There is rising concern over a bill aiming to ban gay conversion therapy in the Republic of Ireland being forgotten in the aftermath of Covid-19.
The Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill, put forward by Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield, describes conversion therapy as a practice by “any person” which aims to “change, suppress, or eliminate” a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
The bill was originally put forward to Seanad in April 2018, and despite it being three years since, it is still only in the preliminary stages of being approved.
Warfield told the UK Times that he is worried that the bill may lose momentum, or that the draft could be altered to allow conversion therapy in certain religious circumstances, in fear of breaching the right to religious freedom. He notes however that, “being religious and LGBT do not go against each other. A lot of LGBT people are religious themselves.”
The bill, which is only in the third of ten stages, lapsed last year with the dissolution of the Oireachtas. It has a further two stages in the Seanad and a further five steps in the Dáil left to go before being signed into law.
Warfield explained that the practice of conversion therapy is more common in Northern Ireland and Britain than it is in the Republic of Ireland, but that it is still seen in local, religious settings. He explained that, “Often it is seen when someone comes out to their parents, and they react badly, so they will go to the local parish priest. Most priests would resist suggestions of conversion therapy, but there are instances where that doesn’t happen.”
While the ban on gay conversion therapy is on the Department of Children and Equality’s National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy 2019-2021, the responsibility to further it falls on the Department of Health.
Currently, Warfield is waiting on the Department of Health’s changes to the bill before it can be progressed. He noted that, “It’s no doubt they are the busiest department in government right now with the pandemic.”
A similar bill is being progressed in Northern Ireland, with Stormont Minister Deirdre Hargey warning against rushing a ban for fear ineffective laws will allow the practice to continue.
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