Most MLAs (55) have signed up to a ‘no day named’ motion at Stormont opposing plans to lower the age of consent from 17 to 16 in Northern Ireland. It is the most supported NDN motion currently at Stormont.
Earlier this month newspapers published a poll showing that three quarters (73 per cent) of the public oppose the plans. In February a report recommending keeping the law unchanged was voted through unopposed by MLAs.
Despite this opposition from the public and politicians the plan is being pushed forward by the Northern Ireland Office which has responsibility for criminal law.
Cllr Pat Ramsey MLA (SDLP, Foyle constituency) said: “The sheer number of MLAs signing up to this No Day motion confirms that if the Assembly was to be deciding on the age of consent, it would not be liberalising the present law. It would be voting to keep current legal protections in place for our teenagers. Why then is Westminster forcing this legislation upon us in view of the strong opposition of local people and their elected representatives? This is an affront to democracy.”
Ald Jeffrey Donaldson MP MLA (DUP, Lagan Valley) Junior Minister, The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, said: “The fact that a majority of MLAs have signed this No Day motion shows just how strongly opposed the Assembly is to any lowering of the age of consent. The views of MLAs are in tune with public opinion in Northern Ireland and the concerns of the churches and young people’s organisations. It defies common sense, decency, and democracy that the Government should push ahead with this change that is so unwanted, unnecessary and detrimental to our society.”
Ald Kieran McCarthy MLA (The Alliance Party, Strangford), The Alliance Party’s spokesman on Health, said: “Lowering the age of consent will expose more young people to the inherent health risks and dangers of teenage sexual activity. I welcome the fact that so many MLAs from a wide political spectrum have signed this motion. It is incumbent upon the Northern Ireland Office to heed the views of the Assembly in finalising this legislation and to keep in place the current age of consent and its associated legal protection for our young people.”
Callum Webster, Northern Ireland Officer of The Christian Institute, said: “In the face of this opposition, it would be undemocratic for the Northern Ireland Office to proceed. Lowering the age of consent is not in the best interests of children and goes against the will of the people and their elected representatives in the assembly.”