"It's a parenting issue" - Reaction to Enda Kenny's call for debate on pornography

The Taoiseach expressed concern with "ubiquitous as it is damaging" online pornography

"It's a parenting issue" - Reaction to Enda Kenny's call for debate on pornography

In this file photo, a teenager checks his smartphone | Image: Nam Y. Huh / AP/Press Association Images

Reaction to Taoiseach Enda Kenny's call for a "national debate" on the implications of pornography on young people has been largely positive. 

He made the comments at the launch of a new helpline for the victims of crime this week, saying online pornography is as "ubiquitous as it is damaging".

He said young Irish people are growing up, "imagining that what they see might be normal sexual behaviour", and said it would form part of the Government's agenda for a more caring country.

Grainia Long, CEO of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), welcomes Mr Kenny's comments - saying there "needs to be a balance" between censorship and education.

"It's a parenting and guardianship issue", she says to Newstalk.com."We need to build resilience within our children, and ensure they know where to go if they are exposed to porn, and that they always feel they can step back."

Childline's British branch reported a 60% increase in counselling sessions, with children left worried about what they had seen on the internet.

Ms Long adds that the ISPCC is aware of a minority of cases in which parents are allowing children to view pornography in their home, saying incidents could potentially be viewed as an issue of neglect.

"There is a limit - we have to give children flexibility to make their own decisions. But adults who wish to view pornography in their own time need to make it as difficult as possible for their children to access it."

She is calling for a national strategy on cyber safety to be implemented - "a formal programme available to all children that allows children to talk and ask questions".

Ms Long cites the main issues as the highly-sexualised imagery, the use of language and the level of violence within pornography. She also criticises the portrayal of men's behaviour as aggressive, and women's as passive.

"The internet is never going to go away"

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, says that education about pornography needs to focus on consent. 

"We need to recognise that there is a lot of exploitation within pornography", she says. "A lot of the material within pornography is hateful and discriminatory, and we have to safeguard those most at risk".

"Technology facilitates a much wider access to pornography. The internet is never going to go away. This is a conversation that all of us need to be having, and if we have it, we can show that sex can be a positive and healthy experience beyond porn."

A BBC broadcaster came under fire for comments recently, in which she suggested porn be shown in classrooms as part of sex education. Ms Long says she would be "nervous" about adopting this approach, but said mature conversations with older children were necessary.

While Ms Blackwell has developed The BodyRight Programme "to raise awareness about sexual violence among young people, to support them in protecting themselves and to contribute to the prevention of sexual violence". The programme is designed to be used with young people from 15 years of age upwards.

"We're not experts, but we've worked consistently with young people," she says. "Our volunteers are going to schools and seeing the effect pornography is having on children. It's a real concern."

The Sex Worker's Alliance Ireland was contacted for comment.