Seanad Éireann - Volume 133 - 15 July, 1992

Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Bill, 1992: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2.

Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 1:

In page 2, line 15, to delete “including” and substitute “other than any applicance or instrument which may be used without medical assistance, such as”.

This amendment seeks to change the definition of a condom. It broadens it to include devices which are not intended to prevent pregnancy resulting from sexual intercourse between human beings. It is obvious that AIDS also results from sexual intercourse between human beings where there is no possibility of pregnancy. The definition is flawed and is in conflict with one of the basic objectives of the Bill as outlined by the Minister, the prevention and limitation of the spread of AIDS. For those reasons we have sought to change the definition of condoms in the Bill.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Connell): I am opposed to this amendment as it would effectively render the definition of contraceptives meaningless. If this amendment was passed I could not, for example, make regulations with regard to the quality standards for condoms as this definition seems to specifically state [2193] that they are not contraceptives. Should this amendment be accepted much of the remainder of the Bill would cease to have any effect.

Mr. Norris: I appreciate and accept the Minister's argument but would he accept that the section defining “contraceptive” is itself absurd? He stated that the principal intent of this Bill is to prevent the spread of disease, not to inhibit pregnancy. It is not principally intended as a family planning Bill but as a measure against the spread of disease. Section 2 gives the following definition of “contraceptive”:

“Contraceptive” means any appliance or instrument, including contraceptive sheaths, prepared or intended to prevent pregnancy resulting from sexual intercourse between human beings;

Does this mean that a member of a homosexual partnership is excluded? It would be absurd to maintain that homosexual partners in a relationship employ contraceptive sheaths in order to prevent pregnancy. They do not; they very wisely do it in order to prevent the spread of infection. The widespread use of this kind of prophylactic measure by the gay community in Ireland, to a certain extent, and certainly in San Francisco, has limited the spread of the disease. Does this mean, therefore, that homosexual couples regardless of age are excluded? Where is the intention stated? When the Minister says “prepared or intended to prevent pregnancy,” does he mean the intention of the design of the contraceptive or the intention of those employing the contraceptive? I have to say it is a little confusing and this arises from the fact that historically contraceptive devices evolved directly from the question of family planning but now the far more important use of these devices is as a prophylactic measure against the spread of disease.

Mr. Costello: We appreciate the point the Minister has made, but unquestionably the definition of contraception is totally at odds with the remarks of [2194] the greater part of the Minister's address here yesterday when he stated that while the purpose of this legislation was to deal with the prevention of pregnancy, it had a much wider function. The definition here is only for the narrower function and that is not in accordance with the purpose of this legislation. Therefore, even if the Minister was unhappy with the wording we are putting forward as an inappropriate substitute, nevertheless he must acknowledge that what is there is totally unsuitable and does not fulfil the purpose of providing for a variety of contraceptive measures which are included for the first time in the definition, such as contraceptive sheaths or condoms. Perhaps the Minister would explain the anomaly between what is provided here, under the umbrella of family planning legislation, and what he has stated as being the purpose of the legislation.

Dr. O'Connell: I did anticipate what Senator Norris would say and I examined this issue last week. The definition of “contraceptive” includes the words “prepared or intended to prevent pregnancy resulting from ...”. The prophylactic role as a measure against infection is, of course, secondary and that should be borne in mind. The medical definition of a condom includes reference to preventing infection. They are primarily used during sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy but their secondary role is to prevent infection. Of course, section 4 of the Bill makes significant reforms in the area of family planning.

Mr. Norris: They are very welcome.

Dr. O'Connell: ——but the primary purpose of the legislation is to liberalise condom availability.

Mr. B. Ryan: Perhaps the Minister can clarify something for me? My understanding is that in the light of the AIDS crisis prophylactics and condoms have been developed specifically for use by the gay community but they were neither intended nor designed as a contraceptive. It bothers me that the Minister may not [2195] have, because of the narrowness of the definition, the power to specify proper standards for such condoms should they come on the market in Ireland; and it is necessary that such products should be on the market here to avoid the spread of AIDS. They were a direct consequence of the AIDS crisis. The strong quality was designed for use by homosexual couples with a view to preventing the transmission of AIDS. They have no contraceptive intent. Their design was not based on a contraceptive intent and their use is not as a contraceptive. What would concern me is not that they would be unavailable but that the Minister might have the power to ensure that only products of a proper standard were available.

Mr. Norris: Senator Ryan has brilliantly anticipated what I intended to say. It is interesting that he was aware of this. In fact my understanding is — I could be incorrect in this — that Richard Branson's brand named “Mate” condoms were specifically designed with this intention. It seems that by the operation of this Bill the Minister is legally excluding this form of contraception from the operation of the Bill. I am less worried about the question of safety, because they are designed with this requirement in mind and this has been established in the press and newspaper reports and possibly by the court action that was taken. In fact they may not be covered by the Bill so they could legally be given free, they could be legally dispensed by people other than chemists or agents of health authorities and so on, and indeed they could be placed in machines. However, in a sense it is disingenuous of the Minister to say that the primary reason for the use of the sheath is always to prevent contraception because clearly in the case of homosexual couples this is not the case. It could not possibly be even a secondary effect, because a condom — I hope I am not disillusioning the Minister terribly—is not necessary in homosexual relations to prevent pregnancy.

[2196] Dr. O'Connell: There is no patent on design. A condom can be of any form, shape or size. Therefore there is no question of our saying that one of a different type; once they prevent conception they are condoms as such. Once they are sheaths in any form and prevent conception they are condoms. The definition of a condom is “a thin rubber or plastic skin worn during copulation for preventing conception or infection”. An English physician in the 18th Century was said to be their inventor. It does not matter what form they take — many of them are animal products — their primary purpose is to prevent conception and the secondary role is to prevent infection. Everything is covered that would have that purpose in mind but nothing will be forbidden or precluded from coming within the terms of this Bill.

Mr. Norris: I am afraid the Minister has not satisfied me on that point because the wording in the definition is “prepared or intended to prevent pregnancy.” I have to ask the Minister whether condoms prevent conception simply by existing? Surely it is not sufficient to say that condoms prevent conception by existing or because they have a capacity at some stage to prevent conception. It is clear that there are contraceptive sheaths designed, prepared, intended and widely advertised as having no relation to the prevention of conception but having everything to do with the prevention of the spread of disease. I could produce numerous advertisements for these condoms which say they are specially designed to prevent the spread of venereal infections, particularly AIDS, that they were prepared and intended to prevent the transmission of disease, not pregnancy. I cannot deny that hypothetically there could be a secondary result in certain circumstances not principally envisaged by the manufacturer of preventing conception, but the question of preventing conception, is a question of the manner and the occasion in which they are used as well as the intention of the manufacturer and the person employed.

[2197] It is clear that there are brands of contraceptives, or what you could call contraceptive sheaths, that are primarily designed, prepared, manufactured and employed with no direct thought of the prevention of conception but absolutely homing in on the question of the prevention of disease. It appears to me from my reading of the Bill that they would not be covered. What is stated here, in plain language, is that a contraceptive means something that is prepared or intended to prevent pregnancy.

Dr. O'Connell: If I use condoms as a medical doctor for the purpose of a rectal or vaginal examination, they are intended for the purpose of examination. The Bill does not say it is intended by the manufacturers; it merely says it is intended. It can be intended by the person using them. I want to make that clear. If I use them as a medical doctor in the course of a diagnostic examination, I intend them for a particular purpose. We have consulted the Attorney General's Office on this matter.

Mr. Norris: His advice is not uni-formally good.

Mr. Costello: I do not know how anybody can argue that this is an adequate definition. It is deficient. First, the Minister gave us the definition and said it has a two-fold intention — to prevent pregnancy or infection; “or” is not a lesser degree; “or” is an alternative. He cannot say now that the primary intention was to prevent pregnancy; he now says the Bill does not say it is intended by the manufactures; it says it is intended.

Surely all manufacturers have taken on board developments that have come about in relation to the spread of the AIDS virus; and the purpose of the condom has been extended in terms of the manufacturer. One purpose is the prevention of the spread of infection, but the overall purpose is to prevent either pregnancy or infection. What we are stating here is not reflected in the Minister's remarks on the purpose of this legislation. If you were to include in the [2198] definition “for the purpose of preventing pregnancy or infection” that would be more acceptable.

Dr. O'Connell: I cannot see the rationale of what the Deputy is suggesting because condoms are primarily to prevent conception in the process people getting pregnant no doubt get infected. We are not talking in terms only of AIDS and HIV, but other sexually transmissable diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis and so on. Condoms are manufactured to the BSI standard and the standard has not changed to take care of the infection element. Condoms must serve the purpose for which they are manufactured, which is preventing conception. If we were to accept the amendment, the Bill would not serve the purpose for which it was introduced.

Mr. Norris: I would like to ask one question of the Minister because it goes to the heart of the matter. Suppose it was clear from the advertising and packaging of a particular form of contraceptive that this was designed principally or exclusively for the purpose of avoiding the transmission of disease, although it might have the secondary unintended effect of preventing conception, and suppose somebody sought to acquire or purchase one of these brands of contraceptive, would that be covered by this legislation? It seems to me from reading the Bill that it would not, and that might be a good thing.

Dr. O'Connell: Once it is called a condom, it is covered under the terms of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 2 agreed to.

Section 3 agreed to.

[2199] SECTION 4.

Acting Chairman: Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 8 and 10 are related and may be discussed together.

Mr. Norris: I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, subsection (1) (b), to delate lines 11 to 20.

Much to my regret this matter was referred to a number of times in reply to the substance of the debate by the Minister of State when he spoke about the rights of parents. This is unacceptable. He said:

A number of Senators raised the issue of age limits. The Bill provides that condoms may be supplied from a wide range of outlets and that the age at which persons could obtain condoms should be reduced from 18 years to 17 years. Senators are aware that parents have expressed reservations in regard to the Bill which related in the main to a reduction in the age limit below 17 years. We must take cognisance of the views and reservations of parents in implementing legislation which provides for the wider availability of condoms. We must strike the correct balance between the concerns of parents and the requirements to take measures to protect public health.

Why? What is so sacrosanct about the rights of parents? What is so sacrosanct about the rights of one group of parents who apparently are unable to convince their children to behave in the way they think appropriate? Why should other parents' children be penalised? I have no doubt there may be a small increase in the incidence of HIV infection as a result of this provision.

Who should we be protecting primarily? To whom is our primary responsibility? It is not to the sensitivity of parents. I respect these parents, but to a limited extent. We should protect young people against a mortal illness and not dithering about the susceptibilities of parents who by their own admission have signally failed to convince their children of the rightness of their position.

[2200] As far as I am concerned, I accept absolutely the authority of parents and their right to influence their families. But what does this authority consist of? It consists of the capacity of the parents to convince the child through respect, through argument and through love that their position is the correct one; and if they cannot do that why should they use the brutal instrument of the law to place other parents' children in jeopardy? For that reason I think this is one of the most dangerous aspects of the Bill.

I wish to put on the record that I believe strongly there should be no age limit at all. If a 12 year old child were to be prevented from getting HIV by being given a condom free, I would personally give it to him and I would take whatever stick I got from the parents. I know that the Minister, Deputy O'Connell, has had experience of this. I know that he is a compassionate and caring man. I have to exercise my compassion when I see a person I know to be a good man, somebody who is deeply caring about this problem and has personal acquaintance with it, sitting there. Because of the reluctance of Government as a whole to move in this area, I am placed in this invidious situation. However, I will not withdraw from the position I take on this. There should be no age limit. Our concern is not with the sensitivities of parents; our concern is with the health, the wellbeing and the survival of young people. That is the paramount consideration.

Dr. Upton: I want to support Senator Norris and to move our own amendments. I think this provision is unworkable. I cannot see how it can be enforced in the everyday lives of people. I also cannot see that it has any function and it is in direct conflict with the Minister's objective of trying to restrict the spread of AIDS, which is a very worthwhile objective. To be honest about it, this item in the Bill arises from what I would consider to be the activity of the moral police in this country, who in many ways have put the Minister in a very invidious position. I regret that. I do not think that that type of provision is realistic. I do [2201] not think it is enforceable and I honestly think it should be dropped.

Mr. O'Reilly: I want to reiterate at this stage some of the points I already made on Second Stage as they are relevant here. The first thing I identified on Second Stage was the major difficulty of how we are actually to implement this section. How does one police such a section? We all know that because of patterns of dress, hair styles and the different physical sizes of people, it is a practical impossibility to work out the exact ages of people. There will certainly be big margins of error. That is the first difficulty with the age factor, the identification of the people involved.

As a teacher involved in training young people, I would hope that young people would be responsible in their sexuality and in their sexual practices. That is what we would all want and that is what we will have to try to achieve through education campaigns in schools. On Second Stage I called for a complete programme of education in our schools. Why would that be our aspiration? The reality is that many of our young people are sexually active at a much younger age now. This is quite clear. It is clear if only from the fact that last year there were 2,000 teenage pregnancies and that last year 4,000 young women made the lonely journey to England for abortions. Those are horrible and said sad statistics.

I accept that there would be some happy endings to teenage pregnancies, but there is a lot of human trauma and suffering as well. We are dealing with a situation where people are sexually active at a younger age, a situation where we cannot very easily determine whether a person is 15, 17 or 18 years old.

There is no empirical evidence to suggest that people become sexually active because of the availability of contraceptives. They are sexually active first and they proceed to use contraceptives later. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the availability of these things will make people sexually active. That is an important point. If there were evidence that it was leading to promiscuity [2202] then it would be a very important consideration, but that evidence does not exist. It is clear also that the Irish communities in London — I lived among them for periods during the summer months — live to a very traditional moral code, a very Irish moral code, in the middle of a city where these vending machines are readily available.

There is also the question of AIDS. We are talking about the prevention of death from and the spread of such a horrific disease. It is something that cannot be treated lightly. When one takes all of these issues into consideration we are left with the obvious conclusion that the amendment should be accepted by the Minister.

Mrs. Doyle: This Bill, particularly the section we are talking about, is the great missed opportunity. It is all the more so because the Minister flattered to deceive on this issue by his own utterances. Many of us were of the opinion that we would get really progressive legislation in this area. In being critical of the Minister, I feel that if he were left to his own devices the Bill might not be exactly what we have before us today. But he must accept responsibility for the legislation before us and consequently must accept the criticisms not only in these Houses but from the public generally.

The age limit is unenforceable. Maybe it is just as well if the nonsense is going to persist and we are going to be voted down, as I suspect, with the amendments here this evening. We are quite frankly stating to young people that when they reach 17 years of age they are now legally entitled to enter into casual sexual relationships. It is like giving them a licence for casual sex. It is far more dangerous than having no age limit at all. It is very hard for young people, particularly young girls, who may want to hold the line in certain relationships if on reaching the age of 17 they can then be pressurised by their boyfriend or by their colleagues who say “What is wrong with you? It is legal at 17 years.” That is the great issue that indicts this legislation. It is a great tragedy that we have [2203] handed to young people the dictum that casual sex is legal at the age of 17 as the law of this land stands.

Mr. Norris: It is anyway——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator had his opportunity. I ask him to be patient with other people and give them the opportunity to say what they have to say.

Mrs. Doyle: Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. There is a point that needs to be underlined. When we put in legislation a statement that condoms can be used at the age of 17 and over it is giving a certain licence that many might have felt was not there before. I take the point made by Senator Norris that over the age of 16 people are free to make their own arrangements in these areas; but for youngsters who might not otherwise feel that that was the sort of moral code they were operating under we have made life even more difficult in many ways. I make that point not to criticise in any way but because those of a certain view feel that they are protecting young people by putting in an age limit of 17 in this Bill. I feel it is making a nonsense of the argument that there is any protection there. It is making life more difficult for youngsters and making it particularly difficult for them to resist going the full way in a sexual relationship.

The point is being made that there is no compulsion on anyone to use condoms. Why is an age limit necessary at all? There is no complusion on 15 year olds or 19 year olds to use them if they do not want to. There is no compulsion on any age group at all. What is the Minister trying to achieve by putting an age limit in the Bill? It does nothing but give a certain imprimatur by the State to casual sex when one reaches 17 years of age. What else is going to be achieved? What intrinsic medical danger is there in a condom in the hands of a 14 year old? I made the point earlier on Second Stage that if a 4 year old gets hold of them, the greatest danger to them is that they may [2204] choke, but other than that, from a sexual point of view, there is no medical danger. There is a far greater risk to the lives of women from oral contraceptives than ever these inert contraceptives could possibly have.

If we must discuss this subject and the nonsense of the Bill before us, we should be addressing the health problems that can arise for women on oral contraception generally, which are far more difficult. It is an area that has been neglected. For the last ten years we seem to have been talking in this House about condoms and have got no further. It has not been taken off the agenda, as has been said in this House also. All we have managed to do is teach every nine and ten year old, if not seven and eight year old, what a condom is, what divorce is about or what abortions are, because we talk and talk for ever and never complete the agenda. We are going around in circles to such an extent, particularly on the 17 year age limit, that we are the laughing stock of the public. The public are aeons ahead of the legislators on this. If they want condoms, they will use them whether they are 16, 26 or 46 years of age.

I would ask the Minister to seriously reconsider the position. I believe we are wasting our time to a large extent. The point has been well made in recent days that the Dáil has now gone into recess, that even if the Minister were of a mind to accept amendments in this House he would have to either recall the Dáil, which would not be done, or else wait until the autumn for the Dáil to come back into session. I would ask the Minister to be true to his own beliefs on this issue and to indicate his own views on whether having a 17 year age limit makes any sense at all or if this is just a State imprimatur for casual sex when youngsters reach this age.

Mr. Costello: I have to agree very strongly with what has been said from these benches in relation to these amendments. The simple straightforward fact is that last year there were 2,000 teenage pregnancies, so certainly there were 13, [2205] 14, 15, 16 and 17 years olds in that group. Therefore, sexual activity at an early age is quite widespread.

As well as that, last year almost 14,000 people attended St. James's Hospital clinic for treatment in relation to sexually transmissible diseases. Obviously we have a major problem in that area as well. These are simple facts. What is the Minister's response to that? It is to introduce a discretionary cut-off legal age which, in fact, is anomalous because it varies as between persons who are single and those who are married, as though only those who are married are likely to be sexually active. What is the Minister's response based on? It is based on that hoary old chestnut that has cropped up over and over again and which has been thrown into this debate from the other side of the House on Second Stage, that just as television heralded the advent of sex in this country the availability of condoms is responsible for sexual activity. It is that sort of scientifically unfounded psychological ethos that has been generated in a certain section of our community. It is that attitude that permeates this Bill against, I am sure, the better judgement and aspirations of the Minister.

We must recognise that sexually transmissible diseases know no legal age limits once people are sexually active and it does not matter whether the person is single or married. The Minister has not a leg to stand on for maintaining this provision in the Bill. The Minister will recognise what has been put very strongly from these benches, that condoms are simple, harmless pieces of merchandise. They are rubber, plastic or whatever material and they have never caused a single death to child or adult. For that reason it seems very strange that the Minister should insist on imposing such restrictions on something that is of a non-medical character and which, in the final analysis, the Minister will not be able to enforce under the law.

Mr. Dardis: I suppose the easy thing for me to do in these circumstances would be to remain silent and say nothing, but [2206] lest that would be interpreted as some sort of tacit support for a situation which I believe to be incorrect, it is imperative that I should say something. I am very uncomfortable about the provisions of the Bill in relation to this matter for most of the reasons that have been articulated on the other side of the House. I do not doubt the Minister's motives or his genuine desire to improve the situation within the country in respect of this matter. He is to be commended on what he has done. However, this whole issue is really ludicrous. What are we going to do if we find young persons of 14, 15 or 16 years of age buying condoms? Are we going to subject them to the rigours of the law? Are we going to go again to the High Court and the Supreme Court on a matter like this just as we have done on other matters? That is the logical extension of this type of measure. That is certainly to over-dramatise the case, but that could be the consequence of it under law.

This legislation is a gross insult to the intelligence of young people. It is also very regrettable that we do not repose in them a certain level of trust which they are entitled to expect of us. I am a parent of teenage children and I am quite confident that they know all about these matters, and they certainly know far more about them than I knew when I was their age.

Mr. B. Ryan: They know more than you know now.

Mr. Dardis: The generation in this House cannot continue without reference to the generation that is coming after us which is a bright, articulate, well-educated generation. We are insulting them by putting these conditions into a Bill.

We have heard the figures for pregnancies which have been documented over the past two days. It may well be that some of these young people actually choose to be pregnant, but that is a choice which they are entitled to make. If they do not want to be pregnant, they are entitled to make that choice too, and in the interests of public health, if we can do anything to assist those choices, then [2207] it is our responsibility to do that. I do not understand why these matters should have been discussed in this House over the past two days when there are far more pressing matters that confront the country and society. This is not a matter for legislation. Why do we not trust the younger generation? I made the point yesterday that we allow young people, almost without restriction to buy cigarettes, which are far more damaging to their health. I do not believe this issue is a matter for the State.

I am gratified that members of the party are allowed to exercise their individual discretion in matters of this nature and that is as it should be. These are not matters for the party Whip or for rigid party regulation. These are sensitive matters. I respect the view of the people who take a contrary position, the people who would have even more rigid restrictions if it were in their remit, but individuals must make their own decisions. These are not decisions for the State, they are decisions for individuals. It is not in our remit either to decree on the morality of issues or on whether or not they are sinful. That is a matter between the individual and his God and his Church. That has nothing to do with us in this House. These matters seem to get confused all the time.

Young people are simply not interested in what is happening here today. Certainly from my conversations with them I can assert that with a fair degree of certainty. They think we are irrelevant. Is anybody suggesting what we will do today will prevent young people of 15 or 16 years of age getting contraceptives if they want them? What are we going to do when we discover they have obtained them? Are we going to subject them to the rigours of the law? That is nonsense. That is why I have serious difficulties with these provisions. People should be left to make their own decisions in private; It has been said that people are embarrassed to go into premises to buy condoms. Young people are not embarrassed to do this. I would certainly [2208] be embarrassed but I do not think my children would be.

Mr. B. Ryan: I agree with Senator Dardis more often than makes me comfortable. On this occasion I agree with him completely. I was thinking about the things in Irish life that put young people at risk and I do not think sex is one of them. Prohibited substances such as drugs which are a threat to the lives of at least a minority of our young people, are widely available in spite of massive prohibitions, huge police resources and all types of parental exultations. In spite of the apparent all-pervasive availability of life threatening drugs, the vast majority of our young people either do not sample them or sample them briefly and pass on to a life of considerably greater sense and maturity. I work with young people — I teach a little — but I do not claim to know them that well. Much as it pains me, I have to accept that they regard me as a member of a totally different generation who does not understand what they are talking about, not to mention much else. Their capacity to handle the pressures of life, their awareness of the realities of life, their maturity and their common sense is light years ahead of my capacity when I was 17 or 18 years of age. It is not that they are cynical or hardened; it is just that they are much more mature and sensible. They make decisions about their lives in their own way and in their own time.

It is a gross insult to them to pretend that this Bill is about protecting them. This Bill is about protecting the sensitivities of elderly men predominantly who are uncomfortable about these matters and who have to have a sop in it to keep them from feeling that some sort of metamorphorical floodgate is being opened. This is a gross insult to our young people. For the past 20 years the vast majority of young people have spent their summers in other countries where far more lethal substances than contraceptives are easily available. They have survived all that, and they will survive easy access to small pieces of rubber. [2209] It is time we, and not our young people, grew up.

Dr. O'Connell: Today we laugh at the 1979 Act; we are now so enlightened but that measure met the needs of the time.

Mr. B. Ryan: The political needs.

Dr. O'Connell: As a people we are slow to accept different standards. The 1985 Act was an improvement on the 1979 Act. When the Coalition came into power they did not bring the age limit down to 17 years. Perhaps they were right because at that time circumstances were different. That Act was introduced by former Minister Barry Desmond. I knew his personal views on the issue and that Act but he had to implement a Cabinet decision. This is not a Dr. John O'Connell Bill.

Mr. Norris: One can tell that.

Dr. O'Connell: This is a Government Bill; we have collective responsibility for such matters. During my few months in the Department of Health I have talked to groups who have accepted that there must be wider availability of condoms. I explained the public health problems to them.

As parents, we worry about our children when they are at an impressionable age. We like to have a say in their upbringing up to a certain age, which I believe is 17 years. We like to be able to advise them so that when they leave home, we know we have done our best for them.

We should not take that role away from parents. Parents want to give their children the best advice they can. The age of majority is 18 years of age. Why should it be 18 years and not ten or 12 years? We set an age which we believe at the time is the correct one. In another ten years' the age of majority may be 16 years. It may even be 14 years by the end of the century.

Professor Murphy: That is no business of ours.

[2210] Dr. O'Connell: It is said that people are more sexually active nowadays. People were engaging in sexual activities thousands of years ago. We must listen to parents. We cannot say to them that they have no rights. They have rights. They are not fundamentalists; they are genuine people who are concerned about their children. If we do not respect parents we respect nobody.

Most young people first have sex out of a sense of curiosity. If they have to go to a doctor to get condoms he can give them advice, tell them about the measures they must take and warn them about the various sexually transmitted diseases. He is doing more than just writing a prescription for condoms; he is acting as a medical adviser.

We have come a long way since the 1979 Act. In a year or two circumstances may change and we may have to introduce another Bill. In 1971 I put down a parliamentary question to the then Minister — no one knew what I was talking about — in relation to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1935. We are moving along slowly. As Senator Murphy knows, Ireland is not confined to Dublin 4 or Dublin 6. There is a different way of life in many parts of the country.

I would like to think I am legislating for people in all parts of Ireland. If we ignore the views of parents we will not be serving a useful cause.

This is not my Bill; it is a Government Bill. As circumstances change, more legislation will be introduced. When we are integrated more into Europe, things may change more rapidly. I ask Senators to accept that we have to take the views, fears and normal anxieties of parents into consideration.

Professor Murphy: The Minister was not here when I made my Second Stage speech. I referred to the 1979 Act, the Principal Act. I said that although many things have changed there is a sense of déjà vu nonetheless. The then Minister also claimed that he would have liked to have gone much further but that he had to take various interests and pressures into account. As the House will recall, [2211] he came up with the phrase, “an Irish solution to an Irish problem”, which turned out to be infamously cynical. As the debate went on — with respect, this seems to be another parallel — the then Minister seemed to sound an increasingly desperate tone as if to say: “This is the best I can do, why can you not take it and understand I cannot do anymore?” That parallel is still there.

Of course, parents have rights. I question if it is our business to legislate in this matter. The Minister said that he must legislate for all of Ireland, not just for what he perceives to be Dublin 4. Why legislate in this area? Parents should realise that whether or not their child is sexually responsible is their responsibility. It is their responsibility whether their child is sufficiently well-informed to know that this piece of rubber is a mechanical aid which his morality will tell him to use or not to use. To the extent that some parents demand the State to implement their rights, they are depriving other parents of their rights. This is the inescapable dilemma and one of the numerous sillinesses the State gets into when it tries to legislate in this area.

These amendments deal, inter alia, with the age limit. How can one enforce an age limit, be it 17 years, 18 years or whatever? Who in a public house is going to establish, when the last drinks are being ordered and the condoms are being handed out with the pint, whether the recipient is under age or not? How can this provision be enforced? If it cannot be enforced it makes a nonsense of the law, and young people already know that.

Dr. Upton: I do not doubt that the Minister is responding to representations made by a small number of concerned parents. However, it is a question of whether the priority lies in terms of the concerns of these people, the greater good or people and the objective the Minister has set himself of preventing the spread of AIDS, which should be the primary objective.

I do not think there is much difference [2212] between Dublin 4 and Dublin 6 and the rest of the country. I am sure the Minister would agree that there is very little difference between Dublin 4 and Dublin 6 and Dublin 12. I would not be as concerned as some people seem to be about those differences. It is a pity that the Minister will not accept these amendments. I would not be too bothered if this Bill had to go back to the Dáil. If we do not have a general election the Dáil will resume at the start of October. In many ways too much has been made of the fact that the Bill will have to go back to the Dáil if it is amended here.

Mr. Norris: I should like to make one final point. Many of the arguments have already been rehearsed. Senator Murphy raised a point with which I dealt, and which the Minister has not taken on board, that is, the responsibilities of parents, not just their rights. If they care for the children, parents have a responsibility within the family to make clear their ethical standpoint. If they are incapable of doing that with affection and by way of example, then they have no reasonable moral resource to the force of law, which, as Senator Murphy correctly said, then impinges on the rights of other parents who do not take the same point of view. Therefore there is a degree of moral violence by these people. The right to health and the right to life — I am as entitled to use that phrase as anybody else — of young people is of far more consequence than the views and sensitivities of parents. I am sure it will not come as a surprise to people to know that I am extremely pro-life, in the real sense of the word.

I have great sympathy with the Minister. He made a superb speech in the Dáil on the first occasion the issue of AIDS was debated. It was an extremely forward-looking speech. Of course, he was then a backbencher; he certainly did not have ministerial responsibilities.

Dr. O'Connell: A chronic backbencher.

Mr. Norris: A very useful backbencher [2213] bencher, if I may say so. When the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, appointed Deputy O'Connell as Minister for Health I regarded it as a remarkable and great advance. I remember the Minister saying that he hoped to play a role parallel to that played by Dr. Noel Browne in confronting tuberculosis. I wish to say to the Minister that that is a very difficult role to square with the exigencies of meeting Cabinet dithering. I do not know how the Minister can do this. Perhaps he will find a formula. He has my sympathy. He will certainly have my support if he takes the Noel Browne road, because when Noel Browne believed in something — for example, the mother and child scheme and the tuberculosis eradication programme — he went right to the bitter limits and was prepared to bring the Government down, which he did.

The Minister referred to the age of majority. While there is a partial parallel, voting is not a life-threatening exercise and the parallel is not complete. With regard to the age of consent, we received very interesting evidence, which I was unaware of, from my distinguished Labour colleague, Senator Jack Harte, who said in the House yesterday that when he was a youngster of 12 years in 1932 he sold condoms in a chemist shop in Parnell Street. It does not seem to have irreparably damaged him. He is one of the most sensible, balanced and decent people I have met. I understand he is also a pretty good parent. He survived the experience of selling condoms at 12 years of age in the north inner city. At 16 years of age he was in the British Army. Army personnel were not allowed out on the town without being given prophylactics. He also survived that experience. This testimony by a Member of the House proves that our anxieties are misplaced and exaggerated.

When will we grow up and realise that marriage has damn all to do with disease? There is not a bug known to man that looks at people and says: “I will not interfere with them because they are married; [2214] I am not going to infect them because they have been properly married.”

Mr. Dardis: How about stress?

Mr. Norris: Stress is not a bug. I chose the word carefully.

Dr. Upton: It facilitates infection.

Mr. Norris: Marriage has nothing whatever to do with infection; it is another fig leaf. There is a different age of consent for people who are married. If one looks at the logic of this, it becomes even worse. People are far less likely to engage in irresponsible or disease-threatening sexual activity within marriage. It is the people outside marriage we should be most worried about. Saying that there is a lower age for the accessibility of condoms within marriage is a complete and utter fraudulent piece of tripe. To balance that we are told that the Bill contains a provision which enables contraceptives to be sold to a person under the age of 17 years if a prescription has been issued to him by a registered medical practitioner.

I accept the Minister's statement that there are circumstances in which perhaps approaching a doctor is useful because the issuing of the condom will be placed in the context of pseudo-parental advice to the young person involved. I accept that this is always valuable.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Sitting suspended at 5.30 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.