By Kevin Myers
Friday June 26 2009
THE mob-leaders who led the hysteria accompanying the passage of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 must now be delighted with themselves.
Several teenage boys are awaiting trial on charges of having had sex with similarly under-age girls -- or as the Act, with a winsome political correctness, puts it: "a female child under the age of 17". If God is good, and the sisters have their way, these boys might well be sent to jail for up to five years. And maybe put on the sex offenders' register. Who knows, they might even have their lives ruined. What spiffing japes!
The scary emotionalising that passed for Dail debate just three years ago was the prelude to our beloved members of the Oireachtas concocting a truly appalling law.
And the hysteria on the issue of teenagers and sex -- whipped up by RTE, as always -- probably fuelled the sinister details of that law.
So the notion that a teenage boy and girl having consensual sex results in the boy alone facing criminal charges, is not some unexpected by-product of that law.
No, indeed, for this was both specifically intended and clearly foreseen. Section Five of the introduction of the Bill roundly declared: "Female child under 17 years not guilty of offence." And then, after laying out the punitive consequences for anyone who has consensual sex with a teenager between the ages of 15 and 17, the Bill declared in a single exculpatory paragraph: "A female child under the age of 17 shall not be guilty of an offence under this Act by reason only of her engaging in an act of sexual intercourse."
Not equal? Of course it's not equal. It wasn't intended to be equal.
Over to the DPP, James Hamilton, who wrote in his submission to the Oireachtas on this matter: "But equality under the Constitution does not require that all situations be treated alike -- indeed that would be inequality." Is that clear? Good. Now allow me to pause here, take a couple of Panadol, and to lie-down in a darkened, padded room. I may be some time.
Yet some people clearly saw what was coming down the track. The Fine Gael TD Damien English predicted: "There is a situation now where if two 16-year-olds have sex, and she becomes pregnant, the father could be in prison when she's having the baby. That's madness. . ."
Madness it certainly is. For the Oireachtas of 2006 deliberately devised special gender-apartheid laws in which only males could be culprits. So here's the picture. Take the foregoing couple of 16-year-olds having sex. What indeed if their consensual act resulted in a pregnancy?
Option One. Could the State be seen to be imprisoning an unmarried mum for performing the deed which made her an unmarried mum? Of course, not.
Option Two. Could it devise a legal code in which the girl was guilty only if the sexual deed did not result in a pregnancy? Too messy: suddenly mens rea and menses become inextricably intertwined.
Option Three. Just throw the boy to the wolves, and declare as a matter of law that under-age girls are always innocent. This, apparently, not merely achieves Orwellian dimensions of equality; it also has the added advantage of not alienating any of the simmering feminist army of lobby groups and quangos. There are, of course, no such bodies to protect that unloved species, teenage boys.
Yet this stinking law, probably in some mysterious way, genuinely reflects the will of the Dail; well, at least, over those hysterical few days anyway.
The minister, Michael McDowell, had in fact initially tried to introduce a balanced law which would at least have recognised reality and would, for example, have lowered the legal age of consent from 17 to 16. But he was overwhelmed by the usual media and political hysteria, and the outcome was yet again an Irish solution for an Irish problem.
In sheer fatuity and pious humbug, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 is a match for most of the many preposterous forays into personal morality by the Irish state
Moreover, it is a blackmailer's charter. Any sexually-experienced 16-year-old girl who seduces an under-17 male -- not a difficult task, surely -- is always innocent under this law whereas he is always guilty.
If she chooses to, she can simply ruin his life. (So how much is it worth to him and his family for her not to complain?). And, of course, such a girl can move through the ranks of permanently tumescent 15-year-old lads -- doing this repeatedly if she so chooses. This is not 1950s Ireland. At least 40pc of youngsters under-17 have lost their virginity. Every boy who has had sex with a girl aged under 16 since 2006 is thus a criminal -- unless he was under 14 at the time in which case the girl, if over 14, might somehow or other be guilty. God knows. I certainly don't.
So a moral and legal slum -- and one that is probably constitutionally unsustainable -- has once again resulted merely because, YET again, the mob was allowed to call the shots. Do we never learn? No, of course we don't.
- Kevin Myers