Last night the Government issued an official apology to those affected by the criminalisation of homosexual acts in Ireland, legislation that was repealed 25 years ago this month.
It was an emotional day at Leinster House as an all-party motion acknowledged the hurt caused.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said far too many had lived under the stigma of persecution and had had their lives destroyed.
He added that during almost four decades from 1940, 13 men a year were jailed, and in the decade up to 1972 there were 455 convictions.
“Twenty-five years ago President Mary Robinson signed into law an historic act that brought an end to decades of cruelty and injustice,” he said.
“Several pieces of legislation were repealed in 1993. Many were historical and stretched back to the 19th century and even before the famine.
“They were the dogmas of a different time and they dictated how we treated and mistreated our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters.
“It is oppressive to live in a constant state of humiliation, a constant state of fear. It is also deeply traumatic to feel that you are rejected by your own country.
“I was born in 1979 and in the three years before that, there were 44 prosecutions in this country. It’s not that long ago.
“Homosexuality was seen as a perversion, and trials were sometimes a cruel form of entertainment. Others saw it as a mental illness including the medical profession at the time.
“Last year I had the privilege of being elected Taoiseach, something that would have been unimaginable when I was born and would have seemed impossible even a few short years ago.
“There are many people who helped change minds and change laws and their contribution should be remembered. People who fought for me before I did so myself.
“I think today of the people who are no longer with us. Champions like Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan, someone whose courage helped change the laws in this country.”
Another Chapter of Healing
In the Seanad, many Senators and the Minister for Justice took to the stand to apologise and to thank David Norris for first bringing the state to court to have homosexual sex between consenting adults decriminalised. He lost is case in Ireland but in 1988 the European Court of Justice ruled in his favour. It then took until 1993 for the Oireachtas to legislate on that European judgement.
In the Dáil, on the opposition benches, they recognised the significant change in our laws and the need for further changes.
The leader of Fianna Fáil, Michael Martin said: “It did not end discrimination, and we have not ended discrimination, but it did set off a chain of actions which have changed our country unquestionably for the better.”
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Spokesperson on Disability Rights and Older People for Sinn Féin said: “Those homosexual men who were criminalised in the past for engaging in consensual acts and had prosecutions imposed on them should be exonerated.”
Brendan Howlin, leader of Labour said: “The ultimate goal must be complete acceptance, inclusion, normality, nothing less than that.”
For David Norris, it has been a long but important journey, he told RTE News:
“There’s a whole generation now that is unburdened by the shame and humiliation that the people of my generation suffered.”
Campaigners, including GCN co-founder Tonie Walsh and c0-founder of GLEN, Kieran Rose were among those watching proceedings from the Dáil gallery and they welcomed the apology as the beginning of a healing process.
Walsh said: “It’s a wonderful acknowledgement of the hurt and the stress, the marginalisation, the exclusion that was caused by not only by men who were sent to prison under the old Victorian legislation but the criminalising impact of the legislation had on all of Ireland’s lesbian and gay citizens.”
“We in GLEN always believed in the enate progressiveness of Irish people and their tolerance and their openness and today again we’re seeing that manifested in our Oireachtas,” said Rose.
“It’s the beginning of a healing process for a lot of horrible wrongs that have been done and now it’s another chapter of healing. I really hope that the Catholic church in Ireland is taking note and possibly will follow suit,” said Nuala Ward of Amach! LGBT Galway, who was also in the Dáil Gallery.
While this marks a positive milestone for the Irish LGBT+ community, many Senators and TDs rightfully noted the amount of basic progress that still needs to be made for the LGBT+ community in Ireland including hate crime legislation, a ban on conversion therapy, better sexual health services: including access to PrEP and PEP.
Read the Taoiseach’s full speech here.
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