Fine Gael TDs want an ‘open debate’ on transgender issues amid voters’ concerns

But Coalition must ‘move carefully’ when it comes to children being taught, says former chief whip

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned Fine Gael members not to get involved in 'culture wars' over transgender issues. Photo: Damien Storan

Philip Ryan

Fine Gael TDs are calling for an open debate on transgender issues, amid heightened tensions on the matter among the public.

Party members believe the discussion around transgender issue, which has sparked intense debate in other countries, is something that should be considered carefully by the Government.

The issue was raised at Fine Gael’s Parliamentary Party meeting on Wednesday, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warning TDs and senators against getting engulfed in “culture wars”.

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys is responsible for enacting Programme for Government commitments to change the Gender Recognition Act to allow 16 and 17-year-olds self-declare their gender without seeing a specialist.

However, a government source said it was “not a priority” for Ms Humphreys.

Fine Gael TDs said they are being inundated with queries from constituents about transgenderism after Mr Varadkar said he believed primary school students should be taught about the issue.

The Taoiseach’s comment followed the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association raising concerns over proposals to teach children about transgenderism.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman had proposed the measure.

Former Fine Gael chief whip Paul Kehoe said the Government should “move carefully” when it comes to teaching children on the subject. “I have no issue with someone who has gender dysphoria and who wants to transition,” Mr Kehoe said.

“I appreciate absolutely that it is a very difficult experience, but my fear is around the age we start educating on this subject – especially if we start bringing it up in primary school.”

Mr Kehoe said the Catholic church had “done fantastic work in this country” and “given us a fantastic education system”. “We can’t dismiss their view on this either,” he said.

“We should definitely educate our children to be tolerant of everyone, but we don’t need to shove certain issues down their throats at such a young age.”

Former justice minister Charlie Flanagan said: “I acknowledge it is perhaps the most sensitive issue of our times and we should talk about it in an open way.”

Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell said he believed the public would benefit from discussions on the topic.

“In my opinion within the general public there is a massive absence of knowledge about this discussion and as a parliamentarian I would like to have a reasoned and respectful discussion so I am better informed,” Mr Farrell said.

A number of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs have said they did not want to discuss the issue publicly due to the divisiveness of the debate.

But they said they have been contacted by constituents who have concerns about the issue.

At Wednesday's meeting Fine Gael’s Josepha Madigan suggested Fianna Fáil minister Mary Butler, who has a transgender son, should be invited to address a party meeting on issues affecting parents whose children are experiencing gender dysphoria.

Earlier this year, Ms Butler spoke of her “immense” pride in her transgender son and urged parents to seek advice if their children were experiencing gender dysphoria.

Ms Butler said her son Jay, who is in fifth year in school, had received bullying comments from some younger pupils when he began transitioning.

However, she said he was “doing absolutely fantastic” now and said his school had been very supportive.

While it is unclear if Ms Butler would accept such an invite, it is understood the Waterford TD would be open to speaking to colleagues on a personal level if they wanted to seek more information or understand more about transgender issues.

Ms Madigan, TD for Dublin Rathdown, could not be contacted for comment yesterday.