A cross-party group of MLAs has joined leading voluntary organisations in urging the Northern Ireland Office to abandon unpopular plans to lower the age of consent in the Province.
A letter calling on First Minister Ian Paisley to resist the move was signed by representatives from the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance Party. They were joined by the leaders of Northern Ireland’s Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, as well as the director of Belfast’s Rape Crisis Centre.
The power to lower the age of consent in the Province lies with Minister of State Paul Goggins MP, who has indicated his intention to change it from 17 to 16, bringing it into line with the rest of the UK.
However, a recent opinion poll revealed that 70 per cent of people in Northern Ireland opposed the suggestion. Nearly 40 MLAs have signed a “No Day Named Motion” rejecting the plans.
At a press conference organised by The Christian Institute the move was denounced by MLAs and experts as unpopular and potentially harmful.
DUP MLA Jim Wells pointed out that the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in Great Britain was two and a half times higher than in Northern Ireland. He added that the age of consent was an important protection for young people.
“As a teenager, the doors to drug abuse, heavy alcohol consumption and promiscuity were closed to me,” he said. “Sadly, all those doors are now open to our teenage children.”
He said that lowering the age of consent was “a retrograde step, because no-one in Northern Ireland actually wants it.”
The president of the Boys’ Brigade Northern Ireland, Prof Norman Nevin OBE, said that the proposal was a cause for great concern, warning: “If this proposal were to be adopted we would see an increase in STDs.”
He added: “I think this would make people much more vulnerable to sexual predators.”
The letter to the First Minister reads: “We the undersigned express our strong opposition to the plans by The Northern Ireland Office to lower the age of consent for sexual activity.
“We call upon the First Minister and the Assembly to resist the imposition of this legislation on Northern Ireland.”
It was signed by: Dr Richard Barr, Director, Love for Life; Eileen Calder, Director, Rape Crisis & Sexual Abuse Centre, Northern Ireland; Fred Corscadden, Chairman, Northern Ireland Association of Christian Teachers; Chloe Hemphill, Director, Girls’ Brigade Northern Ireland; Philip Hewitt, Adviser for RE and Personal Development, North Eastern Education & Library Board; Prof Norman Nevin, President, Boys’ Brigade Northern Ireland; and Callum Webster, Northern Ireland Officer, The Christian Institute.
Read The Christian Institute’s response to the proposals by clicking on the link below: