Address by Mr John Moloney, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children on the Adjournment of the Seanad on Wednesday, 26th November 2008.

“To ask the Minister to discuss Ireland’s National Plan of Action to address FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) which was launched today.” Senator Fiona O’Malley

I will be taking the adjournment on behalf of my colleague, Mary Harney T.D., Minister for Health & Children.

I would like to thank Senator O’Malley for the opportunity to speak on this important matter. I believe that Female Genital Mutilation is a barbaric act, which constitutes an assault causing serious harm to the girls and women on whom it is performed.

Female Genital Mutilation is a deeply-rooted traditional practice which continues in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The age at which it is performed varies from area to area. It may be performed on infants, female children and adolescents or occasionally, on mature women. It is not only extremely painful but results in serious mutilation and may cause infection and death. It exposes young girls and women to high health risks and seriously affects the quality of the rest of their lives.

The Department of Health and Children is currently working with the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (COSC) and other relevant agencies in the preparation of a National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence. The Strategy will set out the general vision and objectives and actions to tackle these issues. I understand that Female Genital Mutilation will be among the gender-based violence issues which the Strategy will address.

The Minister for Health and Children recently received a draft copy of the document “Ireland’s National Plan to address Female Genital Mutilation”, which was launched yesterday and the Minister has noted its contents. The Plan was produced by a National Steering Committee which included a number of NGOs as well as the Health Service Executive and was funded by the European Commission.

The Senator may wish to note that legal advice which the Minister obtained in 2004 strongly indicated that Female Genital Mutilation is an offence under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. The advice states, inter alia, that it is likely that performing an act of Female Genital Mutilation would comprise an intentional act which causes serious harm and would thus be an offence under section 4 of that Act. If the act of Female Genital Mutilation was not found to have resulted in “serious” harm it would still be open to the Gardai to prosecute for the similar, though less serious, offence of assaulting a person causing harm provided for by section 3 of the 1997 Act.

In September 2006 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in its concluding observations on Ireland’s second periodic report urged Ireland to continue its efforts to end the practice of Female Genital Mutilation through, inter alia, prohibiting it by law. The Minister for Health and Children is currently examining the possibility of introducing specific legislation to ban Female Genital Mutilation in the context of UNCRC’s recommendations.

The Department of Health and Children wrote to the then health boards in 2001 and again in 2004 and to the HSE in 2007 drawing their attention to the issue of Female Genital Mutilation and requesting that personnel working with immigrant populations take opportunities to educate them about the dangers and unacceptability of Female Genital Mutilation.

The Department also wrote to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 2004 about the issue. It asked that staff under the aegis of that Department whose work brings them into contact with persons from regions where Female Genital Mutilation is practised should be made aware of the issue and should educate and inform such communities about the illegality and unacceptability of Female Genital Mutilation.

The Department of Health and Children will, together with the HSE examine the actions which the National Action Plan recommends in relation to guidance for healthcare professionals and data collection.

I would like to thank the Senator again for raising this important issue. Female Genital Mutilation is a barbaric practice and the Government will of course take any further steps which may be necessary to promote awareness of its illegality and unacceptability in our society.