Irish Gay Rights Movement celebrates 50th anniversary with landmark Pride event

The Irish Gay Rights Movement (IGRM) celebrated its 50th anniversary this week as past members gathered to honour the organisations legacy.

Founding members of the Irish Gay Rights movement, David Norris and Clem Clancy at the IGRM 50 event.
Image: Karl Hayden

The Irish Gay Rights Movement (IGRM) was founded in Dublin by former openly gay Senator David Norris in 1974 and celebrated its 50th anniversary this June. 

Less than a year after Norris played an instrumental role in the establishment of Ireland’s first Sexual Liberation Movement (SLM), the then-Trinity College student joined forces with a number of other LGBTQ+ students in Dublin to establish IGRM, a movement dedicated to campaigning for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic of Ireland. 

Some of IGRM’s original members included Séan Connolly, a civil engineer from Roscommon, Clem Clancy, a supermarket worker from Dublin, and Edmund Lynch, a man who would go on to become a trailblazing LGBTQ+ advocate and archivist before his passing last November. 

In the space of its first year as a campaigning force, IGRM held its first public meeting at the South County Hotel in Dublin in July of 1974, before setting up a dedicated office at 23 Lower Leeson Street that same year. 

By 1975, IGRM had published its Constitution, outlining its goals of “achievement of equality under the law”,“acquisition of premises for social activities”, and “provision of befriending services”. IGRM was also responsible for the establishment of Tel-A-Friend, now known as Switchboard, which remains the oldest, continuous LGBTQ+ organisation in Ireland. 

In 1983, Norris led the charge to decriminalise homosexuality in Ireland, a statute that remained on the books as a roll-over from England’s buggery laws. 

The Senator brought a challenge to the laws banning same-sex activity to the Irish Supreme Court in the case titled Norris v Attorney General, though the suit was ultimately unsuccessful. 

Norris appealed the case, however, to the European Court of Human Rights in 1988, where it was ruled that Ireland’s criminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adult men was in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The results of Norris’ second case, titled Norris v Ireland, directly led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland in 1993. 

On Wednesday, July 3, 60 past members and volunteers of the Irish Gay Rights Movement gathered at Dublin’s Morrison Hotel to celebrate the organisation’s 50th anniversary, with notable figures such as Clem Clancy, Martin Barnes, Jimmy Malone, and even former Senator David Norris in attendance. 

Clancy took to the podium to commemorate IGRM’s 50th anniversary, saying: “In 1974, life in Ireland, life in Europe, life in the world was different.”

“At the time, all of us, everyone of the committee were in a full-time, daytime job. And therefore we had not just commitments to our families, but we had to be respectful and careful in our workplaces.

“Today people can dress up as anything. Businesses and corporations throughout the city are full of regalia promoting gay rights,” Clancy added. “In 1974, you couldn’t even mention gay rights.”

To close out the event, former Senator David Norris took to the podium to thank IGRM for putting on the anniversary event, describing it as a “wonderful opportunity to see old friends”. Norris called out Séan Connolly in particular, saying that the event gave the two men the opportunity to renew their friendship.

Wednesday’s event marked the first time that Norris and Connolly have spoken in as long as four decades, as the two cut contact in 1977 when IGRM fractured into two groups, one of which went on to found the National Gay Federation, now known as NXF, in 1979.

The split led to a great deal of anger and resentment amongst the former compatriots, but it seems that this week’s IGRM 50th anniversary event healed many of those long-standing wounds, opening a brighter path to LGBTQ+ rights in the future.

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