Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin have spoken out in favour of including information about transgender identity in the new primary school curriculum.
Mr Martin described a letter from a Catholic Primary Schools Management Association opposing the inclusion of transgender issues in the new course as “not the way to deal with these issues.”
Asked if he was in favour of primary schoolchildren being taught about such matters, Mr Varadkar said: “I am. I think the purpose of the education system is to prepare children for life, to teach them about the world. Trans people exist, they’ve always existed, and I think it makes more sense in schools to just inform children about the world around them.
“It doesn’t have to be a value judgment as to whether it’s right or wrong,” he said. “But you know, it just makes sense to me that education is about teaching children about the real world and trans people exist in the real world. So you know, why not just give them information or facts? It doesn’t have to be a value judgment in either direction or challenge anyone’s religious or personal opinions.”
But Mr Varadkar added that parents should have the right to withdraw their children from certain classes if they wished. “Parents know what’s best for their kids. And I think we do need to respect parental choice when it comes to when it comes to them guiding what’s best for their children,” he told journalists in Waterford
Earlier Mr Martin was critical of the approach from the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA).
“I think letters of that kind are not the way to deal with these issues. I think that there has to be a sensitivity around this and the broader context is the Relationships and Sexuality programme which is in our primary schools,” he said.
In the letter to the Ministers the CPSMA expressed their belief that any decision to teach primary schoolchildren about transgenderism “would be counterproductive, generating unnecessary divisions in school communities where none now exists.”
The CPSMA also claimed that such a move might add to what it described as “a growing psychological contagion amongst young and vulnerable children”.
The CPSMA, which provides advice and support for chairpersons, principals and boards of management in over 2,800 schools, said that teaching primary children “what it means to be transgender would require to teach about something with which there is neither a scientific nor social consensus to highly impressionable young children”.
It pointed out that “the science is far from settled on this matter, there is no scientific consensus on the cause (or causes) of gender dysphoria, and there is currently an intense international debate on the appropriate treatment of children with gender dysphoria”.
The “affirmative care model has recently been rejected in Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK,” it said, while there was “mounting evidence of psychological contagion”. In the UK, “the numbers of children referred to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) rose from 50 a year in 2009 to 2,500 in 2020″.
It noted how “this increase in referrals was accompanied by a change in the case-mix from predominantly birth-registered males presenting with gender incongruence from an early age, to predominantly birth-registered females presenting with later onset of reported gender incongruence in early teen years.”
Meanwhile “approximately one third of children and young people referred to GIDS have autism or other types of neurodiversity,” it said.
Belong To, the national organisation supporting LGBTQ+ youth in Ireland, said it was “deeply disappointed” by the CPSMA letter. “Trans young people are in primary schools in Ireland. Ignoring their existence and silencing conversations around identity will have detrimental effects on the lives of these pupils,” it said.
A spokesman for Mr O’Gorman said “the Minister does not intend to respond to the letter.”
Meanwhile, the INTO has said that it is essential that teachers are supported by school boards of management and the Department of Education “in educating about diversity and supporting those who may feel vulnerable within our school communities.”
“As a union, we encourage our members to seek advice from expert groups with expertise and knowledge in dealing with all manner of sensitive issues in the classroom,” general secretary John Boyle said.