By Ger Colleran

Healy-Rae seriously ‘off point’ in Dáil sex-assault debate

If Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is ever ‘charged’ with conflating two quite separate issues – sexual violence on the one hand and unisex toilets in schools on the other – then he should simply hold up his hand and plead guilty.

In the Dáil the other day, Deputy Healy-Rae was contributing to a debate on the recent Central Statistics Office (CSO) survey on sexual violence. The CSO found that four in 10 adults have experienced such attacks.

Unsurprisingly, the survey also revealed that 78% of victims knew the attacker, which indicates that in most cases people are sexually assaulted by friends and acquaintances, neighbours, business colleagues, and, even more terrible, by members of their own families.

Deputy Healy-Rae praised the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre for the amazing work it does in this area. He singled out Centre Manager Vera O’Leary for particular praise, which was well deserved.

However, he then went on a solo run about how society is on a race to the bottom, that anything goes these days. He pointed, in particular, to toilets in schools which are now being provided without signs stating they’re for boys or girls.

He said: “That to me is insanity.”

In fairness, the Kilgarvan Deputy is entitled to his views on school toilets, but bringing such concern into a debate about sexual violence is unwarranted because it suggests that unisex toilets will facilitate attacks, or have already done so. And the question is: where is his evidence for that?

Deputy Healy-Rae’s conflation of sexual violence and unisex toilets does a disservice to the debate, because it’s a distortion.

Vera O’Leary certainly thinks so. She told Kerry’s Eye this week: “Sharing a toilet has nothing to do with sexual violence. While Deputy Healy-Rae is entitled to his beliefs and views, we have had no reports or are not aware of any link between people sharing a toilet and sexual violence.”

Deputy Healy-Rae’s no doubt well-intentioned remarks are wrong and misconceived. And, unless he has much more to offer in terms of facts, they should be withdrawn.