A LOCAL TD has become the target of a smear campaign simply because she chaired a Dáil committee on sex education reform.
After being informed at the weekend by an “appalled” constituent who received one of the leaflets that had been delivered around Newbridge, deputy Fiona O’Loughlin found herself accused of “wanting children to be taught that abortion is a form of reproductive healthcare”, among other things.
The leaflets were distributed by a group called ‘Hands Off Our Kids.Org’ and they claim that planned reforms to the relationship and sexual education programme for schools “will make children far more vulnerable to paedophiles by teaching them how to both withhold and give sexual consent”.
Deputy O’Loughlin, who is the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on equality, immigration and integration, described the leaflets as “nasty” and “designed to be intimidating”. She said: “Initially, I was very upset, as they were trying to defame my character and completely trying to twist what the committee was doing.”
Last year the Department of Education decided it was time to update the relationship and sexual education programme for schools, which was last revised 20 years ago. Deputy O’Loughlin was appointed chair of this committee. In January, the committee delivered its report, which then underwent ten months of scrutiny through the Dáil procedures, and submissions were invited on it up until last month.
“Its key points are consent, contraception and LGBT issues,” explained deputy O’Loughlin. “I am very mindful of how the world has changed, particularly online, where most people get their information, and it’s neither accurate nor informative. This can be very, very damaging, and I believe as a society we have a responsibility to provide accurate information.”
The all-party committee received 54 submissions and called in 26 organisations to talk to it, including teachers’ unions, boards of management, Foróige, the Department of Education and Accord. It ended up making 24 recommendations.
“We have been sleepwalking into a world that our children are already in,” said deputy O’Loughlin, referring to the online world. “We listened to professionals, academics, children and parents. We want dignity and inclusiveness – and every school should have some information,” she said.
Speaking about being the target of a leafleting campaign, she said: “Obviously, I was upset. It was designed to be intimidating … but then I got angry.
“Both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment have called for improvements in sexual health and relationship education in schools. I want young people to be empowered by consent. All research shows that the more you know, the less will happen. Otherwise, children will learn from the internet and get a completely warped view of sexuality.
“We have to discuss as a society the negative influences of porn, and never before in history have we had to face this,” she added. “The bottom line is, we want young people to learn inclusion, but age and developmentally appropriate.
“Despite what is written on the nasty leaflets, there is nothing sordid about informing our children that they can say no, that they can be free to express themselves, that they should be open and inclusive. Society can only benefit from educated, well-informed children,” deputy O’Loughlin concluded.
The Nationalist approached HandsOffOurKids.org for a comment but it declined to speak to us.