The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has stated that it was no secret that some of the founding patriots of the state, both men and women, also happened to be homosexual, and that the laws that affected them prior to 1993 were “discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and an infringement of personal privacy and autonomy”.
This was said during a debate yesterday evening on a Labour Party motion by Ged Nash to mark the 25th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland, which came about in 1993. “We remember those who have paved the way for this change” the Taoiseach said. The motion had all-party support, where it was acknowledged that the law had a devastating effect on gay men, their families and friends, and prevented many from engaging in civil and political life.
“While the State’s laws affected gay men in a legal sense, they had a chilling effect on lesbians as well”, Varadkar stated. And while he acknowledged that these wrongs couldn’t be undone, he felt that we, as a society, had learned from their suffering. “Their stories have helped change us for the better. They have made us more tolerant, more understanding and more human”, he said.
“Twenty-five years ago this week, President Mary Robinson signed into law an historic Act that brought an end to decades of cruelty and injustice. The Fianna Fáil-Labour Party coalition at the time deserves recognition for its courage in driving this change, and a special mention should be made of the then Minister for Justice, Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who piloted the legislation through this House and the Seanad. I also particularly want to acknowledge the work of Senator Ged Nash in introducing this motion”.
The Taoiseach moved that “Dáil Eireann
acknowledges that the laws repealed in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 that criminalised consensual sexual activity between men:
— were improperly discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and an infringement of personal privacy and autonomy;
— caused multiple harms to those directly and indirectly affected, namely men who engaged in consensual same-sex activities and their families and friends;
— had a significant chilling effect on progress towards equality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community, acknowledging in particular the legacy of HIV/AIDS within the context of criminalisation;
further acknowledges the hurt and the harm caused to those who were deterred by those laws from being open and honest about their identity with their family and in society and that this prevented citizens from engaging in civil and political life and deprived society of their full contribution;
offers a sincere apology to individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity which is now legal”.
“As the work of Professor Diarmaid Ferriter has shown, between 1940 and 1978 an average of 13 men a year were jailed for homosexual offences. Between 1962 and 1972, there were 455 convictions. I was born in 1979, and in the three years before that, there were 44 prosecutions in this country. It is not all that long ago, and it is very much in living memory. Homosexuality was seen as a perversion and trials were sometimes a cruel form of entertainment for the media and the public. Others saw it as a mental illness, including the medical profession at the time. For every one conviction, there were a hundred other people who lived under the stigma of prosecution, who feared having their sexual orientation made public and their lives and careers destroyed as a result”, the Taoiseach said.
The Seanad also made an apology to all those affected by the pre-1993 law, with a statement from Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, who was delighted to support the motion, and who also praised the brave stance of Senator David Norris, who had been fighting to have these laws removed since 1977. He said the impact of Senator Norris’s challenge “cannot be underestimated”.
“I extend a sincere apology to all of those people, to their family, and to their friends. To any person who felt the hurt and isolation created by those laws, and particularly to those who were criminally convicted by the existence of such laws”, Minister Flanagan said.
Opposition leader, Micheál Martin, also supported the motion. He stated:
“We fully support the all-party motion to pardon all those who were convicted under previous draconian legislation and we also believe that progress should be made on addressing the legislative gaps that still remain for gay couples who have children”.