Puberty blockers: Sinn Fein calls for a guarantee in law that trans drugs can be given to children

Sinn Fein has called for new legislation for Northern Ireland to guarantee that puberty blockers will be available to young teens with gender identity issues as normal healthcare.
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Sinn Fein's MLA for Mid Ulster, Emma Sheerin, laid out her position on the matter at the Belfast Pride Talks Back event last week.

Host William Crawley submitted a question from the audience to a political panel, on whether their parties support access to puberty blockers for “young trans teenagers” in NI.

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Ms Sheerin confirmed that it “needs to be normal healthcare” and when asked if she wished to see this legislated for, she replied: “Yes.”

SF then appeared to affirm that she had given the party position.

“Sinn Fein supports an update to gender recognition laws in the North to be harmonised with the south,” the party said in a statement.

“Everyone is entitled to access the healthcare treatments currently available to them on the NHS, and should not have to face long waits before receiving that care.”

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The NHS’ website says puberty blockers can currently be given to under-16s, in order to “pause the physical changes of puberty, such as breast development or facial hair” with a view to letting those children swap gender.

Sinn Fein MLA Emma Sheerin was speaking at Belfast Pride Talks Back.Sinn Fein MLA Emma Sheerin was speaking at Belfast Pride Talks Back.
Sinn Fein MLA Emma Sheerin was speaking at Belfast Pride Talks Back.

But the NHS also adds that “little is known about the long-term side effects” of the drugs – and there have been calls for a ban on the practice.

The panellists also included UUP leader Doug Beattie, Alliance MLA Eoin Tennyson and SDLP councillor Seamus De Faoite.

The DUP did not attend the panel or offer any comment on puberty blockers.

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Mr Beattie said on the question: “We have a very conservative wing of the party who are absolutely against it and then we have another wing of the party who are looking at this and saying, you know, what can we do to progress this? So I don't have an answer.”

A UUP spokesperson added that Mr Beattie has concerns about “the negative effects puberty blockers may have on young people, some as young as eight, in later years”.

They added that this is an issue between a doctor and their patient to make the final decisions.

Alliance MLA Eoin Tennyson told the event: “As with any health issue it becomes a very dangerous space where politicians start to get involved and dictate what services an individual can or cannot access.

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"So I default to the position that it is a decision for that individual, their families and their medical professional to take.”

The Alliance Party confirmed that this is the party's position.

The video recording of the event ended without the SDLP being invited to comment, and the party declined to offer any further comment.

An online survey by Progressive Politics NI for the council election earlier this year asked SDLP representatives in eight local councils if “waiting times in trans healthcare including access to puberty blockers, surgery and counselling services should be reduced?”

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Every SDLP representative, including councillor de Faoite, supported the proposition.

TUV deputy leader Councillor Ron McDowell said: “After the experience of the Tavistock clinic’s Gender Identity Development Service [in London] which found itself subject to a highly critical report last year, one would have hoped that there would be greater caution around giving life-altering drugs to children, but it would seem not.”

Last month the NHS confirmed that puberty blockers will not be routinely offered to children at new regional gender identity clinics in England. These were set up to replace the controversial Tavistock clinic in London, which prescribed the drugs to many child patients.

The DUP forwarded comment on the matter today, 4 August.

DUP Health spokesman Paul Givan said: “Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party need to give clarity on whether children should be enabled to undergo irreversible treatments to change gender without parental consent. “This is reckless. Puberty blockers have life-changing impacts on children. Such medical processes are far more lifechanging than a tattoo, yet only adults can get a tattoo.

"We have a duty to not only protect freedoms but also protect our children and young people from making decisions in childhood which they have to live with the rest of their days.”