Dr Farry, who chaired the Ad Hoc Committee in the Assembly that scrutinised the legislation, stated: “I welcome the passage of the Sexual Offences Order through both house of Parliament. This legislation will modernise the law on sexual offences in Northern Ireland, and codify law within a single statute. In particular, it brings us fully in line with the Sexual Offences Act of 2003.
“Many aspects of this legislation are long overdue, such as the removal of consent as a defence for sexual activity with a child under the age of 13, and that such activity will now be regarded as rape. There is also welcome clarity on the law on rape, and there is now an in-built presumption of rape if violence is used or where an over-powering drug is administered.
“The Order also ensures that all offences become gender neutral, that all non-consensual activity and sexual activity involving children and other vulnerable adults is criminalised.
“Much debate has already fallen on the age of consent. This is only one aspect of a broad piece of legislation.
“My personal view is that the age of consent in Northern Ireland should be set at 16 years of age and be in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that there is a compelling reason for Northern Ireland to be out of line. The issue is not about encouraging or legitimising sexual activity at an early age, but rather recognising that it is a reality in our society, and ensuring that there can be an effective response to a genuine problem without artificial barriers being created.
“I believe that the House of Lords was right to reject the DUP amendment.”