Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Convictions for Certain Sexual Offences (Apology and Exoneration) Bill 2016: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I will be sharing time with my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin. I am pleased to move the Convictions for Certain Sexual Offences (Apology and Exoneration) Bill 2016. Less than two years ago the people of this Republic came together and declared that all citizens should be treated equally no matter who they love. On 23 May 2015 we became the first country in the world to allow same sex couples to marry. That day we all reflected on how far we had come as a country and as a society. We were also allowed a brief moment to pat ourselves on the back. The world stood and watched the good news coming from Ireland beamed into their homes. It was a powerful expression of who we now are; an open, free and tolerant country and people, able to celebrate and embrace the richness of human diversity.
On that day I also thought of people who were gone; people who had passed on. I thought of gay friends of mine who had passed away and who had not lived long enough to see that day of days. I thought of those who, for the bulk if not all of their lives, were isolated, alienated, discriminated against, persecuted and, in some cases, prosecuted for being who they were and are. I also thought of colleagues like Senator Norris, whose personal courage and, at times, sheer bloody-mindedness helped usher in legislative changes and changes in societal attitudes and opinions. Senator Norris cannot be here today but I know that he is following this debate attentively.
This State inherited from Britain the draconian laws we applied to sexual acts between consenting men.As a State, we applied and enforced those laws, with varying levels of enthusiasm, for decades. It is impossible to be certain of the number of convictions that took place under what I have described as anachronistic legislation relating to acts of "gross indecency" and so on. Such phrases are now, thankfully, in the past. It is most likely that the numbers are in the high hundreds, perhaps more. The point is not, ostensibly, the number of people convicted of offences but the chilling effect that the criminalisation of LGBT citizens had - the paralysing fear of being found out, always having to look over one's shoulder and having to pretend to be someone one was not so as not to bring shame on one's family. That completely destroyed countless lives in this country. I often wonder how many good people were lost to this country through emigration, not as a direct result of economic misery but of the deep seated and suffocating conservatism of post-independence Ireland and its official policy of hostility to gay citizens. It is impossible to know.
While we cannot right the wrongs of the past, we must acknowledge that we have come a long way as a society in a relatively short space of time and have made Ireland a better, more equal and tolerant place. Many people who are Members of this House are responsible for that including Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin when he was Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality with responsibility for equality, as well as Senators Bacik, Norris, Buttimer and others.
When I sat the leaving certificate exams in 1993, sexual acts between same-sex couples were illegal. By the time I got to college in September of that year, gay men were finally liberated and were no longer made into criminals simply for having a sex life. Shortly after that the employment laws were amended and we have seen a raft of other legislative changes in the past 24 years that have objectively made this country a much better, more tolerant and inclusive place.
An important element of our drive towards equality is the need to come to terms with our past. I firmly believe those Irish citizens - our brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins and friends - who were harassed and tormented by a State culture that officially treated them with cruelty, hostility, derision and ridicule are owed an apology. As was done in the UK, we should apologise to and exonerate those who were convicted of sexual offences carried out before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993. Those people would be innocent of committing any crime today. Turing's law, as it has become known in the UK, was passed yesterday but unlike the proposition before us today, it provides for a pardon. We have not provided for such for a very good reason. We believe that to do so would imply that what gay men did was wrong and it was not. The Bill before us today provides for an apology and an exoneration. It also goes much further than that. It will, if accepted by the Government and passed in both Houses, officially acknowledge that the offences and prosecutions involved were "improperly discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and in breach of personal privacy and autonomy". I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and to his senior colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality - who has a very strong track record as a legislator in this area and as a campaigner and advocate for equality - to not just agree not to oppose this Bill but to accept it, its central ambition and the manner and spirit in which it is being tabled here today. If the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton and his ministerial colleagues are concerned about elements of the Bill, I suggest that we should take it to Committee Stage with the minimum of delay. We were 26 years behind the UK in decriminalising homosexuality. Let us not be left far behind again and let us act now. If there are any technical issues with the Bill, let us discuss them in a spirit of openness in order to achieve what most of us in this House would wish to achieve. I acknowledge that nothing we do today can make up for the hurt and cruelty visited on LGBT citizens throughout our history. Moreover, there is still some way to go before we can say with certainty that we have reached what we might term "full equality" in this country. However, in apologising for what we did in the past and recognising that it was wrong, we can go some way towards righting those wrongs and healing those wounds.
I am proud to support Senator Nash's Bill. I congratulate him on the work he has done to bring this important legislation before the House. At the heart of this Bill is an essential understanding of what equality really means. Equality is not a sense that one privileged group in society can hand down rights to another group in society. That is not what equality means. It is not in the gift of one group to allow another group to be themselves. Equality is very different to that. It is an understanding that we are all equal in every sense and that if any group is deemed or perceived to be lesser, then we do everything in our power to override, undermine, fix and change that.
Over the last number of years when the Labour Party was in government with Fine Gael, we managed to achieve quite a number of things in the sphere of LGBT rights. Marriage equality is an obvious one, as is the Children and Family Relationships Act. There are now mandatory anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic policies in all of our schools and we also enacted the Gender Recognition Act and amended section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. These were five commitments by the Labour Party which were achieved in government.
What we are doing here is acknowledging that while we have achieved a huge amount in the recent years, we must right the wrongs of the past. We have to admit that our legislative provisions before 1993 were wrong and that they undermined people's rights. We have to acknowledge that, as a State, and apologise for it. The legislative provisions at that time and the constitutional provisions, until very recently, made people feel lesser. They made people feel second best and not a full and complete part of this Republic. I say this in the context of the current worldwide situation because often we can be quite complacent about the advancement of the human rights and equality agenda across this State and across Europe. As we look around the world today we see the new political dispensation in Russia and we see the new political situation in the USA, where the Vice President has stated openly his belief that LGBT people can be corrected by some bizarre form of medical intervention. This is the new political dynamic that we are facing in the United States of America. We are saying quite clearly today in Seanad Éireann that this Republic, standing on the edge of Europe, believes that not only do LGBT not need to be corrected but that the fact that LGBT people were not full, complete and absolutely equal members of this Republic in the past is something for which we must apologise. We must be absolutely determined to ensure that we advance this agenda further. It is not correct to suggest that because we had a successful marriage equality referendum or because other legislation has been passed - even this valuable Bill - this will make it easy for members of the LGBT community to come to terms with themselves and to come out to their family and friends in various parts of Ireland. There is still a very dark road ahead, unfortunately, for many young and not-so-young people who still feel as if they live in an Ireland that does not accept them. It is like saying that because the Civil Rights Act was passed in America in the 1960s, African Americans are completely equal in the eyes of all citizens and all states in America. That is not the case.
What we must do in this Republic and in these Houses of the Oireachtas, is ensure that every single Bill that we can pass or Act that we can correct is so passed or corrected. We must also apologise for the wrongs of the past. Just like Senator Nash, I sat my leaving certificate exams in the early 1990s. It is unbelievable to think that at the very same time, my contemporaries or people older than me were criminalised for being who they were and for the love that they felt. I know that the younger generation -those younger than us - find that absolutely unbelievable. What was remarkable at the time of the referendum was the fact that young people, regardless of background, gender or where they were from, found it remarkable that before 1993, engaging in homosexual activity was a criminal act.I know the Minister of State feels strongly about this. I congratulate him for the work he has done heretofore in his equality brief. We have met on a number of different occasions on various different issues. He is a person of deep commitment to equality. As Senator Nash has said, when issues like this come before this House there is often a temptation for Governments to pick holes in things. There is a temptation sometimes for Opposition parties to play politics. In this instance, the Minister of State will acknowledge that Senator Nash has brought forward legislation that is well crafted and has the right motivation behind it. What the Minister of State and his office can do is take it in that spirit and if it needs to be tweaked, changed or improved that can be done at a different Stage of the legislative process.
This House can stand together proudly, collectively and across party, in this Republic and send a message to the rest of the world. Let us not pretend this agenda is going the same direction in every single part of the world because it is not. It is going backwards. It is going backwards in America, Russia and right across the world in many respects. If this House was to restate its absolute commitment to equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters across this land, it would be a powerful symbol at this moment in time. I commend Senator Nash on the work he has done and I commend my Labour colleagues on supporting this Bill. I commend people across this House who are standing in solidarity with the Bill and the Minister of State's endeavours to bring this to the fore. It will mean an awful lot for people who lived in the shadows of this State before 1993. None of us can understand what a measure such as this passed in the House today will mean for people who lived in those dark days.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to the House. He is a Minister of State and politician who is deeply committed to the principles of equality and has proven that in the work he did as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality prior to this. I commend Senators Nash and Ó Ríordáin on bringing forward what I think is very important legislation. Senator Ó Ríordáin spoke about the 1990s, which was when we sat our leaving certificate exams. I shared Belfield with Senator Nash when we were both student activists and it was quite shocking. Senator Higgins was also there. She is down there. It is amazing. It is like a UCD alma mater-----
Yes. Former Senator and Leader of the Seanad, Senator Manning, was our lecturer at the time. This is exceptionally important legislation. It is funny when one talks about apology because the word "sorry" is only one word but it means so much to so many people. It is not a difficult word to say or a difficult concept to express. We saw the Taoiseach in one of his proudest moments when he stood up in Dáil Éireann and gave a heartfelt and sincere apology to the victims of sexual abuse. There are certain things we need to do as a society. I tabled a motion here last week on history and I believe that in order to look to the future, one has to understand the past. The wrongs that have happened in the past need to be acknowledged and a proper structure put in place to rectify them. I agree with what has been said about the principle of a pardon because it would not be appropriate because it is, in a sense, acknowledging that somebody has done something wrong. It is absolutely appropriate that there should be an apology. I am absolutely delighted, on behalf of the Fine Gael group of Senators, as their spokesperson on justice to fully endorse the Bill. My understanding is that the Minister will not oppose it. If there is tweaking to be done, it will only be of a technical nature to ensure everything stands up to whatever scrutiny the Attorney General and others may give to it. There may not even be any.
What a week it has been in world politics. We have seen what only a couple of years ago one would have thought was a dream or a horrible nightmare. That is the reality. Politicians are regularly accused of not fulfilling their promises but what is going on in the United States at the moment is over-fulfilling promises. It is creating a new definition of political promise and delivery upon promise and rhetoric and all that is going on. The people who will suffer as a result are the people at the margins. The people who have suffered bigotry and all that goes with it in the past are the people who will suffer most with what is going on. What we achieved here with the marriage equality referendum was world renowned. We set a standard and a template for what Ireland, as a small country, can achieve. When we talk, we might only be throwing a pebble into a big ocean but pebbles can have ripple effects. Doing the right thing is always a must. Ripple effects can change society, lives and world thinking. We are a small country but we are a country with a proud tradition and a proud record. The referendum on marriage equality had an impact. It had a ripple effect throughout the world. Doing the right thing is what we should always strive to do. Setting international standards in terms of equality, recognising what has happened in the past and putting the structures in place to say the simple word "sorry" is something we should definitely come together and unite on in this House. I sincerely hope the work Senator Nash has done to bring this Bill to the floor of the House will receive unanimous support and that we will see this Bill becoming an Act signed by our President and becoming part of who we are and part of the structures of society.
I wish the Bill well. I look forward to engaging on the Bill, both on Committee and Report Stage, and hopefully will be here to welcome its passing when it is passed by this House.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to the House and I commend the Labour group on bringing forward this Bill, which my party, Fianna Fáil, will be happy to support. I am glad to hear Senator Nash mentioning our colleague, Senator Norris, who cannot be with us, and to remember the great work he did in this regard for decades when he was a lone voice in championing people who had an alternative view of sexuality at the time.
Someone wrote "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." It is very hard to retrospectively forgive or understand people for committing what were considered crimes at the time. Members have talked about when they sat their leaving certificate exams. I sat my leaving certificate exams in the 1960s. Anyone of my generation growing up in rural Ireland, of which the Leas-Chathaoirleach is one-----
We are about the same age. We remember how people who were different or gay in the community were treated abominably. They were laughed at and shunned. What miserable, horrible lives many of them had to live. Many of them left the country because of the way they were treated. That is the way things were at the time. It was very unfortunate and wrong. This Bill would give some form of comfort and redress to people who were on the wrong side of things in those days. The poet, Philip Larkin, said that sex came to Britain sometime betweenthe end of the ban on Lady Chatterley's Loverand the Beatles' first LP. I do not think it came to County Kerry quite as fast as that.
My party has a good record in terms of the general thinking behind this Bill.In 1989 a Fianna Fáil Government steered through the Prohibition of Incitement To Hatred Act 1989 which made it an offence to stir up hatred against a group or persons on a number of specific grounds, including their sexual orientation. It was a Fianna Fáil Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who in 1993 brought forward the seminal Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act which finally brought to an end the unfair criminalisation of homosexual practices. It is worth noting that this legislation was introduced in the teeth of a poll conducted by The Sunday Presswhich showed that over 50% of the population were opposed to a change in the law. We also resisted attempts to set a discriminatory age of consent which ensured effective equality, regardless of sexual orientation.
The Employment Equality Act 1998 prohibits discrimination in employment on grounds of sexual orientation. It was closely followed by the ground-breaking Equal Status Act which was initiated by Fianna Fáil and took effect in October 2000. There is a long list of other Acts to which my party contributed and of which I am proud. I am proud to support this Private Member's Bill which is progressive. Other Members have said we are entering into an unknown political scenario. The regressive, backward-looking approach in the largest and most powerful democracy in the world must concern us. It is extraordinary that in the country which gave us Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy President Trump was elected. We must admit that he was democratically elected, but I hope, like many big storms, the wind will peter out after a while. It is early days yet and we live in hope.
It is great to support the Bill. It is frightening to think that great Irish people like Oscar Wilde who was a genius were criminalised. He had such a horrible end to his talented life because of the narrow-mindedness which obtained in his day. We welcome the Bill which we will support on every Stage.
On days like today, when we meet in a space perceived to be safe to discuss my identity and politics, we should be mindful of the fact that many of our brothers and sisters across the globe still literally have to put their lives on the line to do likewise. I refer particularly to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and intersex, LGBTQI, community in Uganda and Russia who face horrific levels of oppression and violence. I express my solidarity with LGBT Americans who have taken to the streets of their cities. Our brothers and sisters, friends, allies and communities, wherever they are in the world, should know that they are not alone. Their persecutors should also know that we do not accept their violence or hate which we will overcome with love and compassion.
On Friday, 27 June 1969 members of the LGBT community engaged in physical action on the streets of New York City to assert their rights to equality and justice. Contrary to a whitewashed narrative, the Stonewall riots were led initially by women, black, trans and homeless citizens. Seven weeks later, on 14 August 1969, the government in London deployed British troops to the streets of Derry and Belfast and soldiers would soon shoot 26 unarmed civil rights protesters off the streets of Derry. I am a proud beneficiary of the LGBTQI community. I am also a republican, a socialist, an internationalist, a feminist and an environmentalist. These are struggles that interconnect and parallel, sharing a demand for self-determination. When we talk about LGBT rights on this island, we are talking about partitioned rights. The rights of the LGBTQI community, like all other communities which transcend the Border, continue to be partitioned.
Our national outlook is islandwide and global in that it is inclusive of the diaspora across the world. Marriage equality must be extended with immediacy to citizens and residents across the Border. No thinking person in this Chamber could stand over the fact that LGBTQI people can marry in Dundalk but not in Newry. If anyone in this Chamber is in any doubt as to why the lights are off in Stormont, just look this way. All-island marriage equality is alongside a Bill of Rights and an Acht na Gaeilge, as well as respect, diversity and equality. The civil marriage referendum redefined what it meant to be Irish. It told the world that there was no single proposition for Irish identity, only diversity. It is in that spirit we can build a new Ireland, a reunified Ireland, not only at peace from the gun but also one in which citizens would be at peace in their lives, free from scapegoating and the search for the other. We cannot escape from the fact that partition continues to place a ceiling on imagination for this island. It crushed a cultural movement and split the national movement from the labour movement. It triggered a counter-revolution and copperfastened two deeply conservative states in which religious control and censorship were the order of the day. The political establishment in the State facilitated that grip to control our laws, the education system, the health care system and even our consenting sex lives.
In 1993 I was 15 months old when homosexuality was decriminalised. I cannot give personal expression to the impact of criminalisation on the LGBTQI community, but I can understand the taboo it created. It created an unwillingness on the part of establishment politicians to deal with the likes of the Hirschfeld Centre in Dublin city's cultural and social space for lesbian and gay men. One thinks of issues such as giving a real and a genuine response to the HIV crisis, homophobia and public beatings of gay men. One thinks of various sexual offences, including rape, that were allowed through a legal get-out clause because of the laws criminalising gay men and that air of criminality. Both before and since the referendum on civil marriage equality, my boyfriend and I spoke and have spoken about what prospects would be if the referendum were to fail or had failed. Our discussion centred on whether we would stay in Ireland. Thankfully, I cannot answer that question. How many people have we lost to Ireland because of criminalisation? Can anyone tell me how many lesbians and gay men left the State because of that air of criminality?
We still do not seem to consider the consequences of criminalisation. Take, for example, the individual who is addicted to drugs and dealt with in the justice rather than the health system, which plays into the hands of individuals who seek to marginalise and feel comfortable in calling someone a “junkie”. We need to think about the impact of criminalisation on certain sections of our society and the impact it creates for all of us. We need to redefine it in the interests of the public good.
Irish women and the LGBTQI community share, in the most unfortunate commonality, the historical and contemporary criminalisation of their bodies and lives. Today women who seek out what should rightfully be theirs are also considered criminal. Young people, particularly after the marriage referendum, identify with that shared sense of oppression and marginalisation. A message is emerging loud and clear that Irish women and our society deserve better. Older generations are advancing a narrative which lays bare the misogyny and deeply ingrained sense of prejudice faced by women since the foundation of the State. There was the horror of institutional abuse in the industrial schools and the Magdalen laundries, as well as the symphysiotomy scandal, the Neary scandal and the Bethany Home scandal. There were cases like those of Louise O'Keeffe and Senator David Norris which were pursued all the way to the European court by the State which also intimidated other victims to drop their court cases. For me, the referendum on civil marriage equality acted as an apology to the LGBTQI community. I believe the repeal of the eighth amendment would do the same for women.
I welcome the Bill and thank Senator Gerald Nash for bringing it forward. The fearlessness, enthusiasm and energy of LGBTQI people who were forced to endure criminalisation have empowered my activism and others of my generation. In everything I do I attempt to acknowledge their struggle, for which I thank them.
I thank the Labour Party Senators for bringing this important Bill to the House.
I fundamentally support the measures contained in this Bill to undo some of the damage historically inflicted by the State on the LGBTQI+ community. While an apology and exoneration will do little for the men prosecuted under the relevant Acts, it would be an important step for us to recognise the indefensibility of those prosecutions and attempt to rectify the damage that was done by the State to gay men and those close to them in the past. It seems surreal at a time of such increasing acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community in this country that it was only in 1993 that homosexual acts were decriminalised in Ireland with the passage of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 1993, which passed Final Stages in this House only 24 years ago in June.
It is a sad reality that, historically, Ireland's record on LGBTQI+ equality has been a noticeable stain on our record of commitment to human rights. However, in what is surely one of the most welcome political developments of recent years, we have seen a reversal of this trend and increased recognition of the civil equality of our LGBTQI+ citizens. This is evidenced by the major legislative initiatives in recent years, such as legislation on civil partnership in 2010, the passage of the historic Gender Recognition Bill in 2015 and that incredible day for politics in this country two years ago when Ireland became the first country in the world to enshrine civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in its Constitution by popular vote.
Of course, I am not the first person in this House to pay tribute to that day in May. I often hear my colleagues in both Houses of the Oireachtas paying tribute to what happened on that day and the positive and progressive shift that it showed, hailing it as a landmark day for Irish politics and the true achievement of equality for our LGBTQI+ citizens. While in many ways I share that sentiment and I fully recognise what a special day that was for many people, I often feel that, because there is such a strong perception that equality was secured for LGBTQI+ people with the marriage referendum, the urgency of the fight for LGBTQI+ advancement and our ongoing commitment to always be looking for avenues to improve the lives of LGBTQI+ citizens has dissipated somewhat.
It is easy to look at the referendum result and think that civil marriage rights for LGBTQI+ people was the apex of the fight for equality for a long marginalised community. It is much harder to view the result of that referendum as simply a significant marker in a much longer process, that while increasing civil equality is important, it is by no means the only way we can measure the true equality of LGBTQI+ people in the State. If we start to expand the markers by which we measure that equality, we can start to see just how much more work needs to be done to help our LGBTQI+ citizens. For example, our transgender citizens under the age of 18 and those who identify as gender non-binary are still not adequately accommodated for under the Gender Recognition Act 2015. This needs to be changed and I call on the Government to consider such changes as we approach the Act's review period.
Another issue is that while I welcome the recent decision by the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to lift the lifetime ban of MSM blood donation, I have to ask why he has decided to maintain a one-year deferral period when, as far as I can tell, there is no scientific evidence to justify such a deferral and, indeed, many European countries do not have one in place. The continued existence of such a ban is discriminatory and stigmatising and will in practice exclude many MSM who wish to donate blood.
I would like to applaud the Government of Malta for being the first European country to ban gay conversion therapy last month. It would be a significant statement of Ireland's commitment to LGBT equality if the Oireachtas were to consider enacting a similar ban.
Another issue relates to the worrying statistics relating to LGBT homelessness, mental health, LGBT+ sex education and suicide. Last year a paper entitled Swimming with Sharks, was published by the University of Queensland. It documents the very detrimental and damaging impact that the "No" campaign during the marriage referendum had on the mental health and well-being of those in the Irish LGBT community. In light of this and the concern and statistics, we should be considerate and target national efforts to deal with these problems.
Another worrying statistic is the recent increasing levels of HIV prevalence among MSM, with 377 new cases in 2014, and the rise of trends such as chemsex. As a result, we should be debating how to expand the availability of and information relating to the preventive drug PrEP and improving LGBT+ specific sexual education in schools.
I was also recently contacted by a retired Trinity College lecturer whose same-sex partner's pension entitlements where denied as the lecturer had not been married by the age of 60, despite the fact that civil partnerships were not even legal before he turned 60. I understand that this extraordinarily unfair administrative anomaly will be dealt with by Senator Bacik's recently introduced Pensions (Equal Pension Treatment in Occupational Benefit Scheme) (Amendment) Bill 2016 which is welcome.
I do not raise these issues to paint a negative picture of how the State treats LBGT+ people. I simply want to raise the point that when we are considering how we can make amends to LGBT+ citizens who were wronged by the State in the past, as this worthy Bill does, we should also take the opportunity to consider how we can best support Irish LGBT+ people in the here and now, and in the future. All of the challenges that faced the LGBT+ community in this country were not solved on 22 May 2015. All the challenges that face that same community today will not be solved by the passage of this legislation. However, they represent significant markers in a process that, if coupled with concerted efforts and attitude changes across a range of policy areas, small and large, will strengthen the equality of our LGBT+ citizens in the future. I am proud to support the Bill.
I thank Senator Nash and his colleagues for bringing this Bill to the House. It is a really important issue.
I was in my office when I heard the contribution of Senator Ned O'Sullivan. It was eloquent, well put together and thought-provoking and touched on many points. It begged me to get up here quick and partake in this debate. It was my intention to come but I was delayed. I was also here for Senator Warfield's valid contribution. Those were two compelling cases as to why we should be supporting this Bill.
What are we talking about here? The explanatory memorandum states this Bill, in effect, is to provide for, "an apology to and exoneration of persons convicted of consensual same-sex sexual acts, on the grounds that prosecutions for such offences were improperly discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and in breach of personal privacy and autonomy." That is what it is about, and an apology is only a word. The Bill is to be welcomed but what is needed is more than an apology. There has to be a recognition that a wrong was done and that there was discrimination. People were hurt, disappointed and let down by the State.
The explanatory memorandum further states that the Bill, "provides that a person convicted of any such offence receives an apology and exoneration and an acknowledgement that the offences concerned and prosecutions for those offences were improperly discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and infringed personal privacy and autonomy." That is extraordinary.
What I am more concerned about, and seeking clarify on, is that the explanatory memorandum further states that the Bill does not confer any statutory rights on any person, does not create a cause of action or cause the fresh accrual of a cause of action, and does not impose any liability on the State or any person. What are we really saying? Is it all words? It is only an apology, but there is no liability or potential case for anyone else to seek redress. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will be already familiar with the redress legislation that was brought in by a previous Government. That recognised the hurt, the violation and the abuse of citizens in this country. The State brought in a redress scheme. That will not put all wrongs right but it is there and has been established. It is an important point.
I am supportive. I am also mindful of the great work that Senator Norris, who is not with us today, has done in this area. We need to recognise his work but also that of many others who silently go about as advocates and assist and support, in their own quiet and private way, the rights of people. All politicians, of all sides, do that in both Houses of the Oireachtas and there are various reasons for how they operate.Ultimately we want equality, fairness and justice. An apology simply is not enough. Through our legislation, through offering opportunities and through education, employment law and everything else, we have to demonstrate time and time again that we are about equality for all people regardless of their differences. We must celebrate that diversity that enriches our society and life. That has to be echoed through all legislation we put through both sides of this House. I am happy to commit myself at this point to support this legislation at every Stage. It is positive and progressive and while it may not go far enough, it is a big start.
I will speak today on behalf of my colleague the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who regrets she cannot be present due to other business but she is very interested in this issue. I also thank Senators Nash, Bacik, Humphreys and Ó Ríordáin for introducing this Bill.
The Bill before the House today is very interesting. Its stated purpose is to provide for an apology and exoneration of people convicted of certain same-sex sexual acts. The Bill is similar in sentiment but very different in effect to that of the UK Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which provides for a disregard of such convictions and that jurisdiction's Policing and Crime Bill 2015 which I understand has been recently enacted and is known as Alan Turing's law. It will grant a pardon to any person who has a conviction disregarded under the 2012 procedures to which Senator Nash already has alluded. Alan Turing's life was portrayed recently in "The Imitation Game". If one saw that, one would see the injustice that was meted out to him in the end. Mention also was made of Oscar Wilde earlier and I wish to join in recognising the work of Senator Norris in this area in the past.
There is no system of disregarding convictions in Ireland at present. Legislation was enacted last year which enables minor convictions to be regarded as spent after a number of years but this simply means that the convicted person does not usually - but there are exceptions - have to disclose those convictions, for example when applying for a job. The record of the conviction is not deleted. The apology and exoneration proposed in the Senators' Bill would be appear to be purely of declaratory nature. It is to some degree along the lines of the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Act 2013. However, that Act provides for an amnesty for those convicted of being absent without leave or who were dismissed from the Defence Forces pursuant to emergency powers in force at that time while fighting for Allied forces during the Second World War. The Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity) Act 2013's approach to an amnesty for each relevant person involved an acknowledgement that the treatment they received as a consequence of their actions was unduly harsh, an apology for such treatment and an exoneration in respect of those acts which occurred in the special circumstances of the Second World War.
The disregard of a conviction in the UK in such cases is for offences under their relevant legislation and involves an application that must be considered by the Home Secretary. The conditions of the disregard are that the act was consensual, that the other person involved was 16 or older and that the act would not now be an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 of sexual activity in a public lavatory. As well as the information required for such an application to be considered, the UK Act also sets out the procedure to be followed by the Home Secretary in considering it. If a disregard is granted, all records of the offence are deleted and it has the effect that the conviction never occurred. I understand that the authorities in Northern Ireland are preparing to implement the 2015 Bill, now enacted, and that their intention is that a pardon will automatically follow a disregard in a one-step system.
Turning to the detail of the current Bill, it is clear that it is significantly different from the formalised approach I have just outlined. Section 1 of the Bill sets out the now abolished offences to which the Bill would apply. These are the Act for the Punishment of the Vice of Buggery (Ireland) 1634, section 16 of the Offences Against the Person (Ireland) Act 1829, section 61 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 and section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. The 1634 Act was repealed by the 1829 Act, which in turn was replaced by the 1861 Act. The 1861 and 1885 offences, which dealt with sodomy and gross indecency between men, applied to both consensual and non-consensual acts and were repealed by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993. Section 2 of the Bill provides for an apology and exoneration to those convicted of an offence listed under section 1, as well as an acknowledgment that the offences occurred and prosecutions were improperly discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and infringed personal privacy and autonomy. Section 2 also confirms that the Bill will not confer any right on any persons, create a cause of action, as the Senator just mentioned, or impose a liability on the State. Section 3 exempts from the application of the Bill offences where the other person involved was under 17 years of age or lacked capacity to consent.
There are a number of other points that the Tánaiste and I wish to raise on the Bill as currently drafted. In drawing these points to Members' attention, I am informed by preliminary advice that has been received from the Office of the Attorney General. There are aspects of the Bill which we believe require further consideration and some of which may give rise to unintended consequences. As Senators have said, some of these issues can and will be dealt on Committee Stage where the details can be tweaked. The point which gives rise to the most significant issue of concern is that the Bill, as currently constructed, will extend an apology and exoneration to persons who were convicted of non-consensual same-sex sexual acts. Although the objective of the Bill, as set out in the Long Title, is to provide for an apology and exoneration to persons convicted of consensual same-sex sexual acts, the Bill in fact extends beyond the boundaries of that objective in the manner outlined above. This would have very serious implications, not least for the victims of such crimes. I am sure the Senators sponsoring this Bill will give careful consideration as to how this issue might be dealt with. It may be that the declaratory effect of the Bill can be clarified.
The UK takes a different approach, which is to look at each case individually and ensure that those convictions that related to non-consensual activity were not the subject of an improper apology and exoneration. Of course, this is in a context where the UK system will have real legal effect. However, there would be practical difficulties with this approach, not least of which would be the fact that more than 23 years, and in many cases potentially far longer, would have passed since any case was initiated and that difficulties would arise in terms of dividing the cases into those where consent was an issue and where it was not.
The Senators’ Bill also seeks to extend its provisions to convictions which took place prior to the creation of Saorstát Éireann. This brings up the very difficult question of legal theory, which is unclear as to whether legislation can operate so as to grant an apology and exoneration to those convicted by courts established prior to the foundation of the State. Finally, while the Bill specifies that no rights are conferred on any person or liability imposed on the State by the provisions of the Bill, the precise legal effect of an apology and exoneration is not clear beyond a declaration of the sentiments of section 2 of the Bill. Despite the concerns expressed, the Government does not, of course, oppose the principle of the Bill. These issues are raised simply to highlight the areas which the Government believes require further consideration if the Bill is to achieve its purpose and not have unintended consequences. All legislation goes through this process and this is why we are here debating legislation. I am sure the Senators sponsoring the Bill will reflect on these issues and consider how best they might be dealt with as the Bill progresses.
It was a proud day for Ireland when the Act of 1993 came into force and decriminalised consensual sexual acts between men. It marked the beginning of a fairer and more modern Ireland which seeks to incorporate all its citizens, with their similarities and differences, into a united and respectful society. That process of reform is continuing this evening when the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will return to the Dáil to begin the Report Stage of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015. The Bill marks a significant legislative development in the law of sexual offences and seeks to protect the vulnerable. The Bill will introduce, for the first time, a statutory definition of consent and a non-exhaustive list of situations where a person does not consent to a sexual act. These provisions reflect both the common law position and the experience in terms of issues that arise at the trial of such cases. Consent is at the heart of every lawful sexual act and this is why the Government is concerned as to the impact of any unintended consequences of the Senators' Bill, particularly on the victim, if exoneration was to be given to someone who had committed rape.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, together with the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016, will provide victims, and in particular vulnerable victims - into which category all victims of sexual crime fall - with greater protection from offences and greater support as they navigate their way through the criminal justice system. This work emphasises the Government’s commitment to tackling sexual crime and to improving the lot of the victim, which has too often been forgotten in the past. These Bills are a result of periods of careful reflection together with engagement with civil society organisations representing victims and the criminal justice agencies that advise on the practical considerations of the implementation of the legislation.
I again thank the Senators for bringing forward this Bill and very much welcome the debate here today.
It is an important and historic day in this Chamber as we debate this legislation. I hope the House will not divide on it, notwithstanding the Minister of State's reference to the Department's concerns regarding the Bill. I commend Senator Nash and his Labour Party colleagues on bringing forward the legislation. They got ahead of the Fine Gael LGBT group on this occasion, as we were drafting something similar. This is an important proposal from an historic perspective and for those men still alive, and their families, who are affected by its provisions.
I must, unfortunately, introduce a discordant note in pointing out that Senator Ruane's contribution was very negative, given the gargantuan changes we have seen.
I know she is not. She made a negative contribution on what should be a very positive day. That was disappointing when one considers the monumental amount of change that has been brought forward in recent years, especially by the last Government. We have moved from a time when people were prosecuted and imprisoned to a point when we can celebrate equality. I think today of friends who are living abroad and do not want to return to Ireland because of the way they were treated here in the past. I salute them. I think of the many people who are scared to come out, older people in particular, in our communities. This tremendous day is for all of them. As Senator Boyhan said, it is a day for the people who quietly advocate, push and prod, and make equality happen in a nondescript way. Equally, it is a day for those persons who push and advocate in a public way. I thank the people in the many different organisations who do that every day. They are champions of equality.
My point is that on a day for celebration, Senator Ruane's comments were somewhat negative. I am entitled to my view and to express it here as a Member of the House.
The purpose of this Bill is to enhance equality, fairness and justice for those people were been hurt and let down, not just by the State but also by the church and society over a period of time. It is about addressing the injustice of the way in which people viewed gay people and the way we were treated by the State, the church and society. Fortunately, we have moved on from that and this Bill serves as another symbol of progression towards full equality. I share Senator Ruane's view that we did not put the roof on the house when we passed the marriage equality legislation. However, to focus on what this and the previous Government have not done is very unfair. Without their efforts, we would not have the progress on the road to equality we have seen. We would not have had the changes around marriage equality, adoption, inheritance and tax law and blood donations. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and his predecessor, Deputy Varadkar, drove the latter change. I reject any negative connotations to what we have done and are doing in this regard. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, as well as his predecessors, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and former Deputy Ruairí Quinn, did important work which saw changes in the school curriculum to cover homophobic bullying and so on. Those changes were achieved by the Department working with BeLonG To and other partners.
Important changes have happened and continue to happen. That is why I am passionate about being positive today. We fought for that change. I remember today former Deputy John Lyons, who worked quietly with me to push Ministers in the last Dáil on the issue of gender recognition. I am unapologetic in wanting to celebrate the positivity of the changes we have seen.
This Government and the last Government have been the most progressive ever on the issue of equality. I would challenge anybody on that. The proof is in the legislation we brought forward and the way in which we went about our business. I will not be lectured about what we did and did not do.
We worked hard, as a Government and as Government Members, to bring about change and advance equality. We did not sit quietly by; we worked hard to achieve things. That is why today is important for people like John Lyons, who is no longer in the Oireachtas. This Bill is about our friends, our people and ourselves. It is about those of us who were told we were not equal under the laws of the land and could not have relationships. We were pushed underground and told we were lesser. That is why this Bill is welcome. It is a celebration of those people who have died and cannot be here today. I celebrate, too, Senator Norris and all the work he has done, especially his ground-breaking action in going to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the norm in the eyes of the State. I am disappointed with the tone of Senator Ruane's remarks. I see she is back in the Chamber.
This Bill, in tandem with the changes brought about the previous Government and the current Administration, helps us to come to terms with the past and to recognise and remember those people who were victims of the State. We have had progressive government, which built a platform for an Ireland where people are equal. The contribution Senator Ruane made was overtly negative around blood donations and pension provisions. The last Government changed inheritance and tax law under the Finance Acts to ensure equal treatment of all citizens.
The Bill before us today is about making a difference in people's lives. It may not be tangible to those who do not understand but to the men, like me and many others, who were criminalised under our law, it draws a line at one level and gives hope to a new generation. I hope we will never have to come back to Bills and debates like these. What happened on 23 May last year made us equal by a vote of the people. It was not done by the courts or the Oireachtas; it was the people who made that decision. I salute all those who worked quietly in the past to create a movement, such as that in Cork in the 1980s, which led to our being able to celebrate our equality today. I speak as a gay man and Member of our Parliament, conscious of the legacy of our State and recognising the improvements we have made in the lives of our people. Like Senator Ruane, I am conscious that we can never be complacent, because there is a generation who looks to us to continue on the road to equality. However, to infer there has been no progress is unfair.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to the House. I commend my colleagues in the Labour Party group, Senators Nash and Ó Ríordáin, on proposing and seconding this important Bill. I am very proud to stand as leader of the Labour Party group and speak in support of these proposals. There is no need for discord in this debate because we are all on the same side, which has not always been the case in respect of important social issues since I have been a Member of this House. It is great to see the Bill being supported on all sides of the Chamber. While we might disagree about how much or how little remains to be done or about the tone of the debate, we are all in agreement on the need to ensure we build on the equality measures that have already passed over successive years, another of which we are celebrating today. On behalf of the Labour Senators, I thank the Minister of State for his very comprehensive comments on the Bill. It is fair to say we will take on board the comments he has made and we look forward to the expeditious progression of the Bill through this House and the Dáil. We note his comments about the Bill's potential consequences, particularly the need to ensure that victims are not in any way compromised, which is very important.
I note also the importance of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 which will be debated in the Dáil tonight and tomorrow and which will return to the Seanad next week. However, the Bill is declaratory; it does not seek to expunge convictions from the record but acknowledges the wrong done to so many men over so many decades in the past through being convicted of acts that are no longer criminal and which were consensual and did not involve persons under the age of 17. The legislation is very clear about that and it provides an apology and exoneration to those who were convicted in the past who may no longer be alive.
The Minister of State referred to the Turing law, which is coming into force in Britain this week and which allows for posthumous pardons for those convicted of these offences and who are now dead and for an application procedure for those who are alive but who still carry convictions in respect of offences which are no longer known to the law. It also allows for statutory pardons. As the Minister of State said, the law in question involves a very different and cumbersome application procedure. The Bill before the House has a very different purpose.
The Minister of State also raised interesting procedural points about past offences under the law of Saorstát Éireann. I am sure we can debate these on Committee Stage. The important point today is to celebrate the fact that we are all here in support of this Bill and the important principle it contains, which will make a real difference to so many people.
Many Senators have paid tribute to Senator David Norris and his work. He has sent a personal message that he is very sorry he cannot be here. Just recently, I had the privilege of hearing Senator Norris speak very eloquently about his experience of taking the famous case which led to the European Court of Human Rights judgment and, ultimately, to decriminalisation in 1993, a matter about which others have spoken. Senator Norris also spoke publicly at a meeting we held in Trinity College - I had never heard him speak about this before - regarding his work providing character references, along with many other people, for men who were being prosecuted in the courts of this country in the 1970s under the 1885 Act for offences such as that relating to gross indecency, about which Senator Ned O'Sullivan spoke. Subsequently, we published some of the transcripts of those hearings. This had a very real effect on so many individuals.
In the appalling judgment he delivered in the Supreme Court in the 1980s in the Norris case - a judgment recently described as the worst ever delivered by the Supreme Court - the then Chief Justice O'Higgins spoke about the damaging practice of homosexuality and the fact that he regarded it as harmful to both the institution of marriage and the health of individuals. This was appalling language which had no place - or rather should have had no place - in 1980s Ireland and which, of course, has no place in the Ireland of 2017. Looking back at this, we can understand the radical transformation that has come about in the lives of LGBT people in Ireland in recent decades since decriminalisation occurred in 1993 and the other statutory changes that we detail in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. The level of statutory change has been immense and culminated in the wonderful, historic passage of the marriage equality referendum in May 2015, about which we have all spoken. Ireland was the first country internationally to pass marriage equality by way of popular vote. That was hugely significant.
There are legacy issues, however, and Senator Ruane referred to these. The issues in question relate to anomalies in our laws. The Bill seeks to address one of these, namely, the fact that there are still people living in Ireland who carry convictions on their records that they should no longer have to carry. The State should acknowledge and address that matter. That is what we seek to do in the Bill. There are other anomalies too, and Senator Ruane spoke of these also. She referred to the case of David Parris, also a Trinity College colleague of mine, before the European Court of Justice. Unfortunately, the case did not result in the change in the law he had hoped to bring about whereby, again, an anomalous discrimination would have been cleared up. The Pensions (Amendment) Bill, which I published before Christmas, which I hope we will debate in the House before too long and which I hope the Government will also support, would address this anomaly and legacy issue for a very small number of LGBT individuals whose partners will not be eligible under current law to qualify for survivor pensions due to what is called an anti-gold digger clause in pensions that requires people to have married before a particular age. In David Parris's case, the Trinity College pension scheme stipulates the age of 60. He reached the age of 60 before he was legally able to marry or enter civil partnership with his long-term partner. This is all very much on the public record. I hope the Pensions (Amendment) Bill will be supported by the Government.
These are legacy issues. Happily, in Ireland we have moved to a position where we can talk about huge progress, radical transformation and equality. We do have to be mindful, as Senator Warfield so eloquently said, that there are many LGBT people living in countries such as Uganda and Russia and many other countries around the world where there is no such equality and where people still live in fear of expressing their sexuality. Even in Ireland, my colleague in Trinity College, Professor Mark Bell, recently published on the ongoing concerns about ongoing discrimination in the workplace that LGBT persons, particularly transgender persons, in Ireland experience. In 2013, the Fundamental Rights Agency survey of Ireland found 20% of LGBT people across the EU reported experiencing workplace discrimination. In Ireland, the figure is 18% but rose to 29% among transgender people. The LGBTI Ireland report for 2016 made similar findings, with 17% of respondents saying they had experienced LGBTI bullying in their workplaces. Therefore, we need to be mindful of the real-life experiences of LGBT people and the fact that legal change does not always bring about the desired cultural change or have the same impact on the ground. We must be mindful that if one looks at Equality Tribunal decisions, one finds very few cases being taken relating to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, despite relatively high levels of reporting of such discrimination. Clearly, therefore, there is a disconnection between people's experiences of discrimination and their willingness to take cases. We must be concerned about whether people still feel they have to be silenced in some way about their sexual orientation.
Our Bill started life as Private Members' legislation to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which I introduced in the previous Seanad and which culminated in the passage of the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015. This is an important change that will, we hope, end the chilling effect particularly for LGBT teachers and employees in religious-run workplaces. Clearly, however, there is still much work to be done to change the culture.
On that cautiously positive note, I again thank the Minister of State for expressing his support for this important Bill and thank all our colleagues. Senator Nash will conclude the debate and will also thank everyone, but I thank everyone who has spoken so far for expressing the strong support of their own parties or groups for this important legislation.
I think we would all agree that 23 May last was a truly historic day for our country. The declaration by the people of Ireland that day was the first such popular vote anywhere in the world for marriage equality. It was a clear statement heard by the world that Ireland has progressed from a closed, judgmental and socially-regressive place to an open, accepting and progressive society. Minority groups living in Ireland saw this as a hugely positive act by the people of our country and it gave them great hope for the future that all sections of society and minority groups living in Ireland would be given an opportunity to play an equal and inclusive role in a new, modern and bright Ireland. I welcome this Bill, commend Senator Nash and his colleagues on bringing it forward. I also welcome the fact that the Minister of State has indicated Government support and that the House will not be divided - as I read - it at this stage.
Unfortunately, we must be upfront and truthful about the many wrongs that were carried out by this State against vulnerable and minority groups in the past. I could think of the women in Magdalen laundries, the women in Bethany Homes, children in industrial schools and people with disabilities. The list could go on and on. A group of our citizens that was treated disgracefully in the past is the group at which this Bill is aimed, namely, our homosexual and LGBT community. The Bill will strengthen and reinforce the abolition of previous apparent sexual offences such as buggery and offences against the persons, but we know today that these were never criminal acts. We know the offences outlined were discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and designedly alien to people's human rights. This treatment was wrong. It destroyed peoples' lives and was quite frankly abhorrent.
In 1895, one of Ireland's most celebrated wordsmiths, Oscar Wilde, was sentenced to two years' hard labour in England for the so-called crime of being a homosexual - for loving another man. It feels appropriate during this debate on this important Bill to read a few lines from Oscar Wilde's great poem and rebuke to the society that imprisoned him and criminalised him. I refer, of course, to "The Ballad of Reading Gaol". He stated in that incredible poem:
I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.
But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother's life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.
This too I know—and wise it were
If each could know the same—
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.
That poem still rings true today. It raises the hairs on the back of my neck. That was his incredible response in those dark days to the international global society, not just in Britain, that criminalised and condemned human beings because they loved another human of the same sex. The Bill deals with that legacy and seeks to ensure not one single Irish citizen will continue to carry a burden on his or her shoulders because of what happened in those dark days with the criminalisation by the State of the homosexual LGBT community, the only future for the vast majority of whose members was emigration. I presume the numbers of Irish citizens who were forced to move abroad or who suffered from mental health issues and died by suicide as a result of these laws are incalculable, but we must never allow a situation such as this to develop again.
What should happen now? A heartfelt State apology is an immediate necessity. We must also recognise that on a part of the island marriage equality is still not allowed. That is wrong and further proof of the need to push for a united Ireland. Citizens of the Six Counties are equally as deserving of the human right to marriage equality. All parties should support a demand for marriage equality in the North in the same way that the campaign was conducted here. It was an incredibly vibrant and positive campaign that was grassroots-led and lifted all of our hearts. I will never forget that incredible day in Dublin Castle.
Let me finish with a thought on which everybody should reflect. The ethnicity of Travellers has not been recognised, while refugees languish in direct provision centres with little hope of a change to the system. I spoke about learning lessons. I plead with the Government to ensure history is not repeated in the case of Travellers and refugees. In time the country will be judged on how we treated minorities and protected the most vulnerable. We need to deliver on the ideals of the Proclamation. We need to deliver a thirty-two county republic in which all citizens will be looked after equally.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, for being present in the Chamber. I was very disappointed by the comments made by Senator Jerry Buttimer on the contribution made by my colleague, Senator Lynn Ruane. He was unfair. Senator Lynn Ruane had every right to talk about what more needed to be done. I know that it is a day of celebration, but, unfortunately, Senator Jerry Buttimer-----
He did and his comments were unfair. It was not right; it was an injustice, particularly when Senator Lynn Ruane was not in the Chamber to hear them. She had every right to say what she felt. This is a democratic society.
I welcome the Bill presented by Senator Gerald Nash. I thank him and the Labour Party for introducing it. It is really appreciated. The Bill asks the State to exonerate and apologise to gay men who were convicted of sexual offences before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993. Ireland is continually changing and we are all striving to make it a better place in which to live and work and, more importantly, to be who we are. We demonstrated in the marriage equality referendum that we were more tolerant, more open and a more inclusive nation, one that would embrace all citizens equally. It is devastating to think there were thousands of people who were unable to live their lives openly with those whom they loved with the protections offered by the State. During my campaign to be elected to this House I stated repeatedly that, as a nation, we should be judged on how we treated citizens. While it may have been a sign of the times, it was certainly not excusable. The men in question suffered not just at the hands of the law but also hostility in their communities. This was a great injustice to them, their partners, friends and families. It was heartbreaking. We know that the Bill will not change what happened in the past, but it will be a small step in acknowledging the wrongs inflicted on gay men. It will also send a strong message to young LGBT people that they will be supported by their fellow citizens and that, as a nation, we are not afraid to say sorry for past mistakes.
I commend Senator Gerald Nash for bringing forward the Bill and welcome the Government's decision not to block it, for which I thank the Minister. As we all know, it is the right thing to do.
I welcome the Minister of State and commend Senator Gerald Nash and the Labour Party for bringing forward this important Bill which sets an important marker in addressing the wrongs of the past and asserting the importance of the full right to relationships and bodily autonomy, which is crucial. What happened in the past was unjust in the very particular way laws reached into the right to relationships, bodily automony, physical freedom and privacy of the individual. They were not simply wrong; they also represented the deep over-reach of the State. It is appropriate that we are taking the time to ensure they are fully addressed and that the wrong is recognised. From my reading of the Bill, it seems to be quite clear that it is addressing the rights of consenting adults. This is written into the text in different ways, including in respect of those under 17 years. The provisions of the Bill achieve a good balance in terms of nuance. I am very happy to support the Bill and look forward to supporting its passage through the House.
We need to have an ambition for equality which is not a badge we can simply wear. I am sure all Members have badges, piles of leaflets and papers from the various campaigns in which they have been involved, including the marriage equality campaign, but it goes further. If we did not have an ambition for equality, we might have stopped with Senator David Norris's landmark campaign to ensure decriminalisation, but it drove us further. There was the introduction in the 1990s of equality legislation by the then Minister, Mervyn Taylor. It is also important to mark that legislation. With respect, I suggest that was a Government that also put down an important marker for equality by introducing the very structures for the legislation now in place. We might have stopped with the introduction of civil partnership, but we were ambitious and ploughed on to marriage equality and transgender recognition legislation. We simply cannot say the parade is finished or that we have reached our goal. We need to keep seeking ways to deeply embed equality in society. It is a service to each other when we recognise and identify new ways to drive forward the equality agenda.I believe that some of the concrete and practical suggestions put forward by Senators Warfield and Ruane and others are part of that ambition. This Bill is an important step in that regard.
We talk about driving forward. The Bill is also important because it is reaching backwards. We need to ensure we reach backwards to address the wrongs of the past. We need to ensure we put down a marker that the past ground and positions held were not simply wrong at the time but were altogether wrong and remain wrong. They were not simply a product of their moment but something we can look back on now and recognise as having been wrong. We need to mark the past ground as unacceptable and as a place where we cannot go again.
We need to be aware that things can move backwards as well as forwards. That is why we need to put a marker down on the earth. Let us consider the situation now. These are worrying times. People have talked about the LGBT community coming under pressure globally, especially in Russia. We have seen that Russia has recently decriminalised domestic violence. That is an example of how things can move backwards. That is why it is important for us to make this significant marker. The ILGA has listed 73 countries in which LGBTQI activities are illegal. That is a marker. Ireland can be and should be a leader in championing LGBT rights on a global level.
I am happy to support the Bill. I look forward to the next steps. I am also looking forward to our championing and marking of these issues, including in the areas of refugee rights. That is another area where LGBT rights need to be respected and promoted in an active way. I imagine the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, whose work overlaps into that area, will seek to do that as well.
Colleagues have mentioned the question of those who have emigrated. In many cases they felt forced to emigrate because of their treatment in society. We know that when a law is negative, it signals permission to the rest of society to discriminate as well.
This is also a practical measure. We have seen how a criminal measure changes things. Recently, in America, we have seen how a criminal marker in the past is being used as an excuse for future discrimination. There may be a practical component to the Bill as well.
I thank all the speakers who contributed to this important debate. Depending on how we progress, this could be considered a landmark evening for the Chamber. Much of what is positive about Irish politics, including the effects on the transformation of our society in recent decades, has emanated from legislative propositions that started their journeys in this House.
I am satisfied that the Minister of State is personally committed to advancing this legislation. Not only does he understand the principle of the legislation, but he fully endorses its ambition.
The Minister of State referred to the declaratory effect. He has got it in one. The Bill is declaratory by nature and by effect, and deliberately so.
I was involved in the campaign for an amnesty for members of the Defence Forces who deserted to fight with the British Army during the Second World War. These people were fighting the forces of fascism. It is a fascinating story and a fascinating period in our history. I worked with representative bodies, former soldiers, interests in the UK and the former Minister, Mr. Shatter, to resolve the matter.
We have examined the matter closely. We have examined the impact of the legislation in considering the approach we would take.
The Minister of State raised significant concerns relating to non-consensual acts. It was never the intention of this Bill that there would be an apology to or an exoneration of anyone involved in convictions pertaining to non-consensual acts. I trust the Minister of State accepts that. I know he and his officials will be available to address these issues. When we are drafting and crafting legislation, we have to be mindful of unintended consequences of particular provisions. That is why we have a robust legislative process. I am happy to work with the Minister of State on that. We have no difficulty in working with the Minister of State and officials to clarify the intentions of elements of the Bill. If the Minister of State believes it can be improved on the advice of the Attorney General, then we are open to suggestions.
I appeal to the Minister of State, given his good nature and his interest in this area, to ensure the Bill is not sent to the place where Bills are sent to die. I can never prevent myself from smiling somewhat at the phrase "new politics". One of the unintended consequences – perhaps it is intended – of new politics is that we are suddenly submerged with a high level and a large amount of legislation that has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, sometimes it is sent to committees to die.
I gather from the demeanour of the Minister of State and others that this legislation will go where it is required to go, that is, Committee Stage. The Minister of State could utilise an example involving Senator Bacik and me. Senator Bacik developed the Competition (Amendment) Bill last year. She worked closely with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, and officials to get the legislation right to bring it to a point whereby it has gone through all stages in the Seanad. It will be in the Dáil shortly. I hope it will be law by summer.
I thank colleagues for their support for the legislation. At one point, the House was in danger of seeing peace breaking out. However, Senators Ruane and Buttimer put paid to that. I mean that in the best possible way. I thank all Senators for their support. I know Senator Buttimer is passionate about this entire agenda, as is everyone, including Senator Ruane. Senator Warfield referred to Uganda. We should be mindful of the fact that we can have such debates in the Chamber as well as debates on issues, policies and principles. We live in a democratic society. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Uganda and in many other countries. It is not only in Uganda where we can see how global winds in this area have been diminished. We need only look at the United States and Russia and the concerns of citizens in those places at the moment. They are concerned at the appalling vista in one of the world's largest, most significant and important democracies.
In recent years, we have had a good record of coming to terms with our past. For example, I was involved in setting up the Neary or symphysiotomy redress scheme. I was proud to be part of the Government that apologised to those who were victims of clerical sexual abuse. The Taoiseach performed a great service to the nation. One of his proudest days was the day he stood up in the Dáil to express his sorrow and to apologise on behalf of the people to those who were the victims of clerical sexual abuse.
The marriage equality referendum represented a landmark for us in terms of the country reaching adulthood. The adoption of legislation to provide for an apology to gay men who were criminalised by this society and to provide for an exoneration of those gay men would mark our maturity as a nation. I am keen for the Minister of State to consider that and to engage with us positively to move this legislation expeditiously through the process. Together, we can develop the legislation such that we can be proud to stand over it. It would send a strong message to those affected by the cruel laws that were on the Statue Book. The message is that these people did not have to live in the shadows, that the country now treats them as equal citizens and that we should never have treated them in the way we did.