Here is a transcript of comments by Strangford MP Iris Robinson to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee on 17th June 2008.

MPs were discussing the new Risk Assessment and Management of Sex Offenders legislation and proposals to reduce the age of consent in Northern Ireland from 17 to 16.

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP):

We all agree that few issues arouse as much interest or concern in the community as that of sex offenders.

The sentences served and their subsequent placement back in the community cause considerable disquiet among the public.

There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children.

There must be sufficient confidence that the community has the best possible protection against such perverts, and it is important that there be a mature public debate on the issues, but the security of our citizens must be our overriding priority.

There have been several recent high-profile cases.

Young people such as Victoria Climbie were let down because of poor communication between agencies and staff.

Similarly, Ian Huntley, who was convicted of the Soham murders, was able to gain employment in a school because record-keeping was not sufficiently rigorous.

The updating of legislation through the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 seeks to place arrangements for managing the risk from offenders on a statutory footing.

That is a positive and welcome objective. It is essential that all relevant agencies work together and share information fully.

Effective multi-agency working is crucial in order to maximise public protection.

Recently the Government sought to reform our sexual offences legislation in Northern Ireland, but they appear determined to ignore the Northern Ireland Assembly, whose Ad Hoc Committee report stated that:

“the Committee strongly recommends that there be no change to the current age of consent at 17.”

The report was endorsed by the full Assembly, and I take this opportunity to reiterate the firm view on this matter of the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives.

A young person should have the emotional and psychological maturity to cope with the consequences of sexual activity.

The 1994 national survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain found that 58.5 per cent. of girls whose first act of intercourse was before the age of consent later regretted it.

Research a couple of years ago showed that almost 80 per cent. of young people in Northern Ireland were delaying their first sex experience until beyond the age of consent.

The legal age sends a signal, and it is mistaken to imagine that it is irrelevant and does not impact on young people or alter their mindset.