Irish Justice Department hands over documents on decriminalisation of homosexuality to National Archives

Senator Norris attended the event where the Department of Justice handed over files relating to the court case that led to decriminalisation.

Senator David Norris, Secretary General of the Department of Justice Oonagh McPhillips, former Secretary General Tim Dalton and Director of the National Archives Orlaith McBride at an event.
Image: Tony Maxwell

On Wednesday, July 26, the Department of Justice officially handed over documents relating to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland to the National Archives, the country’s institution of memory that preserves State records.

2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting men in Ireland, a seminal moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the country. 30 years after, 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. One of the instrumental figures in the fight for decriminalisation was and Senator David Norris.

Known affectionately as the ‘Father of the Seanad’, David Norris has now become the longest-serving senator in Ireland, holding the role for 36 years. He started his political career in 1987, when he became a member of the Seanad Éireann, and the first-ever openly gay person to be elected to office in the country.

Before becoming a Senator, David Norris was also a fierce LGBTQ+ rights campaigner, and as as early as the ’70s he co-founded the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, an organisation specifically set up to fight for decriminalisation.


Norris also took a case to the Irish High Court in 1980, arguing that the laws criminalising “homosexual conduct” was inconsistent with the Constitution of Ireland. When that case was lost, Norris decided that he wouldn’t stop there. He challenged the decision before the European Court of Human Rights in 1993 and won.

As a consequence of the case and Norris’s efforts, the law criminalising homosexuality in Ireland was repealed 30 years ago, on June 24, 1993.

David Norris attended the handover event on Wednesday, which took place in the Department offices on 51 St Stephen’s Green. Also present at the event were Secretary General of the Department of Justice Oonagh McPhillips and former Secretary General Tim Dalton who handed over files relating to Senator Norris’ case that led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality to Director of the National Archives Orlaith McBride.


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