The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 will commence Second Stage in the Dáil on Wednesday (tomorrow). Rehab is urging TDs to support Section 20 of the bill to ensure there is no unnecessary delay.
Section 20 of the new Bill will repeal the current blanket ban which prevents a person having a sexual relationship with a person who has a mental health difficulty or an intellectual disability.
For the first time, Irish legislation will consider whether a person with an intellectual disability has capacity to consent to sexual relationships, rather than just outlawing such relationships because they have a disability.
Section 20 of the Bill recognises the differences in ability that exist among people with intellectual disabilities in making decisions about their lives by creating a category of ‘protected person’.
Since 1993, considerable strides have been taken to establish people with disabilities as citizens with equal rights. It is now time for similar equality to be given to people in relation to sexual relationships.
The existing law in Ireland creates a situation where people with intellectual disabilities are often neither supported nor encouraged to look for a romantic life partner, which is a normal part of life for everyone else. The new law, under Section 20, will open new opportunities for people to be supported in this area and its enactment will be a key step towards ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Kathleen O’Meara, Director of Communications, Public Affairs and Fundraising, said: “The proposed new laws (Section 20) will create greater equality for people with disabilities in their sexual and romantic lives. Often the existing legislation has prevented people engaging in any type of romantic relationship. This legislation is now urgent. It will provide greater opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities to assert their human right to marry and to found a family. It will open access to essential sex education and sexual and reproductive health services for people with intellectual disabilities just like everyone else.”
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The current law, Section 5 of Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, outlaws sexual relationships with people with intellectual disabilities.
It states that a person who has or attempts to have sexual intercourse with a person with a mental health difficulty or an intellectual disability is guilty of an offence. The ban is based on the existence of a disability and no other criteria. Rehab believes this is a glaring inequality.
The new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, under Section 20, creates a new category of ‘protected person’. A ‘protected person’ is defined as someone who lacks capacity to consent because a mental or intellectual disability, or a mental illness, makes them incapable of understanding the nature of the sexual act, of evaluating relevant information to make a decision about taking part in a sexual activity and of communicating his or her consent by speech, sign language or otherwise.
Section 20 will take an important step towards Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in particular the achievement of the rights provided for under Article 23 - Respect for home and the family.
Rehab is a charity that champions the value of diversity and inclusion for people with a disability or disadvantage in their communities. Our mission is to help the people we serve to be more independent and to contribute to and be more included in their communities; empowering them with the skills and confidence to be active in the workforce, and supporting them to be in charge of their health and wellness. Over 20,000 people use Rehab's services - children and adults with disability, people on the autism spectrum, people with mental health difficulties and people who are disadvantaged in some way in the labour market. More than 3,200 employees deliver Rehab's services in over 170 locations in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and Poland.