The London Government must listen to the concerns of Northern Ireland’s parents over RSE poll shows, by Alistair Thompson

The Westminster Government must listen to parents over their concerns about new Relationships and Sex Education Regulations being imposed on post-primary schools and stop treating Northern Ireland differently to other parts of the United Kingdom according to the findings of a major new poll.

The results of the poll, commissioned by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), were announced at a public meeting in the Europa Hotel, Belfast this week which had been organised to oppose the regulations. It found that while there is acceptance that the government has a role in children being taught RSE, there is significant alarm at how lessons are taught.

Asked whether the people of Northern Ireland or the Northern Ireland Secretary should decide the content of the RSE curriculum presented to their children, a clear majority 55 per cent, including six in ten parents with non-adult children said it should be left to the people, while just one in four (25 per cent) said it should be determined by the Northern Ireland Secretary.

The poll also found a strong desire for a public consultation before changing RSE regulations including the teaching about a legal right to access abortion. Asked if RSE regulations in Northern Ireland should not be changed without full public consultation, 55 per cent agreed, including 58 per cent of parents with non-adult children. Just one quarter, 25 per cent disagreed.

Michael Robinson, Executive Director of SPUC, commented: “This representative survey lays bare the high level of concern about the heavy-handed approach taken by the Northern Ireland Secretary when he imposed new RSE regulations on the Province last June without any prior consultation. This legislation forces all post-primary schools to tell girls how they can get an abortion. Under RSE guidance in England schools are free to reflect their religious or moral ethos in the discussion of abortion. So why is Northern Ireland being treated differently?

“What is particularly interesting is that for almost every question we asked, parents with children of school age, those who will be taught these new lessons, expressed higher levels of concern than the general public. The Westminster Government must now start listening to the people of Northern Ireland, withdraw the RSE legislation it imposed and introduce no further changes without a full public consultation on the matter.”

The survey found that while just under a quarter, (23 per cent) rising to 27 per cent of parents with non-adult children, strongly opposed forcing schools to teach children about how and where to have an abortion, both members of the public and parents overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that children should be taught a range of views on abortion. Asked if they agreed with the statement: ‘Children should be taught that there are different views and beliefs on abortion‘, seven in ten, (71 per cent) agreed including 69 per cent of parents with non-adult children, while just one in eight (12 per cent) disagreed.

Interestingly, young people are the most in favour of children being presented with alternatives to abortion out of all age groups. Just under half (42 per cent) of 18-34s strongly support children being taught alternatives, increasing to 68 per cent net support.

Parents are also overwhelmingly in favour of greater safeguarding when it comes to school referrals for abortion. Six in ten (56 per cent) strongly oppose the idea that schools can refer children for an abortion without their consent, with six in ten (57 per cent) also supporting the idea that they should be allowed to withdraw their children from lessons that conflict with their moral or religious values.

The poll concludes by asking for views on the 2020 law that legalised abortion in the Province on demand up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, up to 24 on the grounds of health, (including mental health) and up to birth on the grounds of foetal disability.

It found both women and men are in support of pro-life policies in Northern Ireland. This includes forcing abortion providers to carry out checks to ensure women are not being coerced into having an abortion(69 per cent compared to eight per cent) and making it mandatory for all women considering an abortion to be offered independent counselling from an organisation with no financial interest in the outcome of her decision(72 per cent compared to eight per cent).

Other policies that received high levels of support, included a statutory cooling off period of two days (72 per cent compared to seven per cent), a legal requirement for parental consent for abortion for girls of 15 and under (64 per cent compared to 14 per cent) and an independent mechanism to address grievances around inadequate treatment (75 per cent compared to four per cent)

Mr Robinson concluded: “Not only have we found concerns about RSE, but we have found high levels of concern about the abortion legislation that was forced on Northern Ireland without consultation and with insufficient safeguards and protections for women. The message to the Westminster Government could not be clearer, you need to stop dictating your own agenda and start listening to the views of the people.”

The event was organised by SPUC to launch its “Withdraw the Law” campaign. More than 120 members of the public attended the discussion of the RSE Regulations that came into effect 6 June and how compulsory abortion lessons violate the right of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their own religious and moral convictions. They also heard about the concerns of teachers as well as a range of actions they can undertake to help overturn the new law.


Alistair Thompson

Alistair Thompson is the Director of Team Britannia PR and a journalist.