News Roundup

Huge rise in sex crimes committed by children

Children and teenagers under 18 perpetrated an eye-popping 45 per cent of all sexual crimes recorded by the Gardaí in 2016, a report has found.

The figures in the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme (GJDP) report show that 334 sexual offences involving juvenile offenders were reported in 2016. That figure represented a massive increase of 39 per cent on previous year’s figures and included 114 cases of rape and 21 cases involving child abuse images.

Clíona Saidléar, executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, said she was appalled but not surprised by the figures. “They are a wake-up call to the fact that sexual offences are being committed by children. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the problem,” she said. The network has called for more research into the factors behind the increase as well as to examine how girls were viewed by boys.

Ms Saidléar said that the growing sexualisation of culture and the normalisation of pornography was a concern. “There must be a realisation that children can also be perpetrators as well as victims when it comes to sexual offences. What might have been classified as sexual experimentation in the past can constitute sexual abuse,” she said.



HSE seeks tenders for half a million condoms as response to STD crisis

Tenders are being sought from firms to provide 500,000 HSE branded condoms and 250,000 branded lubrication packets as part of ongoing efforts by the executive to prevent unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. It is planned that the condoms and lubricants will be given out free across the country to at-risk population groups as part of the HSE’s National Sexual Health Strategy 2015 -2020.

HSE records show that sexually transmitted disease notifications increased by 279 per cent from 3,361 in 1995 to 12,753 in 2013 while HIV cases increased to over 500 in 2016. The 2016 total for new HIV cases was the highest number since records began. Last year saw an 11 per cent increase in cases of sexually transmitted infections in the 15 to 24 year old age bracket, increasing from 4,677 to 5,200 with chlamydia making up 50 per cent of cases.


ICGP will NOT campaign for repeal of the pro-life amendment

The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) have vowed to remain neutral in the upcoming referendum to repeal the 8th amednemnt and pave the way for widespread abortion. In a letter to members yesterday, ICGP chair Dr. John Gillman said that the ICGP would “not have a formal position” in relation to the referendum, and would support the right of individual members to take their own position.

The move was welcomed by Savethe8th, a group campaigning for a NO vote in the forthcoming referendum. Their spokeswoman Niamh UiBhriain said: “The decision from the ICGP not to endorse a YES vote in the referendum on repeal is significant and welcome. In recent days and weeks we have seen increasing concern from doctors, both those who oppose this proposal on principle, and the significant number who see it as simply unworkable”.

She added: “For months now, supporters of Repeal have tried to present medical opinions on the referendum as uniform. They are not. In the coming months, we are glad that those many doctors with serious concerns about the Governments proposal will have the support of the ICGP if they wish to make their views known. This is a good day for those of us who want a fair and open debate”.


Iraqi Christian families return to Nineveh plains as 700 houses rebuilt

Three years after ISIS militants issued an ultimatum to Christians to “Convert, leave or die”, throngs of families have returned to their ancestral lands in the Nineveh plains as houses are rebuilt and communities reconstituted. In Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian city, shops and restaurants are open, children go to school, busloads full of students head to Mosul daily for their studies at Mosul University, and increasing numbers of Christians are returning to the Assyrian city more commonly known as Baghdeda. In partnership with the charity, Open Doors, locals have repaired and rebuilt hundreds of homes. “The people are happy,” says local pastor Fr George. “…They prefer to be here, to be back home.” And the people come not only from elsewhere in Iraq: “We also saw refugees returning from France, Jordan, Lebanon and even Australia. I will personally work to convince more of those who left the country to come back.” So far, renovations have concentrated on the more easily repairable houses near the centre of the city. It will take a lot more time and money to rebuild the homes that were completely burned down or destroyed, and to continue the works to the outer edges of the city. But, a start has been made and life is returning and hope has once more sprung like a phoenix rising from the ashes.


School Admissions Bill may allow Gaelscoileanna prioritise Irish speakers

The new School Admissions Bill may allow children’s ability to speak Irish be tested to prioritise the admission of Irish-speaking children to Gaelscoileanna. A spokesman for the Department of Education confirmed an amendment is being drafted to effect this change.

While the bill is generally built around removing barriers to schools admission, the spokesman said the Minister for Education Richard Bruton had been reflecting on how best to allow children from an Irish-speaking background gain access to Irish-medium schools in a fair, inclusive and transparent manner. Cearta Oideachais, which represents Irish-speaking families, argues Gaelscoileanna should be able to continue to give priority to Irish-speaking pupils in order to protect the educational rights of this small minority of children. “Unlike members of the Church of Ireland or the Catholic Church seeking to establish their right to priority enrolment in a faith based school, children raised through Irish do not have the equivalent of a baptism certificate to prove that they are native speakers,” it stated in a submission on the bill.

“Our primary concern is the right of our children – members of Ireland’s indigenous linguistic minority and native speakers of the first national language – to receive an education in their first language, and to achieve full working literacy and competency in that language.” Using an argument that is rarely heard in relation to faith-based prioritising of schools admissions, the group said children who have Irish as a first language “scaffold” other children’s language learning in the classroom.

“In Irish-medium schools, they are therefore an important resource for peers for whom Irish is not the language of the home,” it stated.


More GPs oppose Government’s plan for GP-led abortion regime

A leading GP has echoed the reservations of the Irish College of General Practitioners to Government plans for a GP-led abortion regime, calling the plans ‘unworkable’ for both doctors and patients. “The fact is that, whatever the view of an individual GP on the abortion issue, we simply are not currently equipped as a profession to cope with what is being proposed by Simon Harris. We lack the facilities, the training, the time, and yes, the resources,” wrote General Practitioner, Dr Máire Neasta Nic Gearailt, in an op-ed in the Irish Examiner this week. Describing how the proposal is meant to work in practice, Dr Nic Gearailt said that a doctor must first satisfy himself that a woman has the right under the new law to have an abortion. Then, the doctor must administer two miscarriage-inducing pills over several days. “The woman will experience cramping and heavy bleeding before the baby is expelled. How are GPs, operating in busy and crowded practises with common waiting rooms, expected to medically supervise this procedure? Neither are most GP surgeries the ideal place to deal with any emergencies that might arise from any adverse sequelae from taking these tablets,” she wrote.

Last week, Dr Emmet Kerin, President of the National Association of General Practitioners, which represents some 2,000 GPs said: “for the Minister to suggest that our profession should lead out an abortion service without consultation with our member GPs is an affront to our profession and could pose yet another strain on the provision of general practice healthcare services”.

Dr Nic Gearailt echoed this objection saying GPs have not been asked their view on this law, in either an opinion poll or by the Government, and called it “an extraordinary oversight that should alarm the public”.

“The Government says it is committed to the welfare of women, but it has proposed a law that is simply unworkable for doctor and patient alike”.

Quite apart from the myriad problems with attempting to administer the Government’s plans, she said a great number of GPs would simply refuse to commit abortions anyway. “Then there is the fact that a great many of us, myself included, simply could not in good conscience administer a drug to a healthy young woman with a healthy pregnancy that would cause her to lose her child. I did not study medicine so that I could end life, and I know that I am not alone in this.” She added: “Amongst colleagues, the assumption has been that this Government is simply so eager to get the pro-choice lobby off it’s back that it has given them everything they wanted without considering the consequences. It is hard to look at what has been proposed and come to any other conclusion.”


Resistance to GP-led abortion regimes an international problem

There is no country in the world where abortion is a GP-led service, according to an Irish medical doctor writing in the Irish Times this week. The administering of abortion pills in a GP clinic is by way of two different pills taken at 48-hour intervals and is known as medical termination of pregnancy (MTOP). Yet, according to Dr Reggie Spelman, “There is no country where MTOP is a GP-led service”. As an example of why this might be the case, Dr Spelman said in Australia, where MTOP became available in 2012, only 1.5% of the country’s GPs provide the service. Besides conscientious objections, demands on practice time and workforce also proved a barrier: “While MTOP carries fewer risks than a surgical termination of pregnancy similar strict protocols must be adhered to in order to protect the patient. Such protocols have been reported as taking between 40 to 60 minutes to complete for the first of two consultations recommended in all guidelines,” he wrote. There is also the fact that most medical doctors simply do not want to be associated with the practice of abortion. “Concerns by Australian GPs about the stigma and the impact it may have on perceptions of their practice, difficulties in referral to a local public hospital in case of complications and provision of surgical abortion if required are other issues that have been reported”.

Dr Spelman concluded that “it would have been more prudent of Simon Harris if he had engaged with the various GP bodies before he raised expectations that MTOP would be a GP-led service in Ireland”.


Backlash to newspapers publishing ‘fake’ poll claiming 75% of GPs support Govt’s abortion proposals

A medical doctor has taken issue with a poll published in many newspapers claiming overwhelming support among GPs for the Govt’s proposal for a GP-led abortion regime. According to Dr Theresa Boyle, not only was the poll methodology “subject to bias rendering it dangerously unrepresentative”, but the result was also “completely inconsistent with the most recent positions taken by doctor representative groups”. As evidence she cited that in the run up to the 2013 abortion act that enabled abortion on the grounds of suicide, “every representative group for doctors emphatically rejected the notion that suicidality should ever be used as an indication for pregnancy termination”. This included a statement on behalf of psychiatrists that an overwhelming 90% of respondents signed that legislation to allow for abortion as a treatment for the threat of suicide had no basis in medical evidence. Similar objections were also raised by the Irish Medical Organisation, the Irish College of GPs, and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “The three doctor groups who all disagreed with using suicidality as an indication for terminating an unborn life are hardly likely to agree with abortion for any indication up to 12 weeks”, she said.

Dr Boyle also said this should not be surprising “since doctors generally don’t consider killing one of their patients to relieve the distress of another patient as one of their roles in society”, and she pointed to the deep unwillingness among doctors internationally to perform abortions. “This is equally true in countries which have legalised abortion: it is a deeply unpopular career and very few doctors want to perform abortions eg 7% of obsetrican-gynaecologists in the US perform even rare abortions in their practice”.


Warning of ‘tsunami’ of child exploitation, experts voice ‘unequivocal opposition’ to 13yr age of digital consent

Leading experts have told an Oireachtas committee they are “unequivocally opposed” to Government plans to set the digital age of consent at 13, and warned that the State faces “a tsunami” of cases of child abuse and exploitation over the internet.

Dr Mary Aiken, an adviser to the European Cyber Crime Centre at Europol, addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on Tuesday alongside Prof Barry O’Sullivan, who is director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at UCC.

The committee meeting comes weeks after Dublin man Matthew Horan was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for blackmailing young girls into sending him sexually graphic photos and videos.

After hearing of the “pernicious effect” that social media can have on the self-esteem of children, the committee also discussed the digital age of consent, whereby children may use many websites and social media platforms without requiring the consent of their parents. While the Government’s Data Protection Bill 2018 would enshrine an Irish digital age of consent at 13 years old, both experts said they were “unequivocally opposed” to the proposal.

“You can’t buy a dog licence at 13, but we could have a situation in May where kids can sign up to a system and give a social media company access to their information, including the likes of family photos,” said Prof O’Sullivan. “Companies can collect, record and share a child’s home and school address, their location, their date of birth, their photos, phone number, their likes and dislikes, who they know, and the content of their conversations, including messages sent privately. Not only does this present a security risk to the individual child but, by association, it also presents risk to the family.” Both experts said an optimum digital age of consent would be 16-years-old, and that “robust age verification” online was “critical”.

A host of children’s rights organisations previously backed setting the age at the minimum possible for EU law, 13 years of age, including the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, the special rapporteur for child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the youth information website


Rate of Down’s syndrome abortions compared to Nazi eugenics at Church of England’s General Synod

The rate of Down’s syndrome abortions in the UK and Europe is akin to Nazi eugenics, the Church of England’s General Synod has heard. Speaking during a debate on pre-natal testing, Andrew Gray, a lay member of Synod, said: “We live in a society that claims to value and appreciate those who are different and those who have a disability and yet what we say and do are two different things. In countries like Iceland Down’s Syndrome has been virtually eliminated”.  He continued: “What we have is a very simple situation. The UK and Europe has begun to practice eugenics, by default, and without intent. This is not because of a state-led desire to remove those considered weak or sub-human – we don’t live in 1930s Germany, thank God. But while the reasons and the motivations are different, the outcome is the same. I refer to 1930s Germany with some caution because the Third Reich has a habit of being drawn into these debates, but quite frankly, with this one, there are some stark comparisons.”

Synod members unanimously passed a motion calling for the Government to ensure that “unbiased information” is given to expectant parents who are told their unborn child has Down’s Syndrome. The Synod raised concerns that women were being put under pressure to abort such babies and urged doctors not to frame such a pre-natal test result as “bad news”. Earlier in the week the actress Sally Phillips, who has a son with Down’s Syndrome, said women were “over and over told by implication but also overtly that they will not be able to cope with a Down’s Syndrome baby”. She told a small group of Synod members that a pregnant friend had been “rung nine times during her pregnancy to be offered and offered and offered a termination in case she changed her mind”.