Speech to National Workshop on Consent and Tackling Sexual Violence in Third Level Education

Good morning.

Minister for Justice & Equality, Charlie Flanagan,
Distinguished guests, Members of An Garda Síochána, students, representatives from higher education, leaders in the area of consent and sexual welfare of our students. Thank you for being here.

As the first Minister for Higher Education, I am your voice at the cabinet table. A job I take very seriously.

Earlier this summer I launched Dr. Pádraig MacNeela’s SMART CONSENT report. He and his team shared with us their findings around sexual consent and the impact of consent workshops and facilitator training. The statistics are troubling.

25% of women students had experienced unwanted sexual contact, or attempts at unwanted sexual contact, through the use or threat of violence.

Statistics show that people who are LGBT+ and/or people with a disability are also specifically targeted for sexual harassment and violence.

According to Clíona Saidlier from The Rape Crisis Network Ireland, who is speaking later, it could be as high as 50% of those who presented themselves to the 6 Sexual Assault Trauma Units around the country were students.

A staggering percentage. And then last Tuesday we heard of three sexual assaults in Cork. Two of those students no longer want to continue their studies. Three students, I feel, I have failed, we ALL have failed. Today I want to hear from you – on a practical level.

What do we have to do NOW, IMMEDIATELY, WITHIN WEEKS, to eradicate sexual violence and harassment on campus? As academics, student representatives, health professionals and leaders in our fields, we have one uniting force. The student.

The epicentre of our agendas. Higher education institutions have a duty of care to all their students. Institutions have a duty to foster a campus culture that is clear in condemnation of gender-based violence.

And Institutions have a duty of care to their staff. Institutions must instil an environment where staff and students feel confident to report unacceptable behaviour. As your Minister, I want to leave here today with a clear sense of what we need to do to eradicate gender-based violence.

I want to clearly understand what institutions are already doing to keep all their students safe, and what needs to be done!

We need a joined up approach and a national strategy. I want to hear from staff how they are coping when confronted with a student who says they have been assaulted or raped. I want opinions and views shared freely without prejudice. And most importantly after today I want us as an expert group to develop a national implementation plan with a strategy to protect all our students.

Dr Anne Looney from DCU has kindly agreed to facilitate a discussion after we hear from some leaders in the area.
Your informed and considered experience will help us frame our way forward and develop solutions to ensure safe and respectful Campuses.

There is huge energy and appetite to address this issue, – in this room,
-in our HEI’s
-in our Department of Education.
Now we need to tap into your expertise. So we can devise the road map for next steps.

As Minister, it falls to me to ensure that a safe learning environment is at the core of providing excellence in education. This must include safety from sexual harassment and assault; and safety from the fear and threat of it.

In Conclusion I want buy in from the Higher Education Institutions, from their presidents, their governing bodies, I want buy in from students so that gender based violence on campus stops right now.

I pledge to you here today the buy in from me, the Minister with responsibility for Higher Education, I pledge buy in from the Department of Education and from the Government. No more Delays, No more prevarication, No more talk about the problem. We need solutions.

Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist once said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Now I would like to call on Minister Charlie Flanagan to say a few words. Thank you.