Opening speech by Ruairí Quinn, Irish Minister for Education and Skills
Opening speech by Ruairí Quinn, Irish Minister for Education and Skills, at the conference "Tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying in school - the role of teachers, school leaders, NGOs and policy maker".
Speaking Notes for Mr Ruairí Quinn T.D. , Minister for Education and Skills at the ILGA Conference on Homophobic and Transphobic bullying in schools on Wednesday 20th February 2013
Royal Irish Academy
I am delighted to be here today to open this ILGA-EU conference on “Tackling Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying in Schools”.
I am particularly pleased that this conference, on a topic that I am personally very committed to, is being held in association with the Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union.
Remarkably, today is the first time under any EU Presidency, that an officially associated event has been held on LGBT issues in education.
It is also the first time that an associated event of an EU Presidency, targeted at mainstream policy makers, has taken place on any LGBT issue.
Ireland has a proud record of promoting and defending human rights internationally, including LGBT rights – it gives us great pleasure to support this event.
I would like to welcome all of you who travelled from across Europe to be with us today to share insights and discuss this important topic.
Irish Presidency and European Union
2013 is the 20th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.
I think it’s fair to say that Ireland has progressed enormously in the last 20 years in terms of understanding, recognition and respect for LGBT people.
The campaign to liberalise Ireland’s laws was a difficult and divisive struggle, but our constitutional convention will consider the issue of same-sex marriage in the coming months, showing clearly how far we have come since decriminalisation.
It is my view that Ireland’s membership of the EU played a significant contribution to making these changes possible.
This is not surprising, given that respect for human rights is integral to the EU.
Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are the values on which the European Union is founded.
Embedded in the Treaty on European Union, they have been reinforced by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The European Union sees human rights as universal and indivisible.
It actively promotes and defends them both within its borders and when engaging in relations with non-EU countries.
Ireland has also played its part and was instrumental in supporting progress in Europe by ensuring that sexual orientation was inserted in the Amsterdam Treaty.
This Treaty provides the EU with its mandate to engage in measures to prevent discrimination on LGBT issues.
Education and the provision of safe, supportive and inclusive schools for young LGBT people is a key area of concern, for ILGA-Europe, and also for the key Irish NGOs working in this area – GLEN and BeLonG To.
I would like to acknowledge the very significant contribution that both GLEN and BeLonG To have made both nationally and internationally in working to support LGBT people and to combat homophobic bullying.
Programme for Government
Preventing and tackling incidences of bullying in schools is a high priority for the Irish Government.
The Programme for Government, which sets out the Irish Government’s commitments and priorities for its term in office, includes a specific commitment to encourage schools to develop anti-bullying policies, and in particular strategies to combat homophobic bullying.
Research commissioned by GLEN and BeLonG To has shown that bullying is a particularly acute problem for young LGBT people in schools.
These Irish experiences would also be mirrored in other European countries.
Unfortunately, these young people are often experiencing a complex array of challenges in their young lives.
They may be experiencing isolation, fear, marginalisation and lack of acceptance from their peers and others as a result of their sexuality or perceived sexuality.
It is clear that education can play a key role in supporting LGBT young people, and also in tackling the underlying prejudices which can lead to homophobic and transphobic bullying.
I would like to take a few minutes to outline the most recent initiatives in this area here in Ireland.
In May 2012, along with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I convened an Anti-bullying Forum to explore ways to tackle the serious problem of bullying in schools.
The Forum co-incided with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
The Forum was attended by students, parents’ representatives, education stakeholders, academics and other experts to ways to tackle the serious problem of bullying in schools.
All forms of bullying including homophobic bullying, cyber bullying and racist bullying were considered by the Forum.
At the Forum I also issued a public call for submissions on the issue.
Alongside the Forum, I established a working group to consider the outcomes from the Forum and the submissions received, and to identify priority actions to more effectively prevent and tackle bullying in our schools.
The working group have recently completed their work and I was very pleased to recently launch their Action Plan on Bullying.
The action plan includes twelve actions which centre on supports for schools, awareness raising measures and further research.
The actions include the development of new procedures on bullying for primary and post primary schools which will replace the existing bullying guidelines and will include a specific reference to homophobic and transphobic bullying.
As part of the Action Plan, for the first time this year, my Department will be providing support for the Stand Up! Awareness Week Against Homophobic Bullying - organised by BeLonG To Youth Services.
As well as providing funding, the official support of this campaign against homophobic bullying should help ensure the campaign runs in a much greater number of our schools.
A number of awareness raising measures are being developed including training and resources for school Boards of Management and parents.
In addition, guidelines will also be developed for policy makers and agencies which work in the schools sector, focussed on all types of bullying and in particular LGBT identity and homophobic bullying.
I think that a reading of the Action Plan will underline the commitment to these issues which we share with ILGA-Europe.
I understand that today you will be discussing the role that policy makers, NGOs, inspectors and teachers have to play in combatting homophobic and transphobic bullying.
The Action Plan examines these issues and highlights the necessity for schools, parents and the wider community to tackle bullying, peer aggression and violence directed at young people based on their sexual orientation.
I am heartened to see policy makers, representatives from UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture, NGOs, Trade Unions and teachers all gathered here today with a common purpose.
This conference will provide you all with an opportunity for dialogue and information sharing.
This is an important issue for children and young people, parents and all who work in the education sector and society as a whole throughout Europe.
Our Presidency coincides with the ‘the Gathering’; a year-long festival of Irish culture and heritage.
Throughout 2013, Ireland will encourage hundreds of thousands of Irish people, and friends of Ireland from all over the world, to come home to gatherings in parishes, villages, towns and cities.
For my part, I want this to be an inclusive gathering where all are welcome to a more caring and open minded Ireland.
I hope that you will take the chance to prolong your stay, and indeed visit Ireland again over the course of the next twelve months.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved in organising this conference.
In particular, I’d like to pay tribute to ILGA-Europe as the umbrella organisation of LGBT organisations across Europe, and your colleagues in GLEN and BeLonG To here in Ireland.
I hope that you have interesting and fruitful discussions here today and I wish you well in all of your work.
I want to reiterate my own personal commitment to tackling this issue and also acknowledge the support that the Education Partners and my own Department have given to this important agenda.
I look forward to being part of the continuing successful partnership in this area.