Schools should provide “basic information regarding sexuality in the fullest sense”, according to President Michael D Higgins.
Speaking on International Women’s Day, President Higgins said there is a “need for the appropriate dissemination” of this information by those “responsible for providing education”.
He added: “The requirement for respect to be shown, and the right for it to be experienced, should be available to all. It is necessary that it be taught, encouraged, and its absence sanctioned.”
Although he did not address the matter directly, the President’s comments come amid discussion of the teaching of transgender issues in Irish schools, with a new sex education curriculum being formulated.
Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman has signalled that he believes transgender education should be part of the primary cycle to promote a greater understanding of the diversity in modern Irish society.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin have also backed primary school students being offered education about what it means to be transgender but the Taoiseach stressed that he believes a clear parental opt-out should also be offered.
Their comments come after Catholic primary school managers wrote to ministers opposing the teaching of transgender issues to primary school children.
The President also referenced the need for any Covid-19 inquiry to address the impact of the pandemic on women.
He said International Women’s Day was a “special day” to celebrate and remember the achievements of the many great women who have had a profound impact on our lives.
“Importantly, it is also a day when we must challenge the many wrongs which so many women both in Ireland and across the globe are forced to face,” he said.
“While every achievement towards equality is to be celebrated, there can be no doubt that women suffered disproportionately during the Covid-19 pandemic. Any reflection on the Covid period must address that fact.
“Most seriously of all there was an escalation in violence against women, particularly domestic violence, during the period of the Covid pandemic.
“For instance, calls to gardaí regarding domestic violence increased by 25pc during lockdowns while calls to the Women’s Aid helpline increased by over 40pc.
“These are central issues which must be looked at in any review of the Covid experience, while every effort must continue to be made to address the sources and causes of domestic and sexual violence against women.
“It is matter for the greatest concern that so many of the social spaces, and places of public recreation have become characterised by aggression and misogyny.”
President Higgins said the absence of “regulation and accountability” in relation to social media continues to have a particularly negative effect on women.
“Technological change has moved at a faster pace than protections for citizens. While technology has brought very significant gains, and this must be acknowledged, there are glaring gaps and new challenges opening up which must be tackled,” he said.
“While each of these issues must be addressed, there is also the need for the appropriate dissemination of basic information regarding sexuality in the fullest sense, by those responsible for providing education.
“Let us reaffirm our collective commitment to building an Ireland in which all of our women citizens can participate fully and can thrive to their highest potential, free from violence and discrimination.”
The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) has argued there is a lack of scientific consensus on the issue, that it would create division in schools, and that it might add to “a growing psychological contagion” among children.
This is in contrast with those who have campaigned for increased teaching of gender diversity in primary schools.
Speaking this morning on RTÉ, Emer Nowlan, chief executive of the non-denominational Educate Together school patronage body, said while she was not keen to comment on the matter, her organisation did not share the concerns and that they were being raised by a relatively small number of people.