Thursday, 23 June 2022
LGBTQI+ and Equality: Statements
I welcome this opportunity to update the House on LGBTI+ issues, particularly during Pride week. At the start of 2022, Ireland entered its second century as an independent State. We have become a proud, progressive and modern nation that supports and cherishes all people equally. We have made great strides in recent decades to promote equality and respond to the changing needs of a diverse population.
We have a proud record as a champion of human rights internationally. We have been at the forefront of change in advancing equality for LGBTI+ people. In 2015, we became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. In the same year, we introduced progressive gender recognition legislation. In 2018, we became the first country in the world to launch a national LGBTI+ youth strategy. The annual Pride parade, which will be held in person again this Saturday, has grown to become one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Ireland. Yet, despite these advances, challenges remain. LGBTI+ people continue to face significant barriers to full participation in public life. They do not always feel safe in public spaces. They continue to experience unacceptable levels of harassment, violence and discrimination. LGBTI+ people also face particular health issues. The Government and society in general have more work to do.
That is why the Government launched Ireland's first national LGBTI+ inclusion strategy in 2019. This all-of-government strategy pursues objectives under four thematic pillars and provides a vision of an Ireland where LGBTI+ people are visible and included, treated equally, healthy and feel safe and supported. With a view to making progress towards these high-level objectives, 108 actions, aimed at improving the lives of LGBTI+ people within the lifetime of the strategy, were agreed. The overall aim of the strategy is to target discrimination, promote inclusion and improve quality of life and well-being for all LGBTI+ people. The Government is committed to these overarching goals and is advancing a suite of initiatives within the strategic framework to improve the lives of LGBTI+ people in Ireland.
The inclusion strategy dovetails with the LGBTI+ national youth strategy, which was launched in 2018 and recently concluded. The youth strategy aims to ensure that all LGBTI+ young people are visible, valued and included. The consultations with young people and their direct involvement in the development of the youth strategy as well as its implementation demonstrate the value Ireland places on having the voice of the child in the development of policy. Reports and research continue to show that coming out as LGBTI+, and growing up as LGBTI+, are still challenging for young people. The youth strategy and policies aim to address these difficulties through the creation of safe, supportive and inclusive environments for LGBTI+ young people and through improving their mental, physical and sexual health and well-being by developing the research and data so we are able to understand their needs and respond appropriately to them.
The key achievements of my Department in the lifetime of the youth strategy include the establishment of the LGBTI+ youth forum to support the implementation of the strategy. I had the privilege of working with 25 young LGBTI+ people from diverse backgrounds who all actively engaged with the implementation of the strategy throughout its lifetime. With the support of the forum, my Department established the LGBTI+ youth leadership programme. This enables young LGBTI+ people to develop their leadership skills. The programme was delivered by Foróige and undertaken in consultation with BeLonG To. It was a great success. A similar programme bringing in new young LGBTI+ leaders will be offered later this year.
In October 2020, I launched the national Live Out Loud: Celebrating LGBTI+ Youth campaign and event. It culminated in a live-streamed national event from Wexford Opera House as part of Pride celebrations in June 2021. This campaign and the overall event celebrated LGBTI+ young people, again showing that they are visible, valued and included across culture, society and sport. A review of the implementation of the youth strategy is under way and will be published later this year.
The House will be aware that one of my key priorities is the prohibition of the practice of so-called conversion therapy. This objective is contained in the programme for Government. My Department recently commissioned research aimed at capturing the views and experiences of people who have undergone this so-called therapy. This multi-phased mixed-methodology research is being conducted by an expert team at Trinity College and is expected to be completed in August. The findings will assist in the development of legislation that will prohibit the practice of conversion therapy. The legislation will also be informed by international comparative analysis. Conversion therapy is something that does not happen hugely in this country but it does happen. I have met young people who have experienced it. When it happens, its impact can be devastating. That is why we are taking the time to undertake this research to understand exactly where and how it is happening so that we can ensure the legislation being brought forward is effective and we can prohibit this practice.
As a Government, we recognise that people arriving in Ireland who wish to claim international protection are diverse in background and often have different needs. The White Paper on ending direct provision committed to establishing supported pathways for people who, because of their gender or identity, may have specific vulnerabilities. For an LGBTI+ person, that journey can be more difficult. My Department recognises that and we are developing a specific LGBTI+ operating model to help interact with and best support people from the LGBTI+ community who are seeking asylum in Ireland. I am pleased to state that work will begin shortly, in conjunction with an NGO partner, on a consultation and research phase that will gather the experiences of those who have already passed through this process and make sure we can design our international protection process in a way that fully respects and protects LGBTI+ people in that process.
As well as the research into conversion therapy, my Department is in the process of commissioning a study of older LGBTI+ people in Ireland. The study will draw from data held by the Irish longitudinal study on ageing, TILDA. The contract with a third level institution is now being finalised and it is expected the research will be completed by the end of 2022. This study of the older LGBTI+ population in Ireland will identify the needs of older LGBTI+ people and the specific challenges they experience.
The research will also inform the ongoing implementation of strategic actions to support older members of the LGBTI+ community in Ireland. In the context of the change we have seen in this country, we are all aware of significant numbers of older LGBTI+ people who were not in a position, or did not feel they were in a position, to come out in their early years, who now, because of the changed circumstances, feel they can do so. We must recognise their situation and policy and law must be in place to support them in their process.
The Government is committed to ensuring that members of minority and vulnerable groups feel safe and supported in Ireland as they go about their daily lives. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, will soon publish the criminal justice (hate crime) Bill 2021, which will introduce new, specific aggravated offences with enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice against certain characteristics, including gender and sexual orientation. The Minister and I met with a range of national LGBTI+ groups yesterday to brief them on the progress of that legislation and other legislation and policy being pursued across both our Departments.
Recent tragic events, including the brutal killings in Sligo, the range of attacks on members of the LGBTI+ community on the streets of Dublin and in other parts of he country and the increasingly vitriolic online attacks on members of the community, particularly trans members, have shaken the community in Ireland. We are all aware of that. It was good to have an opportunity for the Minister for Justice to outline the extensive measures An Garda Síochána is taking, both at the national level and at a very localised level, to ensure all members of the community feel safe and that we have the very best mechanisms in place for engagement between An Garda Síochána, LGBTI+ groups and individual members of the community.
The Garda initiatives include LGBTI+ network dialogue days, a joint promotional video on online hate crime reporting, the involvement of LGBTI+ representatives in Garda diversity officer training and the ongoing human rights training Garda personnel are receiving. In addition, all trainees at the Garda Síochána College must now complete revised hate crime and diversity and cultural awareness training. This additional training around hate crime is welcome, as is education in respect of hate-related non-crimes. There are situations people experience every day that probably do not fall within the criminal sphere but that are nevertheless clearly motivated by hate. The passing of the hate crime legislation, on which significant work has been undertaken at pre-legislative scrutiny stage, which we are working to respond to, will mark an important moment not only for the LGBTI+ community but also for many other minority communities in the country, including members of the Traveller community, black and mixed-race communities and persons who are disabled. Many people in those communities have experienced hate and will now, finally, be able to see a clear mechanism whereby An Garda Síochána can prosecute what was done to them, recognising it not just as a general assault but as an assault based on hate, and punish it as such through the courts system.
In reviewing our policies and legislation, it is important we do not inadvertently create discriminatory circumstances. There has recently been some public debate regarding a small number of proposed changes to the Maternity Protection Acts that will be brought forward as part of the work life balance and miscellaneous provisions Bill 2022 to ensure no family and no child are disadvantaged because of the parents' gender. It is Government policy to ensure all pregnant employees in the State are entitled to maternity leave. These amendments are intended to ensure this is reflected in the Maternity Protection Acts. I hope to introduce the Bill before the end of this term or early in the next term and there will be opportunities to debate all elements of it. I know colleagues will be mindful that any debate should be sensitive to the fact these amendments affect real people and real families. I have no doubt that Deputies and Senators will conduct themselves with those people in mind.
Government collaboration with civil society and community organisations is a vital strand of our approach to service provision for LGBTI+ communities. We are committed to providing support and funding to a wide and diverse range of LGBTI+ non-government groups in their delivery of targeted programmes and services throughout the country. Last year, my Department allocated more than €1.5 million to support LGBTI+ projects through grant funding. This funding is critical in achieving the Government's overall strategic objectives and providing regional services and supports for the LGBTI+ community.
It is important that allocated funds are deployed strategically and projects that are funded by the Government support the objectives of the LGBTI+ inclusion strategy. One such project is the specialised legal advice clinic launched in May 2022 by the Free Legal Advice Centres. I had the privilege of being part of the launch of this fantastic initiative. The clinic will meet the specific needs of the gay and trans community. It will provide advice on a wide range of legal issues where gender and sexuality are core factors, including discrimination matters, equality, family law, gender identity, immigration, hate crimes and access to healthcare. The clinic's objectives align with the actions in the strategy that mandate the provision of tailored legal advice and advocacy to LGBTI+ people.
This is one example of the dozens of strategic initiatives by LGBTI+ organisations that have received funding under the annual community services fund, which was first launched in 2020. The fund is an essential limb of the inclusion strategy, unlocking the delivery of many of its aims and objectives. The day before yesterday, I was delighted to announce details of the 2022 funding call. A key change this year is that we are providing an element of core funding within the call. This marks a change in the structure of the funding, which originally was all project-based. We recognise that the LGBTI+ community sector, like much of the community sector in this country, is facing additional financial pressures. Being able to plan ahead by way of the provision of core funding for basic things like rent and key staff is often as beneficial as project-based funding. This change was asked for by groups in the sector and we are pleased to be able to deliver it this year. It will allow community groups, including local groups, to continue to benefit from the range of available supports.
I welcome the opportunity to engage in this discussion and to hear from Deputies on both the Opposition and Government sides. I wish Members a very happy Pride Month.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to express my solidarity with LGBTI+ communities throughout the country. Although this discussion offers us the opportunity to reflect on, and celebrate with pride, the successes of the LGBTI+ community, we also must recognise the struggles many in the community continue to fạce. This is particularly so for members of the trans community, who too often hear their very existence being debated in public discourse. As a society, Ireland has made huge progress and strides over the past decade. I always recall that when I was in school, there was absolutely no concept or chance of my coming out. Now, when I visit schools in Dublin 15 or elsewhere around the country, I see the Pride flag flying. It is such a change in one person's lifetime. Many people of my generation feel and see that change. It is always important to note the huge progress we have made.
We also must be conscious that there can be regression. We see regression in Europe right now. I have made the point before, including in this Chamber, that a situation in which people see their human rights going backwards in their own lifetime must be truly terrifying. It probably has only been experienced by small numbers of people over time, but in parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world at this time, the rights of the LGBTI+ community are going backwards. That is why it is so important that we in Ireland celebrate our progress while also being conscious that we still have significantly more to do.
All of us in this House must take it upon ourselves to make the extra effort to be informed and to listen to the perspectives and experiences of those who still struggle, and I specify members of the trans community in this regard. If we are to create a society where everyone feels safe, included and supported to live life as their true selves, we must first educate ourselves and play our role in supporting others to understand the complexities of gender identity. The Government is committed to working with LGBTI+ communities to ensure that LGBTI+ people can feel visible, equal and safe in a fairer and more inclusive Ireland.
I am delighted to get the opportunity to speak about equality and how it impacts on the LGBTI+ community. As the Minister said, we wish everyone a happy Pride. What is really good this year, and especially on a day like today, when it is so sunny, is that we finally have an event that is back to being held in person this weekend. To everybody taking part, my colleagues will be out in support too. It is fantastic that we are living in a society like this. In this Chamber, we often talk about various crises and things happening in housing and health. It is nice to sometimes have debates where we are discussing areas where there has been such progress. We were world leaders in the context of the marriage equality referendum in 2015. It is something we should all be very proud of. I always remember it vividly because we had a by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny at the same time. I always think of those two events when I remember back to those times. May of this year marked seven years since they happened. It is hard to believe it has been that length of time.
There is a growing general awareness in this regard. It is good and welcome. I see it even with my children and their friends, and in the context of how school is now. It is so different from anything I experienced. I still refer to myself sometimes as a young person. When you have a teenager, however, you do not actually feel so young anymore. It is only when we see our kids getting older that we realise that we must also be getting older. Even since I was in school, however, there is much more acceptance. Some schools are out on their own. I will not name or single out any school, but some are so progressive, so into the individual and they do not mind children expressing themselves. This is extremely important and we should welcome, encourage and support this approach at every opportunity we can. It is fantastic, and even during the drive into Dublin every day this week and for the last few weeks, it has been possible to see all the Pride flags and various businesses getting on board.
I agree with some of the points the Minister made. Despite our great strides in legislation and social awareness, areas of concern remain, particularly regarding healthcare, mental health services and the level of awareness of the complex and specific needs of this community in our medical profession at times. Anecdotal evidence suggests this, but, equally, coming from a constituency that is a mix of rural and urban, I am aware that it can be much more difficult in rural communities. People are living in towns or villages that are much smaller. We have grown a lot, but, at times, in certain areas, there is still some stigma and it can be very difficult. It can be particularly difficult to access crucial supports around sexual health services. Some GPs, for example, may be more old-fashioned in their approach, and this can be very difficult, especially for people in rural communities. It can also be especially difficult to get access to counsellors, mental health services and trans healthcare. Therefore, it is important that we see an improvement in the lack of social services and social outlets. We must grow in this regard. Everywhere is affected, but it can be particularly difficult in rural areas at times. We must examine this aspect.
The work of amplifying and reforming legislation to provide a safe, inclusive and secure country for all continues in earnest. I and several others have been involved as members of the Joint Committee on International Surrogacy, for example, and some of the areas we have been exploring include issues facing same-sex couples, male and female, in the context of international surrogacy arrangements and achieving parental regulation recognition. Our committee has finished its public hearings and we hope to have our report published soon. This is another step forward and an important one.
Safety is a key concern for this community. We saw this, unfortunately, in the most tragic way earlier this year. While I have the opportunity, and the Minister mentioned this, I encourage the Minister for Justice to prioritise the proposed criminal justice (hate crimes) Bill and to publish it as soon as possible. This is robust and comprehensive hate crime legislation, when enacted, will ensure that members of the entire LGBTI+ community and other marginalised communities can feel safe going about their daily lives. There can sometimes be a sea change in the minds of people in society when something is enshrined in legislation. Therefore, it is important that we have this legislation.
While discrimination and difficulties in accessing services affect all ages, younger people struggle the most with accessing information and assistance. LGBT Ireland, which operates a helpline, highlighted that 64% of all calls in 2020 were from young people under the age of 25, with the remaining 36% of calls coming from those under the age of 18. The most common query was for help in coming out. It is important that the Minister referred to his own situation and how it has progressed since he was in school. It is good for young people to see this. Despite great strides in awareness in the wider community, and their own self-awareness of their identity, however, many young people do still struggle to confide in family and peers.
I also welcome the €900,000 made available this week by the Minister for NGOs and community services for the LGTBQI+ community. I understand this funding will maintain and enhance existing services which focus on improving quality of life and well-being for all members of this community. This will be welcomed.
We all want to see people from this community empowered and supported to feel 100% comfortable, as everybody should. So many of us probably take this for granted at times as well.
I will finish there. I totally lost track of the time. I thought that I was only going to take a few minutes but I have taken loads of the time. I reiterate to everyone celebrating Pride, and over this weekend in particular, that we send our solidarity to them.
I delighted to be able to speak on the LGBTQI+ community, about our strategy and to listen to the Minister. To be fair, he spoke about many positive things. I certainly recognise that. To echo what Deputy Funchion said, we are in a much better place than we were when I went to school. A great deal of work remains to be done, though, and we all recognise this as well. I send my solidarity to the members of the trans community. I stand with them against the recent attacks on their very existence. This must be said today and I am glad that people are saying it. The members of the trans community know they have our support.
I refer to when I came into politics. I and many people in Sinn Féin have a vision for the island involving republican principles of equality, diversity and inclusion because this goes to the core of who we are. I have been lucky. I have been attending Pride in Cork for years. Sometimes my wife, Michelle, and our two daughters would come with me. I remember pushing them in the buggy when they were babies. Pride has a great atmosphere and I look forward to walking it this year with my family again, because it sends out a brilliant message to people that this is where we want to be, that we want to be inclusive and to work with people and respect them. The atmosphere can be so positive; it just lifts your heart.
I also pay my respects to all those who have campaigned over the years. In Sinn Féin, we say that we stand on the shoulders of great men and women. The LGBTI+ community does the same and all those people who campaigned for years and who fought against discrimination and for equality must be remembered for the contribution they made.
I want to say clearly that I do not want to see us regress, as we have seen happen in other European countries, something the Minister touched on. I want us to move forward. We all remember how proud we were as a nation when we passed the marriage equality referendum. It was a brilliant achievement for us as a people, but a lot more work needs to be done. While we can recognise our victories, we also have to recognise that there is more to do.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, has called for legislation on hate crime and hate speech, something we all want the Minister for Justice to fast track and deliver. People should never be allowed to promote hate crime and hate speech. That is something that we as an Oireachtas need to deliver on. We need to stand up and let that message go out loudly and clearly. The only way we can do that is to pass legislation to ensure that happens.
I am also glad to be here today to speak on the issue of equality for everyone in our society. I wish the Minister and everyone else in our communities a happy and joyous Pride week.
The Minister touched on many issues in his opening remarks, with which I concur. As someone who grew up in a very rural part of Ireland, the advancement we have seen in the past ten years, and in particular the last seven years since the referendum on marriage equality, has been immense. It has been immense in the mindset of older people, in particular, and people who grew up in an Ireland which was very closed and dominated by a particular orthodox kind of Christian view that dominated their thinking and outlook on life.
We have come a huge distance. In the main, the reason for that is that young people spoke to the older generation and told them that it is not like that, they have experienced life and it is different and they have to give them their space, equality and sense of worth in our society. That has happened.
We have, of course, had regressive incidents, such as the incident in Sligo the Minister mentioned, where two men lost their lives earlier this year. As a Deputy for the constituency, I got calls from various constituents about the deaths. A man who called me was extremely aggressive towards the person who had been arrested in connection to the incident because the person was from outside of the country. While he ranted and raved about that, I remembered that I had met the man a few years previously. On that occasion, he had a similar rant and rave about people who are homosexual. I recognised that it was, and was not, a contradiction. It was true to where that man had been and the kind of Ireland he felt he wanted to go back to.
One of the sentiments he expressed was that we are losing our values. We have gained much better values than we ever had. I certainly hope that people will recognise and come to understand that, and recognise the day in the sun for any sector of our society does not, and should not, put any other sector into the shadows. Holding up one particular group of people in society and telling them they have an equal space does not mean we are taking anything away from anyone else. It is not a zero-sum game. Unfortunately, some people think it is. In fact, it is a multiplier. It enhances everyone's lives when we give everybody a better space. We have to recognise and understand that.
Last Thursday, I was leaving the canteen, having had a bite to eat, and there was an event going on in the corridor attended by Senator David Norris, who has been ill in the recent past. His portrait was being unveiled, which is very unusual given that he is still a Member of the Houses. The event was a recognition of his valued contribution to not just the Oireachtas, but to Irish society in general. He was, more than anyone else, the flag bearer for these particular issues. He has done so much for so many people, and was such a positive example for all of us. We all wish him well in the future. It will be a stark reminder to us as we pass through these corridors that equality hangs on the wall and we have to make sure we stand with and for it.
It is important that we have legislation around all of these issues. The hate crime legislation is advancing, and we need to make sure that it is passed. At the same time, it is not just about legislation; it is about changing mindsets and people's understanding of what it is to be human. What separates us, as humans, from every other living species, including animals and everything else in the world, is that we have the ability to communicate, speak to and understand each other, have emotions and work those things out, and we need to use them.
Unfortunately, some people do not want to do that. They want to almost set civilisation aside. The Minister and other colleagues mentioned regression in other parts of the world where there is a very fascist agenda coming into play. That is very negative. That negative fascist agenda has to be held to account for the harm it has done to so many people around the globe. We have to ensure that it does not take hold anywhere in our society. I again wish the Minister and everyone else in our community, whatever they identify as, a very happy Pride week.
The Minister is very welcome. I listened to his speech in my office. There are so many positive things coming from the Minister and Government in terms of the LGBTQI+ community. I wish to start by wishing everybody who takes part in the parade on Saturday the very best. I hope the weather stays fine. Unfortunately, I heard the dress code will be raincoat and wellies. We hope the weather forecasters are incorrect. I welcome the opportunity to speak to this debate because this is an important issue, not just for the LGBTQI+ community. It is important that all of society deals with the issues facing the community.
I would like to focus on two issues in particular. I commend our schools. We have been in many schools in our communities. It is incredible to see the significant amount of work that has been done by schools, teachers and, more importantly, strong LGBTQI+ students who have constantly pushed the agenda and envelope. I would like to commend them because it is a strong and brave thing to do in a school community.
I would like to talk about mental health services, in particular. There are wonderful services like Foroige, Jigsaw and BeLonG To, but there are also universal services in our communities like Genesis and Suicide Awareness Dublin 15. Unfortunately, many such services are under serious pressure in terms of being able to access them. There are currently 84 young people in Dublin West waiting on a list for a first appointment with Jigsaw. The average waiting time has increased from five to 11 weeks, which is deeply worrying. That wait is for general services, but we know the LGBTQI+ community is part of the waiting lists.
The waiting list for CAMHS is more than one year. As we know, every expert in child and adolescent mental health will tell us that early intervention and support is absolutely vital in order to avoid worsening mental health problems into the future. It is critically important that we consider all of those services, including targeted and universal services, in regard to mental health.
The other issue is community safety. We have had not only the horrific murders in Sligo but also, worryingly, an increase in attacks on our streets on members of the LGBT+ community. That should deeply worry and concern all of us, and we definitely need to challenge and to tackle it. We need to create awareness and a space for everyone to be who they are. We need to ensure that our towns, our cities and our streets are safe for people to express themselves without fear of being attacked and without being verbally abused, beaten or horrifically murdered.
There have been huge strides in recent years. We were on the marriage equality campaign trail on many a night in Dublin West. The sheer energy and joy of that campaign meant that it was not only probably one of the most important but also one of the best campaigns I have ever been on. Today I pulled out and looked at a couple of the badges we had for marriage equality. They went like hot cakes. You could not get one during that period. That just shows how much society has come along. As I said, however, there is still work that needs to be done.
I will therefore make an ask of people who are listening in to this debate. It is a very simple ask. If you have never attended the Pride parade, why not start this week? A very simple thing you can do to show your solidarity is to stand with people when they ask you to stand with them. I look forward, on Saturday, to standing with people, whether in me poncho, me rain jacket or me wellies or whether using sun cream. We will absolutely be there. It is a really important weekend for people to be able to stand with others. That is the ask I make of people today.
I was really uplifted by the Minister's remarks and his contribution to the debate. As has been said, debates in this House can often be quite negative and a lot of points can be scored, but the Minister's contribution has challenged us all to point to positives. We can point to a lot of negatives. We have to do that and to point to challenges.
Only two weeks ago, however, I brought my four-year-old daughter into the Dublin Pride shop and we decked her out. We got her a flag and a t-shirt for the Pride march on Saturday. I was reflecting on the fact that that just would have been absolutely impossible when I was her age. Like Deputy Funchion, I do not consider myself to be that old, but when we engage with our children we realise how old we are. When I was her age, only a few years later Declan Flynn would be murdered in Fairview Park. That was 40 years ago, when a homosexual act, as it was then called, was a criminal offence. We decriminalised homosexuality only in 1993. We had a dedication on Sunday to Mervyn Taylor, who was a bastion of equality rights, including LGBT+ rights, in these Houses.
I think of my daughter and think of young people, as has been described. I often observe young people as they walk together in a very different Ireland from that of the kind of teenage walking I used to do. The background of one or two of their party may be of a different country. They celebrate that and are engaged in that much more than in the very dull, pasty-white Ireland in which I grew up. One or two of their number may be from the LGBT+ community. That is what they know to be right, normal and celebrated. They are ready to defend those rights, and that is something I find so refreshing of that generation, which has handed this to us and are handing it to my child. Whatever happens to my child, whoever she may be and whomever she may love will be defended by those young people, more so, perhaps, than by people of my generation, who grew up in the schoolroom of homophobic jokes and in a system and an Ireland that were quite oppressive.
Then we see across Europe, as the Minister said, in Russia, Hungary and Poland, and in various individual states of the United States, what they are trying to do to books, statements and legislation. We see troubling conversations happening in the UK and then we see them in this country. We all have to take note of the fact that, as the Minister said, a person's existence is not up for debate and that punching down on a community that suffers higher levels of mental ill health and suicide just is not good enough. This month we have an opportunity to call that out. Being a member of the LGBT community is different from facing other inequalities. If you are a member of the Travelling community, you share that burden with your family. You can go home to the bosom of your family to discuss or share the inequality or discrimination you have suffered and you can plough through life together. If you are a member of another minority group, perhaps a migrant group, you may be able to share that burden sometimes with your family. If, however, you are a member of the LGBT community, that is sometimes a very private discomfort or a very private hell, and possibly the worst thing you can do in your own mind is to be honest about who you are to your own family. Imagine the fear of rejection from your own family. That is a fear I cannot even contemplate, that you would be who you are to your family and be rejected by your own family. Sometimes we have to reflect on how big a fear that is today for young Irish people, but it is young Irish people who are dispelling and challenging that and fighting back against it.
The Minister referred to the hate crime legislation which is coming down the tracks. I greatly appreciate that because we have been campaigning for that for quite a long time. When we see what happened in Sligo, there is a marked difference, as the Minister will know, between hate-based or hate-motivated crime and other crimes. My colleague, Deputy Nash, asked me to impress on the Minister the need for a commitment from the Department of Justice as to when it will start public consultation on the dispensing of convictions of men who were prosecuted pre-1993. That was the second element of the 2017 Labour Party legislation which led to the State apology marking the 25th anniversary of decriminalisation.
I will say this much about the educational system, and I know people across these Houses will agree with me. Education is one of our biggest challenges, as is the elephant in the room of the dominance of the influence of entities that are hostile to this agenda. We cannot pretend that that does not exist or that our education system is not still dominated by the influence of patron bodies that are hostile to this agenda. Within the school system there absolutely are schools that stand on their own two feet, that will promote Pride Month, that will speak about LGBT rights and that want to stamp out homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. We will have to come, however, to a pinch point in the advancement of our Republic and of our democracy in that it is not sustainable for us to have 90% of the primary schools of this country under the patronage of bodies that are hostile to the agenda with which we in this House all agree. How can we have a scenario in which all the parties represented in this Dáil, the representatives of which are directly elected by the people, are, I believe, in concert with this agenda, with the people of the country themselves amending the Constitution in 2015 in order to afford equal rights, including equal marriage rights and equal constitutional protection, to families, yet so many of our schools and so many of our minds can still be influenced by patron bodies that are hostile to this agenda?
It is not just about Pride month but it is about every day of the life of a young LGBTQI+ person and if they are attending such a school, we are going to have to deal with that scenario.
I was involved in the amendment of section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, that the employment rights of an employee in a State-funded institution had to be protected, even if they were perceived to be undermining the ethos of the school or the health institution in which that person was employed. We could not delete that section of the Employment Equality Act because the patron bodies, constitutionally, still had the right to uphold their ethos. The very existence or the way of living their lives of those who were LGBTQI+, who were unmarried parents, or were divorced, was being undermined because of the fact they were teachers.
We had a situation only a number of years ago where the INTO LGBT+ teachers' group was asked to stand in a photograph in Áras an Uachtaráin with President Michael D. Higgins. Half of the teachers left the photograph because they did not want to be photographed and to be clearly identifiable as LGBTQI+ because they could not be fully convinced or sure that their employment prospects would not be inhibited by the fact they were in a photograph with the President of this country advocating for the rights of LGBTQI+ teachers. That is a climate of fear. While we amended the section of the Employment Equality Act, we have to go much further.
Let me not finish, however, on a note of negativity but on one of love. I was greatly taken by the contribution of Deputy Martin Kenny when he spoke of our collective humanity. What really connects us as human beings is this search and need for love. Some people find it and some do not. If one finds it and is able to express it, it is the most wondrous thing. Pride is all about love. As I said earlier, I cannot wait to bring my little four-year-old to the Pride march on Saturday and for it to be the most normal thing in the world. I cannot wait for me to explain to her what it is all about.
I start this contribution by saying that I fully agree with the points raised by Deputy Ó Ríordáin on the need to tackle this issue within our schools and in respect of employment equality. I have known teaching colleagues during my career who have not felt that that they could be open about their own identity. This is certainly something that needs to be addressed.
I join with everybody else in the House in wishing people a happy Pride week. If Deputy Donnelly suggests that the weather may not play ball and that the dress code may be raincoats and wellies, well at least there may be rainbows.
We have had a little bit of happy history made in Waterford where we have had the Pride of the Déise Festival in Waterford for many years. The Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, met with members of the committee last year. We had our first ever Pride event in Dungarvan in west Waterford just last weekend. That is a happy bit of history to have.
On reflecting and in preparing today’s speech, I thought back on another bit of happy history which was the general election of February 2020. The Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, who has left the Chamber, and I were elected just a couple of hours apart. We both responded in almost exactly the same way. We did not do any of the whooping and hollering and there was no hoisting on shoulders or anything like that. We did, however, what came naturally to us as a response. We turned to the person who had most supported and had walked the long road with us, that is, we turned to our partners and we kissed them. It was the most natural thing in the world to do at a time of great happiness. In my case, it was completely unremarkable or unremarked upon. In the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman’s case, it was much remarked on because I turned and kissed a woman and the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, turned and kissed a man.
As we hear statements on LGBTQI+ and equality today and during Pride month, we should remember that while Pride has become much more mainstream now, it is a protest. It is a protest that reminds us that despite all of the progress made, there is still much more to do. If I walk down the street and I reach out to take my wife’s hand, I do not have to think about it as that is just a simple act of affection. It is not a statement or a protest. Until people within our LGBTQI+ community feel that same freedom, it means that we still have a road to travel.
It also reminds us that progress cannot be taken for granted and it has to be protected. While we have made significant progress in our lifetimes, in the last decade even, and we are rightly proud of those steps, of all those conversations and of that empathy that culminated in our historical result in the marriage equality referendum, both history and the international context show us that freedoms won can be freedoms lost unless they are protected and defended. We have talked about the regression and the retrograde steps that we have seen both in Poland and Hungary on LGBTQI+ rights in recent times and we have already commented on the violence we have seen against people in that community, which seems to be on the rise everywhere. This is happening in the US, the UK and in many countries across Europe and we are not immune to it ourselves as witnessed in the vicious murder of two men in Sligo just earlier this year.
Something which worries and concerns me is that we are also beginning to see an importation of culture wars that are being waged elsewhere where debates around these issues are becoming weaponised and are being used to stoke fears and to sow division.
The debate around trans rights has become increasingly heated in Ireland over the past number of weeks and, as many of the previous contributors said, it is a debate around somebody’s basic right to exist. We always have to be conscious of that. It seems that the highly divisive and destructive battle lines drawn in the UK on this issue have been imported to Ireland despite the fact the laws on trans rights have been in place for seven years now and, to my mind, have had no ill effects on anybody.
Trans people are like everybody else, including myself. They just want to live their lives and to be left alone. They do not need to hear their right to exist debated in divisive terms. Let us not go down that very divisive and needlessly cruel path, as we have seen in the UK. Let us remain focused on facts over panic and let us never forget that there are real people at the heart of these debates. There are real people listening to the radio or watching the television and are having the way that they live their lives discussed and picked apart. If these conversations need to be had and if there are genuine concerns that people need to express, then this should be done at all times with empathy and with understanding.
The Government has been very active in this space and the Minister spoke about many of the initiatives being undertaken and I will mention just some of them. The Government will be bringing forward a new hate crime Bill. Ireland will also opt in to the proposed EU hate speech ban. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Martin, is bringing forward an Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 which aims to tackle online abuses. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, has also enacted laws which make the sharing of intimate images with intent to cause harm a criminal offence. These protections, of course, protect us all but we must recognise the need to protect members of our LGBTQI+ community who experience many forms of discrimination, institutionalised prejudice, social exclusion, related harassments, bullying, violence and health issues, including mental health issues.
A key pillar of the LGBTQI+ inclusion strategy referred to by the Minister is to ensure that the members of the LGBTQI+ community feel safe and supported within Irish society. That is what we need, which that all members of our society feel safe and supported in the same way.
The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and his Department continue to do tremendous work. A major review of the equality legislation is under way to specifically outlaw discrimination based on gender identity. His Department is working on operating policy to guide the experience of LGBTQI+ refugees going through the process of the international protection application. Earlier this year his Department commissioned an extensive study of older members of that community in Ireland to help identify the needs, strengths and challenges which they still experience. This will help inform ongoing implementation of the current and future national LGBTQI+ inclusion strategy.
This week's announcement of LGBTQI+ community services funding by the Minister is very welcome. Some €900,000 has been made available to groups operating at local and national levels to support the community and non-governmental organisations with the aim of promoting inclusion, protecting the rights and improving the well-being of LGBTQI+ people all over Ireland.
There is a new additional element in the funding round that will enable LGBTI+ NGOs to plan to undertake longer-term initiatives to help maintain their support. This is the core support feature to which the Minister referred in his opening statement.
I very much welcome the work being undertaken by An Garda Síochána to deepen awareness of this issue among its front-line officers. Actions in the national LGBTI+ strategy also aim to increase the capacity of An Garda Síochána to respond to the needs of victims of hate crime and to improve understanding of the community within the force. A new organisational approach to Garda diversity training is in the final stages of development and will be delivered throughout 2022. It includes online hate crime training and online diversity and cultural awareness. The training programme was developed in conjunction with community representatives, including LGBT Ireland and Transgender Equality Network Ireland. It has provided a very welcome opportunity for diverse and minority groups to have meaningful engagement with Garda training to ensure the policing we have in our communities answers the needs of all people in our communities. Garda diversity officers are now located in every Garda division throughout the country. They are trained, developed and supported to actively work with diverse and minority communities. Last year there was a full review of the Garda diversity officer network that resulted in revising the role to include responsibility for facilitating the reporting, recording, investigation and prosecuting of hate crime. It also included support for victims of hate crime by identifying their particular needs and responsibility for acting as a liaison with the necessary external support services.
This is a flavour of some of the work that is happening. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, outlined much more that is happening. All of this is necessary and important work. The Government is ambitious and committed to this agenda and LGBTI+ rights. The fact there is a need for this work to be done shows there is a need for Pride. The need for the Pride festival is not only as the moment of joy throughout our communities that it has certainly become. It is most welcome that it has developed to become a joyous occasion but we must also remember that Pride is a protest. It is still important that members of the community make their voices heard and keep the pressure on the Government and all Members of the House to deliver on what we want in our Republic, with all members of the Republic experiencing the same freedoms.
I have never had to consider these issues. I am cis male. It is part of my identity but it is not something I have to fight for. It is not something I ever need to overly consider. I am straight. This is also part of my identity. I do not have to think about it. It is not something that crosses my mind as I reach out to take my wife's hand as we walk down the street. Until every member of our society feels that same freedom to do as I do and feels that same comfort in their own identity and skin, regardless of race, ethnicity, orientation or identity, Pride is necessary. It is an agenda we have to push forward. We should absolutely be donning the raincoats and the wellies if that is what the weekend weather will require as a dress code. All of us should be coming out and supporting those who are marching and who have marched for many years to make those necessary changes in our society that will make it a better place.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak ahead of what will be a great Pride march on Saturday. It is always a great event. It is very positive. It makes people feel good and feel happy. There is a real sense of solidarity on the march. Pride month has many great events. Last week I was at one, the Pride dog show, in the Cabbage Garden off Kevin Street. It was a fantastic event and everybody enjoyed it. It was very positive. All of this positivity contrasts with the homophobic attacks carried out recently. It makes those attacks even more shocking and more upsetting. It is very important that those who carry out these crimes face the full force of the law. There can be no place for this type of behaviour whereby somebody can feel threatened or unsafe because of their sexuality. We have to, as we are doing today, give voice to the LGBTQI+ community.
Last week I was here when the portrait of Senator Norris was hung. I have to say it was a lovely event. It is important to acknowledge the contribution Senator Norris has made for more than 30 years. He was first elected to the Seanad in 1987. He flew the flag. He was openly gay at a time that was much different to now. He deserves huge credit. He walked the walk and flew the flag. He did so much for his community and for wider society. He made it a human rights issue and a social justice issue. He fought the fight and is still fighting it. It was lovely to see him. He was in great form. There are many people like him, such as Kieran Rose who headed up GLEN for many years, who have been huge advocates for the LGBTQI community. It is important to acknowledge and remember the contribution and actions they carried out. Ireland was a bleak place for anybody who was gay at the time. It is still challenging and difficult but it was a significantly darker place. It is important to acknowledge, remember and name those who carried the flag. Many people have been named here.
Leinster Rugby's Nick McCarthy came out recently. This is very positive for a number of reasons. He has been well supported in the rugby community and the wider community. It is a credit to Leinster Rugby that he has got this support. It is very important. It is significant that an elite male sportsperson has come out. Elite male sports are a cold house in many ways for any diversity, particularly for the LGBTI community. We see the Premier League in England and we do not have to look too far from home in the League of Ireland. Very few male elite athletes come out and state they are gay. Nick McCarthy coming out is very welcome. There is no openly gay football player in the Premier League. The last footballer who came out was Justin Fashanu back in the 1990s. I do not know whether the Minister remembers him. I remember him as I am around that long. When he came out, the abuse he got was horrendous. At the time I remember thinking it would be a watershed moment but it was not. Even today we do not have any Premier League player, and very few elite sportspeople, who have come out as gay. This is an issue that we need to be aware of. The national governing bodies, NGBs, must be aware of it and do more to support players coming out.
I welcome that these statements are taking place. It is more than 25 years since I attended my first Pride march. It was 26 years ago, which is hard for me to believe in many ways. Much has changed in Irish society since then and much has changed for LGBTQI+ people. That said, while some things have changed massively for us, some things have remained quite the same.
The Pride march has gone from thousands of people to tens of thousands of people participating. It has become one of the largest events that takes place in Dublin, with massive mainstream buy-in and support. Of course, we have had great progress and some legal changes over the years. More and more people are coming out. We have had marriage equality, which has been significant. However, some things remain fundamentally quite the same. More of our community is now comfortable being visible and being out holding hands in public and yet, many of us at times do not feel safe being visibly ourselves in public.
As an elected representative of Dublin Bay North, my constituency has strong connections with the history of LGBTQI+ liberation in this country. The first Deputy in this Chamber to talk about gay rights was the late Dr. Noel Browne who represented parts of my constituency. He was well ahead of his time. Sadly, when he did talk about gay rights, he was laughed out of it in this Chamber. Thankfully, we have had massive progress since then.
Another strong connection with my constituency was the brutal murder of Declan Flynn in Fairview Park in 1982. That gave rise to the first LGBTQI protests and marches in Dublin and in Ireland, which then gave rise to Pride. It is all the more sad, when we think about that brutal murder that this year, people have been murdered in connection with their sexual orientation and that violent homophobic and transphobic attacks are on the rise yet again.
Considerable progress has been made. Marriage equality was a particular milestone but, it is also true to say that since marriage equality many of us in the LGBTQI+ community feel that progress has been slow and not at the pace at which we would have hoped for or expected. We are in Pride month now and with the Pride march coming up on Saturday, yes, there is much to celebrate, but it is the first time I remember in years when many of us in the community feel that this is not a celebratory moment. Many people are very concerned about violent homophobic attacks being on the rise. There is also a very strong sense that our community is under a concerted effort to try to divide us, which will not succeed. We have seen the efforts to try to attack the trans community in particular.
Before I talk about that, I will welcome the work that has been done by the Garda and community leaders, especially people such as Oisín O'Reilly in Outhouse, to work together to address violence on the streets and have a co-ordinated response to tackle homophobic attacks. It is a very sad indictment that over the past number of months, many LGBTQI+ people are questioning how comfortable they feel being visible in public places. Being violently attacked is horrific for anyone and it is all the more horrific to be attacked because of who one is or because one is different, whatever that difference is. That makes people feel more vulnerable.
In terms of the attempts that there has been to divide the LGBTQI+ community and the attacks on trans people, the LGBTQI community stands strongly united against anyone who would seek to divide it. We know, from our history and lived experience, exactly what is happening and what these tactics are. We have seen them before. We have seen them throughout our lives. We know from the darker years from which we have emerged that those who are trying and seeking to attack and pick off parts of our community will not stop there, if they get the chance. If they get half the chance, they will go further than that. We will not tolerate any attacks against people simply for having the courage to be themselves and to live their lives as themselves.
In the strongest possible terms, I express solidarity, on behalf of our community, with all of the trans members of our community. We know that an attack against any trans person is an attack against all of us. Those attacks are, sadly, all too familiar because we have seen them over the decades. The same sorts of arguments that are now being used to attack trans people have been used against all of us over the years. The attempts to sow disunity or to pick off groups of people simply will not work or succeed. The march towards equality is unstoppable, even though it comes with its challenges.
In terms of the debate that has been happening around and about trans people, it is very important in terms of public discussion that the voices of trans people are heard loudly and clearly. It is also very important that when the media frame the debate, we should be discussing issues that affect trans people. We should not be discussing issues that sections of the media have with trans people. Let us talk about issues that affect trans people and let us reject any attempts to dehumanise any group of people. That is an attack against all of us in society. It puts a considerable stress on anyone in society if one has to continually feel the need to defend one's existence, just for being who one is. We should all be very conscious of that.
When we talk about trans people and how they need our political support, we should be very conscious of what research has shown us. There is not enough research in Ireland. However, research in the UK, published by Stonewall in 2017, found that 45% of trans young people had attempted suicide at least once. It also showed that 84% of young trans people had self-harmed and that 64% of trans pupils said they had been bullied for being LGBTQI+ at school. We also know from research done by Akt, formerly the Albert Kennedy Trust, that 24% of homeless young people in the UK identify as LGBTQI+ and that trans people are over-represented in that number. We also know from research from Stonewall that 19% of trans people have experienced domestic abuse from a partner in the past year.
When we talk about trans people and the issues that are affecting them - those are the issues. How we support trans people and help them resolve and work against those issues is what we should be talking about in our public discourse. We know from research in Ireland that almost 50% of trans people in Ireland are unemployed, which is a startling figure. It shows the level of work we all need to do to address the discrimination and inequality that the trans community, in particular, faces.
As a country, we are at our best when we are inclusive, when we work towards equality and when we celebrate our diversity. That goes for everybody in Ireland. Everything that we do to support the LGBTQI+ community and Pride is supportive of us as a community. It also sends a signal to anyone who is any way different that one is supported and that diversity should be supported. We know, unfortunately, from the very dark history that we have as a country when that was not done and people were mistreated, incarcerated and locked up just for being different, how far we have come as a country. That was very much the country out of which Dr. Noel Browne was coming, but we know how very far we still have to go as a country.
I commend the previous speaker, who is on my housing committee and with whom I work closely, on a very open and frank contribution here today. I am delighted to be speaking on this important topic today. I will start by wishing a happy Pride month to everybody and especially to all those who are preparing to celebrate this weekend. I always love attending the Pride parade in Dublin and seeing our capital city flooded with colours, vibrancy, diversity and, most importantly, with a considerable and palpable sense of inclusivity.
We have come a really long way in Ireland in recent years and our small island has become increasingly more tolerant and welcoming of all sexuality and gender identities. We are better at celebrating and accepting each other. Just recently I was delighted to see a rainbow zebra crossing popping up in Clondalkin village and I hope it is a project South Dublin County Council replicates. A rainbow crossing may seem like a really small gesture - and it is - but it also sends a big message of inclusion and rejection of intolerance.
This debate indicates how far we have come from a political perspective, which is so welcome. We are often reminded that Pride began as a protest and it is really important to remember that. There is no doubt that this year's Pride celebrations will also be a protest because although we have come a long way, there are many members of the LGBTQI community who are angry and sad. Unfortunately, there are many reasons to be angry and sad. For many, this year's Pride will highlight the recent increases in rates of horrific homophobic attacks in our communities.
Like all of us, I was horrified by the brutal murders of Mr. Aidan Moffitt and Mr. Michael Snee just a few short months ago. I am saddened to see reports of homophobic attacks continuing to be reported online and in our media. These attacks must further strengthen our conviction to pass the criminal justice (hate crime) Bill without any delay. I know this is something the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is very dedicated to delivering, and I hope we will see this Bill move swiftly through the Houses. This will ensure sexual orientation and gender can be viewed as protected characteristics when prosecuting perpetrators of crimes filled by prejudice and hatred.
We need to send a strong message there is no room for hatred or homophobia in Ireland and we need strong laws to back up that message. Listening to advocacy groups, I have heard calls for greater collaboration with the LGBTQI community with this legislation so their views and experiences can be better captured, and I hope that will happen. LGBTQI people are one of the most targeted communities when it comes to hate crime and hate speech and it is vital we have robust legislation that can protect this community from abuse both in the physical world and, crucially, online too.
It is important to stress that tolerance and acceptance starts in all our communities. It starts in our homes, schools and workplaces, and even in our WhatsApp chats. The vast majority of us would never intentionally act or speak in a way that is homophobic but it is so important we also recognise the damage that can be done by having a blasé attitude towards discrimination, offensive language, so-called jokes or hate speech. When we see or hear it, we must call it out. It is that simple. Do not let unacceptable behaviour go unchecked.
My party colleague, Deputy Carroll MacNeill, recently highlighted the shocking availability of homophobic, sexist and misogynist relationship and sexuality in education, RSE, teaching materials. The specific matter has been addressed but it speaks to a wider problem in our approach to RSE. It is so important that in our primary and secondary schools we are educating children in a manner that is inclusive of the LGBTQI community and that appropriately introduces ideas like sexuality and gender at an early age.
Given the recent increase in the rate of homophobic attacks, I also support the establishment of a specific Garda task force to tackle homophobic hate crimes. I welcome the national LGBTI inclusion strategy that An Garda Síochána is working on to increase reporting of hate crimes by members of the LGBTQI community. I welcome commitments to increasing the Garda presence on our streets, particularly here in Dublin city centre. This presence is crucial to ensuring everybody feels safe to be themselves and be free from attack or persecution on the streets of our capital city and the wider country. At the end of the day, that should not be an unreasonable thing to expect.
I have been a part of the Oireachtas special committee considering international surrogacy for the past number of months. During its deliberations, we have heard many heartfelt testimonies from families through surrogacy, some of whom were also members of the LGBT community. These are parents who have gone down the surrogacy route to become a family but who are left in legal limbo because in Ireland we do not have adequate surrogacy legislation. Having legislation that recognises international surrogacy is vital for these and future families who go down the international surrogacy route. It will have particular importance and poignance for the LGBTQI community and for equality. In the next few weeks, our committee will make our official report to the Minister and I sincerely that our recommendations will not only be taken seriously but be taken on board and adapted into Ireland's surrogacy legislation through Ireland's Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill.
The programme for Government contains a commitment to legislate to end the practice of conversion therapy, an objective I strongly support. There should be no place in Irish society for any such pseudoscientific practice, which attempts to persuade a member of the LGBT community of a need to be cured or fixed. It is ludicrous. We must ban conversion therapy and implement stringent sanctions for those who continue to inflict this so-called therapy on others. I understand the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, led by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is in the process of capturing the views of those who have undergone conversion therapy in order to better inform the legislation. It is really important work and I look forward to that being completed.
I highlight the work that many amazing advocacy and charity groups do to support the LGBTQ community in Ireland. I was really pleased yesterday to hear that the Government has made €900,000 available to support community services and promote visibility and inclusion of LGBTQI people. It will help promote inclusion, protect rights and to improve quality of life and well-being for people in Ireland. I hope that funding will be availed of by local and national groups.
Ireland in 2022 is certainly a more accepting and welcoming place for people of all genders and sexual orientation. I am proud of how far we have come as a society but we are also far from perfect and we have further to go. That is for sure. I look forward to seeing us continue as a Government and as a nation to improving the lives of LGBTQ people here in Ireland.
I start by expressing solidarity with our trans siblings. They were there for us during the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment and it would be absolutely wrong for us not to all come together today and express that solidarity. I would have thought at this point in proceedings I would be relatively unshockable but I have been quite shocked at the outpouring of hate against a small group. The trans community has demonstrated extreme fortitude, patience and dignity in the face of an onslaught against it. From the Dáil, I express my solidarity today and every day; we must do it every day and we cannot just be allies when we stand here. It must happen in our thoughts, our actions and everything we do. We must call it out when we hear it, which is really hard, because we have heard transphobic and homophobic statements being passed off as jokes. Every single time it happens, we must remember the people who were there with us, intrinsic and integral to the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. When they need our solidarity, we must stand up.
I am very proud to have been raised in a household where tolerance and inclusivity was absolutely central to our upbringing, who we were and what we did as a family. We were an anti-apartheid family, a pro-women's rights family and an anti-homophobia family. Both of my parents' children are now grown with children of our own but they would not have tolerated the notion of us being intolerant. We have now moved on and it is not simply about not being intolerant and we must be proactively inclusive. The debate is really good and it is no longer about whether a person is being intolerant or tolerant but whether somebody is being inclusive.
I am the Sinn Féin spokesperson on workers' rights and I will speak a little about the rights of people at work.
In 2007, when I was chair of the SIPTU LGBTQI+ advisory group, we bought a small enough banner and brought it to Pride for the first time. I am so proud, if Deputies will forgive the pun, of how far the trade union movement has come since then, how far my own former union, SIPTU, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have come. Trade unions now have a big presence at Pride, and that is very good. Our workplaces should most definitely be inclusive. As I said then, if someone is not out at work then something has to change in their workplace. Work has to be a place where people can feel free to just be themselves. That should not be a big ask.
This is an important debate for us to have as public representatives. We need to provide leadership and deliver on equality for LGBTQI+ people. In the midst of attempts by bad faith actors to drag the debate backwards, and we know who they are and what they are at in trying to erode any progress that has been made, we have to stand together and say "Not on our watch". We have a role to provide that leadership, to use our platforms to amplify positivity and challenge hate. That is not an easy thing for people to do. We all know what a pile-on looks and feels like but we have to be positive but also vocal. We have to be allies, but we have to be active. That is very often the case. If it was left just up to politicians on our own, we probably would not have the progress we have made.
I want to mark the progress. I also want to focus on the fact that there is a lot more that we can do. Members of the LGBTQI+ community face discrimination at every turn, in school, in college, in work, in accessing services, in the street, on the bus, no matter where it is. We need to be there with them. This discrimination, victimisation and bullying creates stress and fear for members of the LGBTQI+ community. This is very apparent when we look at members of the Travelling community. There are LGBTQI+ people within the Travelling community who must find the stress even more acute. We know the levels of mental ill health within the Travelling community. There is a group within a group. We need to be laser-like in our focus in looking at where leadership is required, what we can do to be positive, how we can help people and how we can use the platforms we have as political leaders to amplify positivity and challenge victimisation, discrimination and what is, I suppose, hate. I will end by saying we need hate crime legislation on the Statute Book that is fit for purpose, not legislation that is 33 year old. We need modern legislation that will protect people.
There is a very particular context and backdrop to the discussion we are having here on LGBTQI+ rights and Pride. That is the fact that one of the most marginalised and oppressed sections of the LGBTQ community has been subjected to the most appalling, unjustified and untruthful attacks over three days on our national, publicly owned broadcaster, RTÉ, for which we all pay through our licence fee. That is the context and reality of this discussion. Day after day, representatives of a fringe hate group of transphobes - let us be honest, that is what they are - were allowed to dominate our airwaves. Their aim was to peddle transphobia, including lies about the trans community, lies about the history of trans rights in this country and lies about the National Women's Council of Ireland. In this, they were aided and abetted by a particular broadcaster who has a notably terrible record on the rights of marginalised people.
I do not want to interfere in this debate, but it is not appropriate to make reference to somebody who is readily identifiable or make any sort of charges against that person when they are not here to defend themselves. I ask the Deputy to desist from that, please.
Okay. What I would encourage people to do is read a really excellent article which was put up online yesterday or the day before an incredible activist called Izzy Kamikaze. It is on the Beacon website. Izzy investigated what happened and wrote this revealing piece about the background to the particular witch hunt on that programme against trans people. She shows quite clearly how pretty much everything that the transphobes were allowed to say on the show was simply untrue.
Lie number one was that they were excluded from the National Women's Council of Ireland annual general meeting for wanting to ask questions about the council's position on the supposed removal of the word "women" from maternity legislation. What actually happened was that they, the transphobes, put out a press release the day before announcing that they were going to disrupt the AGM in order to stop a trans woman from being democratically elected to the National Women's Council of Ireland board by its membership. That is what is in the press statement they put out themselves. They are not members of the National Women's Council of Ireland because they obviously have no track record on women's rights and exist purely to foment hate against trans people.
The second lie they peddled was that the National Women's Council of Ireland supports erasing women from the new maternity legislation. In fact the National Women's Council of Ireland position is to use inclusive language to broaden those included, including, of course, women, but also trans men and non-binary people.
Lie number three was the idea that is kind of out there now that the Gender Recognition Act was somehow sneaked in without a proper debate when, in fact, it was extensively debated both inside and outside the Dáil. More than 240 articles were published about it at the time. The problem for the transphobes, of course, is that we have the Gender Recognition Act and, clearly, the sun and the sky did not fall. It was not something that was quietly lobbied for by elites in the corridors of power. It was actually fought for from below by people struggling, particularly personified by the heroic Lydia Foy.
Thankfully, these transphobic ideas do not have much public support at all in this country. However, it is not just the national broadcaster doing its best to change that but much of the rest of the mainstream media as well. Jenny Maguire, a trans woman who is the gender equality officer for Trinity College Students Union, responded on Twitter:
We have seen Irish media getting ever more open about their transphobia, we have to call it out wherever we see it. There is no “balance” in platforming those that wished I didn’t exist as a trans person. So upsetting and troubling to see.
I agree. Many people have already cancelled their subscriptions or terminated working relationships with The Irish Timesdue to its repeatedly publishing transphobic content. I will not name them, but we have a coterie of newspaper columnists who are really bent on aping their British transphobic counterparts, who love nothing more than to whine about their freedom of speech being threatened when any regular person takes exception to the views they have put forward or when any regular person without the benefit of a national newspaper column disagrees with how they have chosen to use their freedom of speech. In reality, it is transphobic clickbait, a global phenomenon. Wealthy media organisations are toying with trans people's lives for the sake of advertising revenue.
The case of the former CEO of Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, Eirenne Carroll, who was subjected to what the Garda told her was a credible death threat and subsequently left the country, shows just how serious this is for trans people. It is not some abstract, academic, interesting debate. It is about people's lives. Two gay men were brutally murdered in Sligo in April. A non-binary person was recently attacked on the streets of Dublin. We have to speak about the reality of the oppression and discrimination that trans people face. They have mortality rates worldwide that are twice those of cis people because of suicide, violent attacks and murder.
More than 50% of trans and non-binary young people in the US have said that they have considered suicide. We know from the “Speaking from the Margins” report from TENI that 76% of respondents here had self-harmed prior to transition and that 81% had considered doing so. The later is the consequence of a society that debates and then denies their existence and reality.
The situation with RTÉ also illustrates the problems for activists with relying on corporations for sponsorship. Dublin Pride has become very reliant on corporate sponsorship, including, until recently, with RTÉ, as well as a host of multinational corporations that would have had nothing to do with it when homosexuality was illegal and homophobia was rampant and normalised. Included in that regard are companies with terrible track records on workers' rights and human rights, such as Amazon and Nestlé, numerous banks and financial companies and even an oil company. The hypocrisy of these companies is very striking.
I would like to urge everybody to support the recently launched campaign for trans rights, namely, Trans Equality Together. I intended to be at the launch, but Covid struck me down. I call on the Government to immediately take action in respect of all of the demands Trans Equality Together has made. They include for gender identity and expression to be explicitly included as protected grounds in the Equality Act, for the gender recognition process to be opened up to include under-18s, for increased funding for the National Gender Service, which currently has an outrageous waiting time of five years, and for the immediate reintroduction of health services for trans children and adolescents.
There is also an urgent need to have full separation of church and State in order to ensure that trans healthcare can be provided wherever it is needed and not be subjected to the archaic prejudices of the Catholic Church, which still controls so much of our health service. We need to have, and we have been pushing and campaigning for, progressive, objective LGBTQI+ inclusive relationships and sexuality education universally provided in schools, regardless of the religious ethos of those schools. In reality, we think we should have full separation and therefore should not have religious schools. That is necessary to cut across the homophobic and transphobic bullying that still exists. Unfortunately, transphobic bullying is particularly prevalent in schools. You need education to deal with these things. It is not the only way to deal with them, but it is a vital way of dealing with them. At the moment, the whole issue of religious ethos is an obstacle to that. We need to protect the mental health and lives of our LGBTQI+ young people and kick the church out of our education system.
I just want to encourage everybody to attend pride events across the country. I look forward to attending Dublin Pride on Saturday. I encourage people to get out, campaign, fight, remember that Pride is a protest and express solidarity with the LGBTQI+ community. This includes, and I particularly reference, Trans and Intersex Pride, which is taking place in Dublin on 16 July, because it is particularly important this year.
I am delighted that the Government is committed achieving its vision of a safe, fair and inclusive Ireland, where people are supported to flourish and live inclusive, healthy and fulfilling lives, whatever their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. There are many issues that prevent LGBTQI+ people from achieving their full potential in Irish society, which of a structural nature and require a whole-of-government approach to devising appropriate solutions.
I welcome the National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy 2019-2022, which contains a number of actions by An Garda Síochána to deepen awareness among its front-line officers to better the LGBTQI+ needs, which involves victims of hate crimes and the needs of the community in general. That is so important. It is expected that the Department of Justice will publish the hate crime Bill in the coming months. The Bill will create new aggravated forms of certain existing criminal offences, where those offences are motivated by prejudice against a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics identified in the general scheme are race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability. It is important to create a republic that is founded on the equality and dignity of every citizen.
Fighting discrimination in all forms is one of Fianna Fáil’s core principles and we have committed to working for a fair and equal society. The year 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland. The decriminalisation was pioneered by the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. Fianna Fáil’s civil partnership legislation was followed by the marriage referendum. The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act was a major frontier in the recognition of loving, same-sex relationships and it was the first time in Irish law that gay relationships were given official recognition. It included pension rights, succession rights, maintenance obligations and protection in the event of domestic violence. These were crucial.
Our recent welcome progress continued in March 2021 with the Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2021, which amends the Adoptive Leave Act 1995 and enables adoptive couples to choose which parent may avail of adoptive leave. The Justice Plan 2022 commits to publishing the hate crime Bill in the summer. A review of the Equality Act is under way, and proposals are expected by the end of year. Again, this is very important.
The Minister mentioned additional funding for events and projects. Funding for some projects has been cut this year. I would ask that there would be an emphasis on funding for projects or when funding is needed, there would be some mechanism to get it.
Much progress has been made in recent years, but there are many issues everyday affecting the LGBTQI+ community. I speak with my very good friend, Deputy Phelan, often. He is a very good friend of mine. Just today I spoke with him and he highlighted many issues in my constituency that are still occurring and should not be happening. In Carlow, we have the Carlow Pride Festival, which is on 10 July. My diary is again totally booked for that. I am looking forward to it. I see the Minister of State is writing that down too. I absolutely welcome him to that too. The Carlow Pride Festival does great work every year. They do great advocacy and just work so hard. However, they are receiving much hate on social media, especially on Twitter. Even just this morning I spoke with them, as I said, and they had been getting inappropriate messages through this channel. This is unacceptable. Recently, a drag queen was doxxed at a Pride event in the south east, where their address was revealed and their workplace was targeted. They received harassing and inappropriate emails. Again, people should not be harassed for being who they are. That is really unacceptable.
There have been recent events of homophobia. Near Carlow town, a Pride flag was found to have been burned in a local village. Again, that is unacceptable. There has also been homophobic abuse occurring at night when people are out socialising. They are telling me that what is happening now in the past few months is worse than it has been. Deputy Phelan told me that he feels that this is happening more regularly. It is just not acceptable.
There was a vigil recently in Carlow. There have been serious issues where members of the public filmed the event and posted it to far-right extreme forums and social media. We always say in here that words and action matter. We have to be so mindful. That cannot be allowed to happen. We have to make sure that there is something, whether it is an educational campaign or we set up a committee specifically to look at how we can do this. We need to work on this. It is unacceptable. We cannot and will not allow this to happen to anyone.
Equality, inclusion and diversity are three things that should be central to any and every republican who wishes to build and live in a real republic.
Together, we took a leap of love in the marriage referendum in May 2015. We kept faith with our brothers and sisters, our aunties and uncles, our friends and neighbours, our political comrades and our political rivals. As we descended on the polling stations and as all the home-to-vote aeroplanes landed - I know they meant so much to our LGBTQI+ community - they were all itching to tick the "Tá" box on the voting paper. We had the sense that we were making history. That "Yes" transformed the pain and exclusion that had been felt by the community - a pain and exclusion that saw too many leaving this island so they could be who they were, look how they wanted to look and love who they wanted to love.
Like many, I smile when I look back on those sunny days and when the memories pop up on Facebook. We did it. We did it together and we did it for each other. However, it would be foolish to think that homophobia has vanished and we would be careless, especially in this House, as legislators, to think we can take our eye off the ball. That same othering, that sniggering, that suspicion and questioning is raising its ugly head right now when it comes to our trans community.
Have we not learned enough from the way we scapegoated people, the way we, as a society, barged into the lives of men, women and children, locking them up in laundries or lunatic asylums, as they were called at the time, mother and baby institutions and industrial schools? We just could not leave people alone. We had to be at them all the time. I saw on social the media the other day someone say that their father could not remember the word for transitioning, so he used the word "transforming". It is a pretty good word to describe Ireland's own journey, where we looked at the loathing we had for others, and the scapegoating and the finger-pointing, and decided quietly that it is not us anymore and will not be us, because all of us are us.
Today, as a Kildare Sinn Féin Deputy, I am especially proud to speak of the trail blazed by a Kildare woman to whom so much is owed, Dr. Lydia Foy. Dr. Foy changed her gender and had to do it publicly, entering a very long and very public battle for recognition. Without wishing to intrude on her life, I would imagine it was a very difficult and lonely journey, as it is for so many people who have followed in her footsteps. As a person who prefers to live and let live, I used to think that whatever gender people identified as was really nobody's business except their own. It is, however, everybody's business to get out of their way and it is everybody's business to allow them to be and to become the people that they are, without any talk of diminishing or denying anyone else.
I am loath to give them attention but a small cohort now goes finger-pointing again. Those in our trans community want nothing from us other than to live their lives as the people they are, the same as any of us. There has been talk which, I believe, was manufactured and imported. It was not Irish debate at all but an imported debate on the national broadcaster on trans citizens, people whose lives and whose pain and acute sensitivities were reduced to a talking point on a talk show. I am all for debate but the national broadcaster should not get involved in gossip or scaremongering, and it should stick to the facts. The fact is the word "woman" is not being removed from anything. What is being proposed is to insert inclusive language alongside the word "woman". There is no diminution or denial of anything. There is simply an inclusion of inclusion itself. Women are going nowhere; just like the T in LGBTQI+ is going nowhere either. The vast and silent majority know that rights are rights. Human rights are never up for debate. Equality, inclusion and diversity do not just happen by themselves. We make them happen and when we do, we protect them and we move on our fight to the next phase.
I listened to the Minister's statement. I welcome that he acknowledged that we need better sexual health services. We also need timelines for appropriate sex education from the Minister for Education. We need more training for public services providers so no citizen in our country feels marginalised when accessing services. People with trans friends, children, siblings and colleagues do not see or treat them as a category, classification or an item in a debate. We love, respect, protect and defend them for the people that they are, and that is citizens just like all of us.
Bród sona do gach duine. Tá súil againn go mbeidh mórshiúl agus féile iontach againn go léir ar an Satharn.
I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words on this important subject. Two or three things need to be borne in mind. The LGBT community deserves to be recognised and protected. Them being different is not a reason for hatred or to generate hatred, but to be able to go about their lives the same as everybody else. It is in respect of this that I want to say a couple of words.
If the Ceann Comhairle has ever studied, as I have, the faces of people in a crowd who may be fearful, for whatever reason, that fear is mirrored in their visage. It should not be that way. There is no need to feel aggrieved, to feel afraid or to feel they are under threat. That should not apply to anybody in this country or anywhere else. Several Members have spoken about this today. It is important that we speak out against violence against anybody for reasons of their race, their sexual orientation, their colour or anything about them. They are entitled to go about their lives without being impeded by anybody. That is not the case all the time, however. There have been cases in this country, which have been referred to and which I think are appalling. It is appalling to take some someone's life because somebody hates them sufficiently to do so. They have no right to take somebody else's life. Pretending to do it on their own behalf or on behalf of some kind of thinking is totally and absolutely wrong.
We have many instances I could quote. The biggest single example over the past 20 years was the war in Rwanda in which 500,000 people were decapitated at the behest of a person who motivated society on the basis of religious hatred and racism and took the opportunity to extract the maximum in terms of pain from the individual. It proved that it was possible to kill 500,000 people in the most grotesque circumstances. It was all done at the behest of a guy who hated people and who seized a radio station and used it to pour out his own particular twisted feelings to such an extent that there was an upheaval and violence. We know what the result was.
We have had incidents in this country where people with a different sexual orientation from the perpetrators were targeted and, in some cases, killed. What an appalling thing to do. One should never, inside or outside politics, have to deal with a situation whereby somebody hates their fellow man or woman to the extent that they feel they have the right to take their lives. That is something that is sacrosanct to the people and to the country. They do not have the right to do that in anybody's name.
I am sure, like me, everybody is appalled at what has happened in the United States in recent times, where a person full of racial hatred went into a school and decided to murder the children who were there at the time. Nobody did anything to stop it for a very crucial period. That is a bad sign of the way society is going. What would the founding fathers of the United States or Abraham Lincoln have said about that?
From time to time, we have had little slippages. They have happened in the UK where people were murdered in cold blood because certain other people hated their sexual orientation, what they said or the views they held, which they were entitled to hold. I and many other people have spoken about this previously.
People who are vulnerable, such as those who are smaller in stature, women, children and anybody who is not physically strong enough to withstand the attacker, the bully, are in an appalling situation. They live in fear in case their tormentors might be motivated sufficiently to take their lives, bully them or beat them up. That should not happen, it cannot happen and it should never be accepted as part of the natural progression of any state anywhere, regardless of how base it might be.
Listening to the Members of the House, our thinking on this is quite progressive and useful. Society has come on a long journey. However, we must remember that we need to lead as well and not take our custom or tradition from others who have different customs or attitudes. We must practise the principles of tolerance and compassion for others. The fact that some people are not the same religion, sexual orientation or nationality does not give us a right to hate them sufficiently to take away their rights or their lives. It does not and should not happen that way. It is a serious flaw in society if there are still people who harbour that kind of hatred that leads to violence, which has already been discussed by several Deputies.
I do not wish to delay the House, other than to thank the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for his speech and the Minister of State for being present. As a society, we have learned, I hope, from the views as expressed by all sides of the House. One of the questions we are asked is whether we hate each other. I am sometimes asked that question. It is an amazing thing. I do not hate anybody. We do not hate anybody. It is not in our modus operandi to hate anyone. There is nothing to be gained from it, except disaster.
I wish well all those whose sexual orientation is other than mine. I have no reason to hold any antipathy towards anybody. We need to promote tolerance, compassion and the ability to work and live together regardless of who we are, where we are and at what level we practise in order to ensure that society gains from our experience and the benefit of what we put into society as we go forward.
I concur with Deputy Durkan on his remarks about hatred in particular. Unfortunately, we have seen too much of that, particularly in the recent past. I welcome the opportunity to discuss and debate the Government’s progress on supporting the LGBTQI+ community in Ireland. This debate is particularly timely during Pride month. I look forward along with other Members of this House to joining members of the LGBTQI+ community again at the annual Pride march this Saturday. This has been a challenging year for members of that community. I express my revulsion at the brutal murders of members of the community in Sligo and offer my condolences to their family and friends. Equally, we must remember people who have been attacked on the basis of their sexual orientation, particularly in this city and elsewhere throughout the country. There should be no place for intolerance in Ireland.
The programme for Government commits to a series of reforms to create a fairer, safer and inclusive Ireland where people are supported to flourish and live inclusive, healthy and fulfilling lives whatever their sexual orientation or gender. Ireland’s first national LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy 2019-2022 is the primary policy vehicle to achieve this vision. It pursues objectives under four thematic pillars, providing a vision of an Ireland where LGBTI+ people are visible, included, treated equally, healthy, and feel safe and supported. It notes that many of the issues that prevent LGBTI+ people from achieving their full potential in Irish society are structural in nature and require a whole-of-government approach to devising appropriate solutions. The strategy contains a number of actions by An Garda Síochána to deepen LGBTQI+ awareness among front-line officers in order to better respond to the needs of victims of hate crime and the needs of the community in general. I commend the work of An Garda Síochána. Long before marriage equality, over many decades, gardaí have worked with members of that community hand in hand to ensure they felt safe and were safe in certain areas, particularly in this city, at a time when it was not safe to be a member of that community.
Justice Plan 2022 commits to publishing the criminal justice (hate crime) Bill 2021 this summer. Strengthening our criminal legislation will be one element in a wider suite of measures across all areas of government designed to address hatred and intolerance in all its forms. The Bill will create new, aggravated forms of certain existing criminal offences, where those offences are motivated by prejudice against a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics identified in the general scheme are race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability. A review of the equality Acts is under way and legislative proposals are expected by the end of the year. A new strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is expected soon and recognises the need to provide support for all victims and survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, irrespective of any characteristics they might have. It recognises the need to reflect the lived experience, particularly of victims and survivors, including LGBTI+, and acknowledges the additional risk factors created by overlapping forms of discrimination.
My party, Fianna Fáil, wants to create a Republic founded on equality, dignity and opportunity for every citizen. Fighting discrimination in all its forms is one of the party’s core aims. We have committed to working for a fair and equal society for members of the LGBTQI+ community.
The programme for Government contains a series of important commitments to support members of the community, including the implementation of a national youth strategy for the LGBTI+ community; a ban on conversion therapy; legislation to provide for adoptive leave; legislation to ban conversion therapy and the creation of a general health policy for transgender individuals. We have seen progress on many of these areas but support for trans healthcare is badly lacking and I would welcome an update from the Minister in his closing remarks. I would also like to see increased funding to support mental health services as part of the youth strategy. It is clear listening to the debate today that, unfortunately, homophobia still exists in Ireland despite all the progress that has been made for members of the community. As a society we must value every citizen and resident of the Republic. The ethos must be one of tolerance and inclusivity.
I assure Deputy Durkan that I cannot imagine anybody falling out with him or hating him. He is a likeable fellow. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, on being here for the discussion. Too many times, Ministers do not appear for debates.
In light of recent events, it is important to discuss and air our views on equality, inclusion and diversity. Where equality, inclusion and diversity are poor and resisted, one of the many levels on which it presents itself is discrimination. We now live in a world in which discrimination can take many forms and can be expressed in many ways. It can be words shouted on a street or voiced over social media. It can be expressed through exclusion from opportunities and, of course, through bullying, harassment and victimisation. Whatever form it takes, it cannot be tolerated. The more something is tolerated, the more it is normalised. We need to take a strong approach to tackle this type of behaviour. As individuals, we all need to call out this discrimination when we hear and see it taking place. That approach can be taken through the passing of effective legislation here in the House but it also involves more education. The rumour mill, as we have seen in recent years, can disguise the truth and put false realities in people's minds. Time is of the essence as the spreading of the information, whether accurate or false, can be immediate.
I note what the Irish Council of Civil Liberties has recently said about the issue of hate speech. It stated a distinction needs to be drawn between what hate speech should be criminalised and what should be tackled through other means.
In terms of developing legislation to address this, the council has called for wider consultation with civil society organisations and people with lived experience throughout the legislative process, as well as more research on the topic.
The provision of mental health services in society in general is poor. Young people come to me regularly who feel excluded from the mental health system or who find it difficult to access care. They also believe it does not hit the mark when they do engage with the system. The level of need and type of assistance provided varies and can often depend on geographical location. Last year, during a discussion on the mental health needs of people of all ages in Tipperary, I was told that rural isolation is a big issue in terms both of accessing services and of being unable to discuss shared experiences. I was told that this was particularly the case for LGBTQI+ people during the pandemic. I was also told that the specific medical needs of LGBTQI+ patients are often not met. We must learn from these experiences and factor them into training for healthcare providers and practitioners. The needs of the LGBTQI+ community must be catered for and addressed.
This year we found out the truth about CAMHS. It has been confirmed that young people like those to whom I spoke and who felt let down by the system are being failed. Indeed, they have been failed for some time. It is not surprising that a survey by Mental Health Reform found that only 24% of LGBTQI+ participants were satisfied with their experience of HSE mental health services. Over the years, I have been beating the drum for better mental health services in Tipperary. Sinn Féin also has campaigned strongly for this at national level and will continue to do so. At the same time we will continue to advocate for an inclusive society in all aspects of Government policy and service provision by working towards ensuring better supports at community level.
I am glad to have the good fortune to be able to speak in the Dáil about LGBTQI+ and equality today. We discuss this today from a really positive baseline, in an Ireland that has evolved and developed, moving from intolerance and exclusion to something quite different. We are moving towards real inclusion.
A gentleman I particularly want to remember today is my husband’s uncle, a man called Patrick Duggan. Patrick died earlier this year. He was an actor. He played Fr. Joe Briefly in "Father Ted", he was in the Abbey and the Gate and ultimately in London in "EastEnders" for many years. He left Ireland with his partner of over 60 years, Charles, to live in London, both for professional opportunities as an actor but also because it was not easy to be here, in 1950s Ireland, as a gay man. In London, Patrick and Charles had a better chance to live their own lives, to live as themselves and to live a life of love together until death parted them, just weeks apart, in March and April of this year. Patrick was so proud of his civil partnership and his relationship with Charles. He was also so proud to see his country adopt civil partnership and then marriage equality and, in my experience, he always looked forward with positivity rather than looking back at Ireland with any rancour. Happy Pride to Patrick and to Charles, who have left us, and happy Pride to all this weekend. Happy Pride to everyone who walks down the main streets of Dublin as themselves, with their partners, in expressions of love and happiness. I wish that each of those people, and those who may choose to stay home because they are not yet ready to join but who might come in the future, could enjoy that experience of natural, comfortable freedom each of the other 364 days of the year in our capital and in the rest of Ireland in the same way that I can, without thinking about it at all.
It is so important that the Pride parade is going through the main streets of Dublin this year and that we can walk those streets as LGBTQI+ people, and as allies, fully accepted. There is something really symbolic about the march going through the town, down our main streets, with people holding their partner's hands, kissing their partner and being totally themselves for one day, while recognising that many people in Ireland cannot be themselves on so many other days because of how they present, how they feel they present or how they feel others might feel they present. I recognise that there are many people in Ireland today who may feel uncomfortable most days. They feel that they might have to reduce who they are or how they present. They feel that they do not fit the norm and they are apprehensive, for one reason or another, about coming out and doing basic things. They steel themselves before going out for a day's shopping, leaving the house, getting a bus and doing other normal things because of how society views them or how they feel society views them. They find themselves having to police, catch or arrest their natural manner. For those who do not fit the norm, life can be a daily struggle. I want to name that experience in the Dáil today and I want to understand it. I know the people whom I represent want to understand it and to say clearly that they wish that were not the case. We want those who may feel they do not fit, who are not out today, in our world as they are. Together, we will be better for it. The Dublin of the 1950s missed out on Patrick Duggan, and others like him, who left for something more than professional reasons and I hope we are not making that same mistake with other people today.
The Minister rightly noted in his opening speech how deeply troubling it is that in the past five years alone, we have seen LGBTQI+ rights go backwards across the world and there are also considerable challenges in Ireland today. As many Deputies have noted, there have been many reports of verbal and violent hate crimes on the LGBTQI+ community. Earlier this year, the community and the whole country were rocked by the murders of two men in Sligo, Michael Snee and Aidan Moffitt, a Fine Gael stalwart whose loss is still felt deeply within the Fine Gael community. I know that Michael Snee's loss is also felt deeply within his community and by all of those who loved and knew both men.
I have been able to engage through the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice on the development of hate crime legislation and I look forward to it being published shortly. The Tánaiste confirmed earlier today that the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is due to be published in the coming few weeks, a body of work that will be gender neutral and deeply relevant to the LGBTQI+ community.
There is a really deep need for a modernised relationship and sexual education, RSE, programme driven by the Department of Education that is inclusive of the LGBTQI+ community. I am deeply aware that there are young children in Ireland today, at different stages of their own personal and sexual awareness, who do not see themselves recognised in the programme of civic education that is supposed to help them to learn more about the world. Not only that, but as Deputy Higgins pointed out, until last year there was actively homophobic content on the curriculum programme. The Department of Education must take urgent steps to make sure there is nothing comparable there now and that there is a properly inclusive RSE programme that allows all children in Ireland to see themselves and their family forms being reflected in the curriculum. That is a matter of complete urgency and a question of deep respect for the LGBTQI+ community.
We also need to see tangible and quick progress on the banning of conversion therapy. The last time I spoke on this in the Dáil, our closest EU neighbour, France, just days before had banned conversion therapy. It is a commitment without our own programme for Government and I look forward to speedy action following the publication of research which is due in quarter three of this year.
There is no appropriate healthcare provision for transgender people in this country. I raised this in the Dáil in March in relation to Tavistock and youth trans healthcare. In the coming weeks, I am due to meet with a clinician who provides specialist trans healthcare to discuss their views and their experience. I will feed this back to the Minister for Health and will include the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, in any correspondence.
I am deeply aware that over the last two or three weeks, there were discussions on radio which, whether intended or not, had a deeply damaging and difficult effect on trans people in particular. Of course, I am referring to the debate that was facilitated on RTÉ's "Live Line". I really do have concerns about homophobia in Ireland. We do not need it. It is not where we have come from. We do not need homophobic attacks or homophobic language. Crucially, and what was so concerning about that debate, is that we do not need to fall into the trap of division when we have journeyed positively and together for so long. The marriage equality referendum was one of the greatest moments of this country’s history, when people looked again at their families, their assumptions, their children, their brothers and sisters and chose to include, celebrate, listen, learn and to open their hearts and their minds. Of course, that we needed a referendum at all was slightly problematic. How I should ever have been given the right to decide whom someone else marries, no more than it is someone else’s business what my reproductive life might be, was always a challenge for me. Obviously, there was a constitutional imperative to hold a referendum and so we did. We did it marvellously and we celebrated marvellously too. We were different and special and we were an example to the world and I genuinely believe we can stay that way. We do not have to go down the road of the politics of division. In the referendum, we found ways through. We found ways to ask and answer questions, openly and without embarrassment or fear of causing offence. There is something different about Ireland and our inclusion. It is different to what has been going on for the past two years in the UK, although I am starting to see some of the divisive talking points coming out in the Irish discourse. We do not need to do that. There is something different about us, about how we mind each other, something different in how we respect questions and answers. We can find ways to provide answers and comfort to people who have never encountered the question of what it is to feel uncomfortable in gender, to feel different, to want to transition. We can find ways to answer questions about the practicalities of transition.
People may have natural questions about providing mental health support and recognising problems that are causing unspeakable pain, particularly to a very small number of the younger generation who need to talk and need support. We are more accommodating and inclusive than the division that goes on elsewhere. We are not the UK in the midst of Brexit. We are not a Trumpian United States. We are different.
I do not buy into a "them versus us" narrative on anything. It feeds polarisation. We need to find ways to have an important conversation in ways that are more accommodating. The Gender Recognition Bill was enacted and commenced in 2015 and we have not had major issues since then, so from where is this division coming? I could see it clearly two years ago coming from the UK. I referenced in the House in February or March that I hoped we would not go down that road. The National Women's Council of Ireland has been alive to this. It has been actively working with the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, LGBT Ireland and others to identify this issue and get ahead of it.
Although there are so many people with natural questions, there is also something else going on with this debate. I have been in the UK and been approached by members of that debate there who sought for me to try to advance their position here. I am happy to speak and listen to anybody but not in a way that involves going down the road of excluding people. Ireland dealt with the same-sex marriage referendum question in a way that allowed people to learn and grow together. That is what the LGBTQI community needs at the moment - to be able to engage, for others to engage respectfully, and to answer the questions people may have. Trans rights, women’s rights and men’s rights are not competing rights. That view is shared by the many people who have contacted me in recent weeks. It does not impact my pre-existing rights to acknowledge that other people have rights too and need to have them articulated and protected.
It is coming up to two years since I took up the role of Fine Gael spokesperson on equality and, on this particular topic, it has been an enlightening two years, although I was deeply engaged already. I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to truly amazing and brave people who have come from difficult backgrounds in which, often, they are not accepted and gone through the personal turmoil of coming to terms with their own identity or sexuality. I think in particular of the young people during Covid who had not come out and could not get out. They were stuck at home in situations where they were not respected, did not feel included or could not come out and talk to their family. BeLonG To in particular played an enormously supportive and important role during that period. It provided people with the opportunity to connect with mental health professionals offering counselling, mentorship and support. It was a particularly difficult period for young teenagers who had not come out to their families or who were in difficulties. I mention that because there are long-term effects for those people in terms of how they feel society may view them.
I have had the pleasure of engaging with advocacy groups such as LGBT Ireland, TENI and BeLonG To and I thank them for their ongoing engagement with me. I also thank the National Women’s Council of Ireland, which has been such a powerful ally also on these issues and has explained in recent weeks that being a woman and accommodating trans rights are not competing ideas. We get to choose our discourse. We can choose how we progress. We are in a really positive and powerful position. We can maintain that, and I hope we do. Achieving full equality is an ongoing and everyday matter of education, acceptance and understanding. I look forward to continuing to play my part as an ally and a legislator in this regard. Happy Pride.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It goes without saying that we should never be content to live in a country where people do not feel safe to be themselves. Unfortunately, in the past this country was not a safe place for many people. It is time to not only recognise that, but actively ensure this country will never be like that again. Unfortunately, it seems that we have been going backwards recently.
The fact that the national broadcaster allowed a discussion on the existence of trans people is disgraceful. By broadcasting such a discussion, RTÉ completely forewent professional research and well informed debate. The discussion gained nothing. It spread hate and misinformation and caused deep offence. Conversations such as that only serve to divide and isolate. What was the goal of having that discussion? How is it that we are still living in a country where someone's very existence can be questioned? That is unacceptable behaviour and it needs to be stopped immediately. Every person deserves the opportunity to express themselves in a way that is true to them. We gain absolutely nothing by taking that away from people but that is exactly what was done on the RTÉ "Liveline" show, presented by Joe Duffy, in recent weeks. There is no possible justification for it.
We need to remember that is the thin end of the wedge. Those who took part in that discussion or the discussions that were mentioned by the previous speaker are targeting a weak section of the LGBTI+ community and going after them specifically. After they get that success, where will they stop? They will not stop. They will keep going and target everybody else in that community, and then target other people. That is what we must be careful of and fight against. We must defend against every day because it is wrong and we should not allow it. RTÉ and the "Liveline" programme were completely wrong to allow that debate to take place last week. That goes without saying. They must come out and clearly state that and try to do better in future. The only way they can do better is by not having those conversations because this is old hat. It is done and dusted and should not be rehashed.
I was truly shocked by the findings of the report prepared by Mental Health Reform and LGBT Ireland that was launched last week. The research has consistently found that mental health difficulties are more common among LGBTI+ people than among heterosexual cisgender people. That answers all the questions. LGBTI+ people face significant challenges that are not faced by heterosexual people and can result in additional psychological stress and reduced well-being. Such challenges include institutionalised prejudice, social exclusion and LGBTI+ related harassment, bullying and violence. Of course, that leads to a wide range of mental health difficulties that are unique to the community. It is clear that a more targeted approach is needed to provide sufficient services to address such difficulties.
Unfortunately, the LGBTI+ community has reported bad experiences with healthcare providers and very high levels of dissatisfaction with mental health services in this country. That has been attributed to a variety of factors, including health inequalities due to heteronormativity, minority stress and experiences of bias and discrimination in healthcare settings, as well as a general lack of knowledge about LGBTI+ issues. This is not good enough. It is clear that we require better provision and improved mental health services that better meet the needs of the LGBTI+ community and the diverse groups therein. I call on the Government to ensure that mental health services and supports are inclusive of the needs of marginalised groups such as the LGBTI+ community, as well as other marginalised communities such as the Traveller community and migrants.
The list of mental health difficulties that present within those groups shows there is a problem. That problem is us. Irish society does not accept them and does not provide the supports they require. Sadly, there are still professionals working within schools who ought to know better but do not. They continue on and this type of discrimination continues across the board. It makes life more difficult for young people who are already going through the very difficult experience of growing up. Coming to terms with who they are in this world is very important for them and we should be able to facilitate, encourage and protect them and allow them to grow. In doing so, we will improve mental health of everybody in society and that will make a significant difference. We might reach a stage, probably in a utopian future, where we are not debating issues such as this in this House and where people can expect and have the right to be treated properly at all stages. That is something towards which we should be aiming. We should be aiming towards ensuring that happens because then we might actually get there. If we do not get there, we will have travelled a long way along the road of making life bearable for people and allowing them to participate more fully in society. We need to ensure there is fair and proper provision of services for everyone in the country. We need to stop going backwards. It is time now to move forward and ensure equality for all, no matter who they are or how they identify. That will be a measure of out true success in the future.
I thank the Deputies who contributed. I am making these closing remarks on behalf of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, who has other commitments this evening. I take on board the points raised by the Deputies.
There were many similar themes relating to the ongoing, unfortunate challenges in terms of discrimination, especially those affecting the trans community, including recent debates hosted by the national broadcaster. I accept the points raised by a number of Deputies in regard to education, mental health provision and other services. The Minister is working to address many of those issues as part of an across-Government approach. I acknowledge the points raised by Deputy Andrews regarding the legacy of people like Senator Norris, Dr. Noel Browne and other pioneers who advocated for LGBTI+ people long before these issues became more mainstream in recent years.
It is appropriate that we reflect on LGBTI+ issues this week, with Pride celebrations in full swing. It is also worth pausing to remember what the Pride flag symbolises and why Pride celebrations are important to promote the self-affirmation, dignity, equality and increased visibility of everybody in the LGBTI+ community in Ireland and throughout the world. As speakers have noted, Pride is also a protest. It points out that we still have much more to do.
The Minister mentioned the work being progressed on the hate crime legislation and the work being undertaken by the Garda, which will ensure members of minority and vulnerable groups feel safe and supported in Ireland as they go about their daily lives. In addition, the Minister for Justice is bringing forward a strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The strategy will be the most ambitious plan to date in this area and will be structured around the four pillars or goals of the Istanbul Convention, namely, prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies. It will set an overall goal of zero tolerance in our society of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It will be gender neutral. The strategy recognises and acknowledges the need to provide support for all victims and survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It recognises the need to reflect the experiences of victim-survivors and acknowledges the additional risk factors created by overlapping forms of discrimination.
The legislative basis for the promotion of the equality of LGBTI+ people is the Equality Acts, that is, the Equal Status Acts and the Employment Equality Acts. The existing legislation prohibits discrimination in the workplace and in the provision of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation. The programme for Government includes a commitment to examine the current protections for gender identity under that legislation. This commitment is being pursued as part of a review of the Equality Acts that is ongoing in the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The review will examine the operation of the Acts and consider the current grounds and whether additional grounds are required. The review is scheduled to conclude at the end of this year, with legislative proposals to be advanced at that time.
It is appropriate that we take this opportunity to show our solidarity with LGBTI+ Ukrainians. Tomorrow marks four months since Russia invaded Ukraine, resulting in a humanitarian crisis that has disrupted family support networks and exposed LGBTI+ Ukrainians to anti-LGBTI+ hostility across Europe. This has necessitated additional specialised support when people reach Ireland. Earlier this month, the Government provided the first instalment of a €68,000 grant to LGBT Ireland to facilitate a co-ordinated response to meet the additional needs of Ukrainian refugees who are LGBTI+. The response includes providing relevant information, outreach and drop-in services, training, practical supports and LGBTI-friendly accommodation. At a broader level, the Government is reviewing supports for LGBTI+ international protection applicants. We recently commissioned LGBT Ireland to carry out an independent study to canvass the views and opinions of former and current residents of international protection centres and draw up benchmarks against international best practice.
It is an honour to conclude this discussion during Pride Month 2022. As the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, observed, the debate is taking place in the context of significant progress on the one hand, while obstacles and challenges remain on the other. We celebrate the advancements that have been made, while knowing we cannot take them for granted. LGBTI+ rights are essential human rights. The Government strongly advocates for their promotion and protection through its national strategies, strategic initiatives across the Government and at an international level.
I take this opportunity to thank Orla Egan of the Cork LGBT Archive, with whom I met earlier this week at Cork Public Museum. This really important work, which should be replicated across the country, involves archiving material associated with gay rights activism from the 1970s to the 1990s. Ms Egan pointed out to me that there is a perception that all the activity in this area was based in Dublin. In fact, other locations, particularly Cork, were important centres for this type of activism. She spoke about the Dublin-centric element of the discussion, pointing out that many of the firsts in Irish LGBT activism happened in Cork. These include the first national gay conference in 1981, the production of the first AIDS leaflet in 1985, the first National University of Ireland, NUI, college to recognise an LGBT society in 1989, the first Irish lesbian and gay film festival in 1991 and the first Irish LGBT float in a St. Patrick's Day parade in 1992. I thank her for the really beautiful publication that has been produced.
My colleague, Deputy Murnane O'Connor, mentioned the Carlow Pride Festival, which I attended with my family in 2019. It was amazing for a small town to host an event of that scale. I also acknowledge Ossory Youth's Open Door project in my home town of Kilkenny, which provides a safe space for young LGBTI+ people. We often talk about mental health issues. This is a really innovative programme and it is doing a fantastic job in supporting young people as they come out and express themselves.
This has been a fantastic debate. I thank all the Deputies who contributed. There is considerable work being done by the Government on these issues, as the Minister outlined, but what is needed is an across-society response. I hope everybody enjoys the Pride festivals that are taking place in Dublin and across the country this weekend. I conclude with these words: love is love.