On Tuesday, June 20, the Irish government announced that it will officially introduce legislation in Ireland to disregard the historic convictions of consensual sexual activity between gay and bisexual men.
The criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity between men had been on the books since the State was founded in 1937, adopted from the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act from English Common Law, and remained legally valid until the statutes were struck in 1993.
Senator David Norris spearheaded the campaign to decriminalise same-sex activity between men throughout the 1980s by founding the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform. The campaign resulted in a 1988 ruling that stated that “Irish laws prohibiting male homosexual activities were in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights”. The decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland would not go into effect until June 24, 1993.
Over the nearly 60 years during which the statutes were in effect, hundreds of gay and bisexual men were charged with “gross indecency”, the same charge that led to the demise of Irish author Oscar Wilde. While convictions were far less common in the years leading up to decriminalisation, they were more frequent up to and throughout the 1970s.
According to research conducted by Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, between the years of 1940 and 1978, an average of 13 men a year were jailed under the statute. In just a decade, from 1962-1972, a total of 455 gay and bisexual men were convicted for “illegal” same-sex activity.
The Irish government first announced plans to disregard these criminal offence records in 2018, recognizing that these acts would no longer be considered unlawful under the updated Irish legislature.
Last year, in May 2022, the Department of Justice published a progress report from the Working Group established to work on the Disregard Scheme. The document outlined a number of recommendations, including “the need for public consultation for affected persons and representative groups”.
Then last November, a public consultation was launched, focusing on the scheme to disregard the historic convictions doled out by the Offenses Against the Person Act.
Yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was joined by Justice Minister Helen McEntee to announce confirmation that the Government has received a final report from the Working Group on Disregards.
The final report contained a total of 95 recommendations for the Irish government that would enable the disregard of criminal records for those historically charged under the Offenses Against the Person Act. The report also outlined the process through which convicted individuals would be able to apply for disregard.
Govt Working Group #Disregard report is comprehensive and progressive.
Promises wide opportunities for gay & bisexual men to have past convictions disregarded.
— LGBT Disregard (@LGBTDisregard) June 20, 2023
Minister McEntee has promised to publish the full report of the working group in the coming days. She similarly announced that she will be considering the group’s recommendations when it comes to drafting legislation for a statutory scheme to disregard these historic convictions.
“Today marks an important moment in our efforts to exonerate those impacted by these outdated laws and address some of the lingering harms of the past,” said Minister McEntee. “While we cannot undo the hurt inflicted on people who were discriminated against for simply being themselves, I do hope that today’s report brings us closer to something that can address the harm done to generations of gay and bisexual men.”
“Ireland has become a proud, progressive, and modern State. We have made great strides to promote equality and respond to the changing needs of a diverse population,” Varadkar said in a statement issued yesterday. “However, we are not naive to think that LGBTQI+ people don’t continue to face significant barriers to full participation in public life.”
“I am particularly pleased that we are now moving to disregard historic convictions for consensual sexual activity between men,” the Taoiseach added.
Delighted to see this published by Govt.
And that it advocates a #RestorativeJustice approach to recognising & addressing stigma, discrimination, violence & marginalisation experienced by #LGBTQI people both historically and in the present day#Disregard #Pride @LGBTDisregard https://t.co/ajqrOQV9ZJ
— Brian Sheehan (@BrianSheeh) June 20, 2023
This news comes after extensive advocacy from the LGBT Restorative Justice Campaign, spearheaded by activists Karl Hayden, Brian Sheehan, Kieran Rose and others who welcomed the report calling it “comprehensive and progressive”.
In similar news, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman announced that he has introduced legislation that will make conversion therapy practices a criminal offence if approved.
Additional updates were issued by the Irish government, all pertaining to LGBTQ+ rights and issues, in an official statement in recognition of Pride. The full report can be found here.
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