowing young people to have normal childhoods will be a good day indeed.

MacNeela’s statement:

“Many European countries have a legal age of consent that is younger than it is in Ireland. This suggests that potentially a country can operate a safe and supportive legal framework for young people younger than 17, e.g. 16 years of age.

However this is a complex issue and needs extensive legal consideration and consultation – e.g. to ensure that issues such as age difference, being in a position of authority, and so on are adequately and appropriately dealt with from the point of view of protection of the young person.

Clearly some young people are sexually active, as indicated by national surveys carried out every four years. Therefore from a health promotion perspective it is an understandable position to offer contraception services.

Despite this there are difficulties with this given that the age of consent is 17 and, from my perspective in particular, the education and empowerment of young people through comprehensive sexual health education is not in place as yet. Therefore it would be premature to institute a change in legislation while our professionals such as teachers, GPs, etc. and our young people themselves have not exposure to the education and skills development that supports the World Health Organisation definition of sexual health – i.e. making independent decisions, free from exposure to harassment and sexual violence etc.

The UN Commission on the Rights of the Child takes an international perspective in suggesting that adolescents ought not to be criminalised, however it also highlights the need for education and supports to ensure that people make decisions that are rendered competently and autonomously.

So while other countries may have an age of consent that is lower than it is in Ireland, the age remaining at 17 offers legal protections that should not be given up lightly without first giving full consideration to whether we can achieve the capacity to have the full systemic change that ensures that an individual only engages in sexual activity when it is right for them, including the right not to have sexual intimacy at all.”

 

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