Dr Farry, who chaired the Ad Hoc Committee in the Assembly that scrutinised the legislation, stated:
“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 which only applies in Great Britain.
“Many aspects of this legislation are long overdue. I welcome 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. I do believe that this could go further. There is also some 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, and new offences designed to protect children from abusive behaviour in the home.
“Much debate has already fallen on the age of consent. This is only one aspect of a broad piece of legislation.
“My 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.”