Tuesday, 19 June 2018
25th Anniversary of Decriminalisation of Homosexuality: Motion
That Seanad Éireann:
acknowledges that the laws repealed in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 that criminalised consensual sexual activity between men:
-were improperly discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and an infringement of personal privacy and autonomy,
-caused multiple harms to those directly and indirectly affected, namely men who engaged in consensual same-sex activities and their families and friends, and
-had a significant chilling effect on progress towards equality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community, acknowledging in particular the legacy of HIV/AIDS within the context of criminalisation;
further acknowledges the hurt and the harm caused to those who were deterred by those laws from being open and honest about their identity with their family and in society and that this prevented citizens from engaging in civil and political life and deprived society of their full contribution;
offers a sincere apology to individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity which is now legal;
welcomes the positive progressive measures introduced by successive Governments over the last 30 years and in particular in the 25 years since decriminalisation was introduced by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, including inter alia:
- the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989,
- the Equal Status Acts 2000-2016,
- the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2016,
- the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010,
- the Marriage Equality Referendum and the Marriage Act 2015,
- the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015,
- the Gender Recognition Act 2015;
further welcomes the Government’s commitment to introduce an LGBTI+ Youth Strategy, followed by an LGBTI Strategy; and
reaffirms its commitment to ensuring that:
-the law fully recognises and protects sexual and gender minorities on an open and inclusive basis;
-Ireland is a country where LGBTI individuals are free to fully express their identities without fear of discrimination;
-all citizens can live in freedom and equality, and participate fully in the social, economic and cultural life of the nation, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity; and
-our foreign policy promotes and protects human rights globally, including the rights of LGBTI individuals, who continue to suffer disproportionate levels of violence and face systemic discrimination in many countries.”
I thank Senator Nash in particular for bringing forward this motion this afternoon and for his ongoing work on these issues and the constructive way in which he has worked with my office to bring us to this point. I also thank Members of the Seanad for giving time and consideration to this important issue.
It is a special day in these Houses. I feel privileged to be the Minister for Justice and Equality at this time and to be in a position to support this motion, to recommend that Government supports it and to have worked with Senator Nash to advance matters thus far.
Twenty-five years ago this week, an important step was taken which changed the lives of many people in Ireland. The enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 sought to repeal Victorian-era laws which criminalised members of our society, forcing them to conduct their personal and private lives in secret. Homosexual men in Ireland were ostracised and criminalised simply because of their sexual orientation.
These laws caused immeasurable harm. Nothing that can be said here today can undo the unjust suffering and discrimination the homosexual community experienced in the years prior to decriminalisation. As a Government, we must acknowledge those wrongs and seek to improve lives for all members of our society in order that they can live freely and without fear of discrimination.
I am delighted, therefore, to support the motion in this House which, at its heart, offers an apology to all those affected by the criminalisation of consensual same-sex acts in Ireland prior to 1993. This motion is reflective of the Government's commitment to ensuring that Ireland is a society for all people, an equal society and a fair society.
In 1977, a Senator in this House, Senator Norris, took a significant High Court challenge against the laws which criminalised homosexuality in Ireland. That was a brave first step towards the decriminalisation of homosexual relationships and is one which is widely recognised as the critical step that ultimately led to the 1993 Act. The case led to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the laws against homosexuality in Ireland were in direct contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. The impact and significance of that challenge cannot be underestimated.
All these years later, it is entirely appropriate that this debate should be taking place in the Upper House, with Senator Norris set to give what I know will be a memorable speech. I wish to thank Senator Norris for his leadership on this issue. I am sure his determination to fight against such injustice was instrumental in ensuring freedom for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, community in Ireland today. The Senator's courage in standing up for human rights, and the support provided to that challenge by former President Mary Robinson, a former Member of this House, has certainly been marked in this nation's history.
I thank Senator Nash for his collaboration since the introduction of the Private Members' Convictions for Certain Sexual Offences (Apology and Exoneration) Bill, out of which arose this motion today. In consultation with the Taoiseach and the Attorney General, I have been working with Senator Nash to identify legislative solutions. There are significant practical and legal difficulties but we are working to find resolutions, including through consultations with the UK Home Office. I hope to be back in this House reporting progress before too long.
To revert to the motion before us, it recognises the great harm caused to many people by the criminalisation of these relationships in Ireland. These laws were clearly discriminatory in nature and were also a direct infringement on the personal and private lives of those they affected. Immeasurable hurt and immeasurable harm was caused to many people in our society and to their families, their friends and communities.
Decriminalisation was a huge step in Ireland's ability to progress towards equality for the LGBTI community in Ireland.
Today, Ireland is celebrated around the world for the value its citizens place on equality following the same-sex marriage referendum and in recognition of the diversity in our current Cabinet. It is doubtless incomprehensible to many, especially to many young people in Ireland today, that there are members of our society who still feel the effects of such discrimination in their daily lives, and yet that is the case. There are people who still feel the isolation, the hurt and the stigma created by those laws, which denied the LGBTI community the ability to live openly or without fear or to engage actively in civil and public life and which suggested that society did not value or even tolerate them simply because of their sexual orientation.As Minister for Justice and Equality, I extend a sincere apology to all those people, to their families and to their friends, as well as to any person who felt the hurt and isolation created by those laws, and particularly to those who were criminally convicted by the existence of such laws.
Successive Governments have slowly but steadily worked to make Ireland a more equal and inclusive society since decriminalisation in 1993. Some of that progress is captured in this motion. Many legislative measures have been introduced which have sought to improve the lives of all members of society in order that they may marry, regardless of sexual orientation, that they may be recognised by their chosen gender, that they may enjoy equal rights to family relationships and to address discrimination in all forms. Such progress can only be welcomed.
However, that does not mean there is not more work that must be done. The motion before the House today also reflects our desire to continue to ensure that the law fully recognises sexual and gender minorities and that people in our society are free to fully express their identities without fear and without discrimination. My hardworking colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is absolutely committed to advancing equality measures and has begun work on a LGBTI strategy.
The past cannot be undone. It is the responsibility of this Government and those that follow in our footsteps that we continue to progress and promote equality for all and that our policies and our actions strive to ensure that human rights are protected. It is of the highest importance that our citizens can live in freedom and participate fully in our society, while those who continue to face discrimination and violence are protected by the State.
I thank Members for their attention this afternoon. This cross-party motion is a historic and important step for Ireland, one which I am proud to support on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of same-sex intimate relationships. I again commend Senator Nash, as well as his colleagues, Senators Bacik, Ó Ríordáin and Humphreys, for their work.
I salute Senator Norris for his steadfast dedication to equality and human rights.
I am delighted to speak on this important motion. I am particularly humbled to be in the presence of Senator Norris who championed the decriminalisation of homosexuality. If it were not for him and his dogged campaign to end this appalling treatment of a sector of society, I do not know if we would have made advances in many other areas of equality. Senator Norris was a mould breaker and was very brave. From the bottom of my heart, I thank him for his work in this regard. If he does nothing else for the rest of life - he has done much over the past 25 years - he will have done the State some service regarding the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
I am proud it was a Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who, despite much opposition within her own party and around the country, was brave enough to proceed with decriminalisation. I am delighted as Fianna Fáil spokesperson for justice to commemorate this. We will have our own event next week to mark this event and Senator Norris will be at it. It is right and proper that the Minister gave such praise to the Senator in his address.
Ireland has shifted dramatically from the point we were at 25 years ago.We have made many advances in supports and changes for the LGBTI community and for equality in general. It was an equality issue. Women were on the back foot too at the time. We have progressed but there are still many areas which need to be progressed. I hope we will all have the determination of Senator Norris in addressing those issues.
I want to raise the Government's failure to commence Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.
These Parts provide for parentage through donor-assisted human reproduction. The issue of the recognition of parentage for same-sex couples and their children needs to be dealt with. The failure to commence these Parts diminishes the Minister's contribution this evening.
The mental health difficulties faced by young people from the LGBTI community are serious. I deal with people through my office every day who cannot get appointments in CAMHS which is completely under-resourced. Many of the children trying to access mental health services come from the LGBTI community. We are failing them. While the stigma felt by these children that would have been there 25 years ago is gone, there are still real difficulties. Many LGBTI children have difficulties facing their identity, as well as having difficulties in their families and communities in this regard. I would like the Government to make some progress on this and give real effect to the Minister's speech. If we do not support these children, we will be closing another dark chapter in 25 years' time.
We fully support the apologies to the 2,500 people who were convicted several years ago. Despite whatever difficulties there are, we should right those wrongs which were perpetrated against a large section of our society.
I thank the Minister for his fine speech. This may be the first time in this House when I almost feel incapable of using words with relative meaning, spoken as they are, in the presence of my colleague, the great Senator Norris. I also thank Senator Nash for introducing this important motion.
I feel truly humbled to be a Member of a Seanad which has as a Member a man who almost single-handedly over the course of 50 years made our State and our society tolerant, as well as a beacon for other nations around the world. Who would have thought that in 1973, when Senator Norris commenced his campaign to decriminalise homosexuality, Ireland would become the first country in the entire world to equalise our marriage laws through a popular vote? There are generations of Irish people who would scarcely believe that being homosexual was a statutory offence between 1861 and 1993. As a proud father of a gay daughter - my business partner who is now married to a Texan with a beautiful daughter - it is a great measure of the social transformation which has taken place in our society.
I regret to say, however, there may also be a generation who have forgotten Senator Norris's struggle.
It is only right and proper that on this, the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland, which was introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, a county woman of my own, the House pays homage to Senator Norris's pursuit of equality and justice.
It is also worth reflecting that it was the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights that ensured the State vindicated those rights which ultimately forced the Irish Government to take action. Regrettably, our Supreme Court, in past times an architect of the liberalisation of our society, failed at that time to view the criminalisation of homosexuality as repugnant to our Constitution. It was, of course, another Member of the House who fought this legal battle, the then Senator Mary Robinson, and was ultimately successful in persuading the European Court of Human Rights that the criminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland violated the European Convention on Human Rights. This event alone illustrates just how integral supranational institutions can be in shaping nations' histories for the better.
The former US President, Barack Obama, my great friend, regularly cited in his speeches a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, who said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I believe that. I also believe, however, that it requires human endeavour, patience and determination to achieve these ends. The Irish people, and most especially those of our citizens who institutionally, socially and physically were discriminated against, have much to thank Senator Norris for. I, for one, am proud to serve with someone who has changed the course of Irish history.
I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to the House on this special day. This special speech is a special acknowledgement and a special apology. Like others, I echo everything that has been said about our great and dear friend, Senator Norris. I have got to know him over the past seven years. In that time, I have developed an understanding of the type of character he is. That character is what defined equality in this country in the 1980s when it was a different space. It was a time when even condoms and contraception were illegal. There was a straitjacket approach. If one was not in that jacket, there was something wrong with one. In this case, one could be jailed. It was a joke back then. Young people today would hardly believe that it was the case.
In fairness, Senator Norris championed decriminalisation. People like Mary Robinson rode in behind to support him. Slowly but surely, the political classes realised that what Senator Norris was saying was correct. When the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, saw Senator Norris's campaign, and following on from the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, she instigated the decriminalisation of homosexuality in this country.
It has moved on much since. Much has happened and much campaigning has been done. Whatever about changing the laws, the changing of hearts, minds and perceptions of people is a wholly different matter. That can only happen through people coming out, telling their stories and being brave. That whole process evolved over 25 years until that great day in 2015, when ordinary decent people who are homosexual, came out and told their stories as to why they believed there should be marriage equality.
That was paralleled by great and brave people in the political world and leaders of society. I look to the man on my right, who has not been mentioned at all in the speeches so far. I am proud and happy that the Leader of the House, Senator Buttimer, played a pivotal and important role in the campaign to ensure that marriage equality got over the line. I am proud of Senator Buttimer. I am also proud I can call him and his husband, Conchobhar, close personal friends of mine. The House is lucky to have a Leader who is both intelligent and brave, as well as having enormous credibility and ability. He is a leader in society and has proved this. Due to Senator Buttimer's approach, forthright campaigning and telling his story back then, people like the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, came on board and campaigned for marriage equality.This would not have happened were it not for people like Senator Jerry Buttimer. In 2015, Ireland passed, by considerable margin, the marriage equality referendum and became the first country to introduce same-sex marriage by popular vote. That was a defining moment for Irish society.
In terms of the equality agenda, we have a long way to go. I am probably the only Member of either House of the Oireachtas with a disability, and I am proud to be so. There has never been a deaf person or a member of the Traveller community elected to either House of the Oireachtas. This is where leadership starts and where minds and hearts and changed. The equality agenda moves on. It will not be disposed of fully until such time as we have true equality for every citizen in this country, irrespective of their sexuality, disability or ethnic background. We are lucky that we have a Government and, in the person of Deputy Flanagan, a Minister for Justice and Equality that believe in equality. In good time, the aspiration of equality for all our citizens will be realised.
I welcome the people who have joined us in the Visitors Gallery. Céad míle fáilte. I thank Senator Nash for his excellent work on this initiative. I also thank the Government for facilitating this motion.
State apologies represent significant moments for this institution and the people it serves. I recall today the women of the Magdalen laundries and the survivors of those laundries who received an apology from former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, on behalf of the State in February 2013 and, also, the State apology by An Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, to Joanne Hayes in January of this year. When speaking about the trauma endured by Joanne, An Taoiseach said it reflected the extent to which Ireland was such a different place in the 1980s to what it is now.
The laws that were repealed in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 cast a long shadow over Irish life. They condemned, shamed and harassed men who simply did not fit into the mould of a world so wrongfully narrow and prejudiced in its outlook. They gave rise to an air of criminality that made certain a climate of isolation, discrimination and, in some cases, prosecution. People bypassed Dublin entirely and left Ireland behind, landing in cities like London and New York to pursue their right to exercise a life different to that of the mainstream. They went in search of a haven. For so many, and tragically so, the brevity of life in the shadow of the AIDS crisis would become a reality. In 1987, an article in The New York Timesstated:
In this neighborhood that gained renown for its culture of openly expressed homosexuality, the predominant concern of the living is now dealing with death and dying. So many people have died AIDS that many residents say they can no longer count the number of friends they have lost.
The decision to stop counting the number of friends lost is something that is tragically shared by many LGBTQI people in Ireland, including me. We stand with them in remembering loss and grief while knowing that significant advances have been made in treatment and methods of prevention. We have confidence, too, that more will be done and we are ready to campaign for as much. Ireland must commence a consultation process for the development of a national AIDS memorial and a consultation that engages with people who have lost loved ones and friends and also with the wider community.
I commend the motion. It marks a necessary milestone for my community whereby the State reflects on its actions, proclaims its wrongdoing and, in doing so, asks the forgiveness of those criminalised and those indirectly affected. Sinn Féin and I believe that a State apology is an appropriate step, but I hear the concerns of people who are of the view that there is no way to apologise for the dark days they have endured. I was 15 months old when homosexuality was decriminalised. While I will never fully understand the struggle that those to whom I refer endured, their fearlessness and energy in having been forced to live in the long shadow of criminalisation has empowered and politicised me and so many others of my generation.
It took a 16-year legal battle, undertaken by Senator Norris, to shame the State into accepting that homosexuality was not something that it could criminalise into non-existence; it took the murder of Declan Flynn in Fairview Park, for which those responsible were never truly brought to justice owing to the conservative attitudes among members of our Judiciary; it took the fear, trauma and loss of the HIV and AIDS crises; and it took countless lives being scourged by brutal assaults, bullying, homophobia, isolation and marginalisation on the part of society, the State and its institutions. Only then did the State, following years of Government indifference and even after the European Court of Human Rights ruling, act.
Recent developments such as civil partnership, civil marriage equality and gender recognition have laid the foundations for a new Ireland. While we have come a long way more needs to be done in terms of parental rights for same-sex couples, hate crime legislation, a ban on conversion therapy and so on. I recently attended the launch of the National Library of Ireland inclusion strategy, at which officials spoke with pride about the holding of the Irish Queer Archive, the most comprehensive archive relating to LGBT history in Ireland. Within that, I note an article in The Irish Timesby Nell McCafferty in September 1975 which reports a case in the Dublin District Court involving two men arrested by a member of An Garda Síochána having been seen exiting the same toilet cubicle. The judge made remarks such as, "It's a completely unnatural performance" and the defence solicitor posed questions to an expert witness doctor such as, "Would you say that he [a defendant] could have a fruitful relationship with a member of the opposite sex?" and "That they could marry and have children?". This was our justice system 43 years ago.
I thank Tony Walsh and the National LGBT Federation, NXF, for their work in sharing our queer history with the National Library and, by extension, the State and for putting confidence in the State. This is our recent history. It is a lived legacy of so many gay and bisexual men. They deserve better. Our community deserves better and I welcome this motion.
I celebrate that I live in a country where homosexuality is decriminalised, and has been so for 25 years. When homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland 25 years ago, I was living in London. Although far away, I was aware of activists such as Senator Norris and his work, although not the full extent of his bravery and personal sacrifice. I was aware also of the political courage of the former Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, and others in making that change.
Twenty five years ago I had just given birth to my son, my second child. While carrying him, so besotted was I with his sister, who is two years older, that I worried about whether I could summon up the same love for and devotion for him once born. I need not have worried. At 8 o'clock one Monday morning 25 years ago, my drop of golden sun came bursting into the world - a cuddly, tactile, energetic little creature, curly haired, smiling, curious, quirky, inquisitive and affectionate child who elicited much love then and still does. This child grew to love Thomas the Tank Engine, read early and voraciously, talked and talked, made maps, wrote stories - and still does - undertook spurious surveys, played hurling, represented his college on "University Challenge", has lived in Fez, Beirut, Marseilles and now Paris, made, makes and keeps up with his lovely friends from close to home and all over the world and excelled academically - full points and firsts. This son speaks many languages, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese - stimulated by a love interest - and, of course, Irish to mention but a few. This young man has so much to offer to the world and to us all.
In 1993, when my beautiful son was born and homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland, I did not know then that it would mean so much to my son when we moved back to Ireland as a family in 2003, that decriminalisation would have a direct bearing on his rights, his equality, his ability to be treated as a first-class and not a second-citizen, his right not be criminalised for his sexual orientation, for who he loves and would love, his right to be himself and to make his mark. In 1993, far away in London and taken up with my life of children and work, I did not fully appreciate the multiple harms, hurt and suffering of people in Ireland, who lived in fear and whose health was sometimes compromised as a result of the criminalisation of homosexuality.People were stigmatised and bright and able people were deterred by the laws of their land from being open and honest about their identity with their families and in society. They were prevented from engaging in civil and political life and society was deprived of their full contribution. Sometimes people were condemned to lead double lives and were sometimes very lonely. These are people to whom we most definitely owe an apology. I am glad the Government is supporting this motion offering this overdue, although sincere, State apology. I thank Senator Nash and his Labour Party colleagues for bringing this motion forward.
I did not know 25 years ago that the decriminalisation of homosexuality would be a milestone in the context of much that followed, including marriage equality. I want to acknowledge the role Senator Buttimer and others played in making this happen. In 1993, 25 years ago, I did not expect to be standing in Seanad Éireann making this speech celebrating the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, aware of and in a position to highlight and advocate for that which remains to be done for full equality and rights for LGBTI people. As we celebrate, we need to press on with urgent matters material to LGBTI people being able to exercise their full rights and well-being in Ireland.
My colleague, Senator Fintan Warfield, has been calling for the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP, and I sincerely hope we are making progress there.
Around this time last year, a young person from BeLong To gave evidence to our hearings on child mental health. We were told that not being accepted for who one is has serious impacts on the mental health of our young people. LGBTI people are twice as likely to self harm than their non-LGBTI friends and three times more likely to attempt suicide.
Three years on from the passage of the marriage equality referendum, LGBTI couples are still waiting for the promised parenting rights. In the run up to the marriage referendum, we were promised that those rights would be passed. Many non-biological parents are still legal strangers to their children. I understand that this matter falls between the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality and that there are complexities. I know that the delay in the commencement of this Part of the Children and Family Relationships Act is causing growing concern. I would welcome if the Minister could give us an update as to where this is. It would be a fitting tribute to the celebration of the 25th anniversary to see this Act fully commenced. It would mean so much to my son and all the other sons and daughters of Ireland.
I thank Senator Kelleher. I remind Members that there are at least eight Members left to speak and there are 38 minutes remaining. If everyone takes five minutes, we will not have enough time for the debate and we will have to adjourn it. I ask Senators to be as brief as they can be to allow everybody to speak. I call Senator James Reilly who has five minutes.
As others pointed out, this is an important anniversary in the coming to maturity of a nation. I cannot let this pass without mentioning people I believe have been hugely influential, some of whom are in this Chamber with us today. Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn's push to decriminalise what was clearly an archaic law that did huge damage to so many of our citizens was a major step forward and it allowed much that followed. It was a law that punished people for being who they were and criminalised the very essence of self. It is something we all look back on with a degree of shame.
Let us focus now on the positive and all the good that has come since then, with Irish people having voted in the marriage referendum for equality. I mention my colleague, Senator Norris, and all the work he did over the years. He was outspoken and very brave in leading a charge and giving others courage.
I mention my colleagues in the Labour Party who also pushed for it.
As Senator Martin Conway said, it is one thing to change a law but another thing to change people's minds, hearts and attitudes. If we needed evidence of that change, the marriage equality referendum was evidence of that. I also agree with Senator Conway that much else remains to be done on equality in this country.
I support fully the need to apologise to those who suffered as a consequence of this law and there is no question of anything but exoneration. A heartfelt apology goes from all of us here to those people and their families who suffered so much because of a law that showed no understanding of people and reality.
I offer my congratulations to those who fought so hard, and to those I mentioned, for their stand, their courage and their bravery in bringing this country to a new place. I mention Mr. Chris Robinson.
He was a great advocate.
When I was Minister for Children, I realised the harm and the hurt caused to younger people by some of the commentary during that referendum. I am pleased to say they can now look forward to a bright and equal future and our country is a far better place for it.
I thank Senator Reilly for his contribution and for his brevity because the Order of Business states this debate must conclude by 6 p.m. I ask Members, for the benefit of others, to be as brief as they can. I call Senator Ged Nash who has five minutes.
I, too, want to share in the appreciation extended to our colleagues, Senators David Norris and Jerry Buttimer, of the extraordinary work they have done to promote LGBTI rights in this country. It is on days like this that I think of my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour Party from 2011 to 2016, former Deputies Dominic Hannigan and John Lyons, who made an enormous contribution-----
-----to transforming attitudes in this House and introducing and supporting transformative legislation. It has made our country a better, fairer, more tolerant and more progressive place.
I also welcome those who are present in the Public Gallery this evening. Campaigners for LGBTI rights have put their collective and individual shoulders to the wheel for decades to transform this society and change legislation but, most importantly, to change attitudes to LGBTI people in this Republic. I thank them for their work, their continuing efforts, for everything they do and for the courageous risks many of them have taken over the years in their fight to vindicate the rights I take for granted.
This is a day when we can be proud of our parliamentary democracy and I hope it is a day that will live long in the memory. It is a day too that I hope will mark another important turning point in our society and in our politics. It is an important reckoning with our recent history. This is a long overdue and sincerely extended apology from our national Parliament and from those who represent the people of this country. We extend the apology to gay men for the wrongs done to them throughout the history of this State. It is an apology not just to gay men but to the LGBTI community. The chilling effect of the cruel and inhumane laws we had on our Statute Book for far too long created a culture of prosecution and, indeed, persecution. Gay and lesbian citizens of this Republic were tormented, discriminated against and stigmatised for just being who they were. They were made criminals for the offence of having a sex life. These laws gave expression to social and cultural norms that called into serious doubt our ability and right to call this State a Republic. We have made significant progress in making this Republic, this State, a better and much more tolerant society. We have some way to go before we can truly conclude that journey is complete.I believe the next step is provided for in the legislation that my Labour Party colleagues and I proposed in early 2017, the Convictions for Certain Sexual Offences (Apology and Exoneration) Bill. I believe we need to fully engage in the exoneration element if we are to bring this process to its logical conclusion. We need to work together to identify a legally sound and robust way to allow us to find a mechanism to disregard and set aside convictions carried by men for offences that have been repealed. I will continue to work with Government to allow that to happen - I gave the Minister my commitment on that.
I want to see this cathartic day prompt a debate on how we treat older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens in this country. Support services and recognition of their life experiences are needed and I hope that it will be reflected in a new LGBTI strategy. I understand this strategy is being brought to a conclusion shortly by Government.
Mention is frequently made in the context of this debate around the requirement for pardons to be introduced for men who are carrying convictions for offences that no longer exist. I want to see a broader exoneration. To state that a pardon is required suggests that those acts between two consenting adults were wrong. They were not wrong then and they are not wrong now. This is not simply semantics. It is a real difference. It was not wrong then and it is not wrong now. This is something we need to work towards in a unified fashion by introducing a safe legally robust system of disregards for convictions.
I wish to express my gratitude to the Ministers, including the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and specifically the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton. I thank their political staff and departmental officials for the support they have provided to me in this process during the past 18 months. I sincerely thank my colleagues, Karl Hayden and Aoife Leahy, co-chairs of the Labour Party LGBT group. It was the first LGBT group established by any political party in the country fully 15 years ago. I thank them for their unwavering support, advice and encouragement during the past 18 months or so. I am proud of the pioneering and often brave work undertaken individually by members of my party and by my party collectively for many decades. That work included the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, something we insisted upon as a price of our participation in government from 1992 to 1997. We have done significant work since then and we continue to work in this area. Nowhere has our campaigning work been more evident than in the way in which we have worked to try to transform and vindicate the rights of LGBTI citizens in this country. That work is not complete. It continues and I am keen to work with everyone within and outside this Chamber to make this country a better, more tolerant and more respectful republic for everyone.
Thank you, Senator Nash. I wish to remind Members that I have more Members seeking to speak than I have time available. I appeal to Members to be as brief as then can. Senator Ned O'Sullivan is next. You have five minutes, Senator.
I will not detain you, Acting Chairman. I did not prepare a speech but I wish to add my humble words. I commend Senator Nash on bringing forward this all-party motion.
We are talking about apologies. We tend to think that apologies come from the State, this amorphous State. The apology has to come from the people. I was one of those people. I was brought up in a rural place in the 1950s and 1960s. I have to apologise because we grew up in total ignorance. Sexual education was a joke. If I had to talk about sexuality in my teenage years it was in a state of confusion. Homosexuality was absolutely a mystery of the highest order, and we behaved accordingly. I remember some friends of mine, including schoolmates, who were highly talented individuals. They were really artistic people who were good at music, dance and so on. They lived blighted lives because they did not fit in. Most of them got the hell out of Kerry and out of Ireland as soon as they could. I feel a sense of guilt about that and this is my day to express it. It was not only in Ireland, by the way. One of the greatest actors of our time, John Gielgud, was prosecuted once for being in a public toilet with a man. It was not only Ireland, but we can only answer for ourselves.
I wish to join in the warm tributes paid by the Minister, Senator Lawless and others to Senator David Norris. I was in college in Dublin many years ago when I started reading about this crackpot who was making a nuisance of himself down around the town. I liked him. I am a fast learner and I quickly regretted my previous attitudes to things like homosexuality. We have to be prepared to grow. I wish to pay tribute to the Leader of the House, Senator Buttimer, as well as Senators Warfield and Nash. I compliment the Civic Engagement Group, which in recent years has been proactive and has helped to widen our horizons as well. I have no wish to sound like a party partisan. A person may be a member of a political party but may not like everything that party does. There are days when a member is inspired and days when he is totally depressed. Anyway, I remember one of my proudest days in Fianna Fáil was in 1993, when I was a young councillor and I saw Máire Geoghegan-Quinn signing off on the decriminalisation of homosexuality. That was a proud day for me. It was along the lines of when Jack Lynch brought forward the referendum to remove the special position of the Catholic Church. We still have work to do. We can divide people into two - those who welcome and embrace change and those who fear change. Change has to be challenged and examined, naturally. You are moving me on, Acting Chairman.
Roosevelt said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear of change motivated a great many of the people who opposed the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. I think fear was at the root of much of the "No" vote. I sympathise with people who have fear. We have to assuage their fears and work with people to help them through those fears.
Their fears are unfounded. Nothing happened when homosexuality was decriminalised. The country did not fall to pieces. We did not all become rampant homosexuals overnight.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act did not change much but it changed things for the better. I know that the terrible things threatened when we voted "Yes" will not come to pass. This is a good day. I cannot leave without complimenting the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, who is here with us now and who has been a leader in this field.
It is great to see the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, in the Chamber. I am especially delighted that she is here at this time and at this junction. It is appropriate that she is here. I welcome all the people in the Gallery. I thank Senator Nash and his Labour Party colleagues for coming up with this idea and preparing this motion. I wish to acknowledge the work of Senator Jerry Buttimer as our Leader. We are very proud of Jerry. It is not easy for a person to go out and tell his story and to put it out there all the time. While we are public figures, we are also private individuals. Our story impacts on so many other people through our own relationships. That is something that people do not always remember, so it is important to say it.
I wish to acknowledge the great role of Senator David Norris and the former Senator and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson. It says everything about the great Seanad and the capacity, capability and opportunity that this Chamber, this political stage, offers people.
Senator Norris has used it effectively. We all know of the long battle that began in 1977, when Senator Norris initiated his case against Ireland's oppressive laws on homosexuality. He has told me on many occasions of that lonely road. I know he does not mind my sharing it in the House. It was a road on which people spat at others and turned on the opposite side. It was where a church and congregation shut its doors to people who were committed to being involved. These are the lonely stories that no one tells. It is a long road but Senator Norris was brave enough for it. He took his case to the High Court in 1980. Again, it was rejected there. Then he went to the Supreme Court in 1983, where it was also rejected by five judges. We should remember that five judges found that the law in force did not contravene the Constitution, which we hold up in our hands and of which we are proud. Then there was great Europe. We turned to the European Court of Human Rights. It was there, with help from Mary Robinson, the former Senator and former President of Ireland, where the judges finally ruled that Irish law contravened human rights. The court in Europe vindicated our rights. I always say that when we talk about Europe, we must never forget that great role.Europe is at the heart of our lives and we wish to be at the heart of Europe. On so many occasions, whether in the area of human rights, of environmental rights or in respect of so much other legislation, we have found support there and we must not forget that. The Norris-Robinson legal challenge was one of the most important steps in the liberation of gay people in Ireland. That is worth saying. It was one of the most important steps in, and foundations of, the liberation of gay people in this country. It led to a new generation of gay people being able to live their lives fully, more openly and, more importantly, authentically. We are all called to live our lives and to be authentic in them.
I would like to turn to two parts of the motion because it talks about an area over which we cannot go, that of hate crimes. Let us be vigilant. All is not well. We need to address hate crime, particularly in this area. Second, the last part of this motion talks about ensuring "our foreign policy promotes and protects human rights globally-----
-----including the rights of LGBTI individuals, who continue to suffer disproportionate levels of violence and face systemic discrimination in many countries." That is where we need to shine our light. That is where we need to put our focus. We need to not be complacent within ourselves because this issue is really important. We need to actually pursue those commitments. It is a good day. We have made a lot of progress. I acknowledge the sterling work the former Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, did in his role-----
-----because he made this issue one of his conditions of government and he continued to work quietly for it. Today, of course, we have marriage equality, which was a real success as part of that. I thank all of the people involved and those people who brought forward this motion today. Well done. Well done to Senator Norris as well. He is a brave, courageous, feisty individual. We are truly proud of what he has achieved and we hope he will achieve more with us.
With my discretion, I might allow Senator Norris to go a little bit over his five minutes. Therefore I ask Senators Grace O'Sullivan, Bacik and Buttimer to curtail their debates because we will have to finish by 6 p.m. Our next speaker is Senator Grace O'Sullivan and I ask her to keep her contribution within the best confines she can.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s I sailed on many Greenpeace ships. I was lucky because on those multinational crews were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people. That was the community of which I was part. I was lucky enough to be able to embrace that community at an early stage of my life and as a member of the Green Party, which has also campaigned for the rights of all of these communities since its foundation. I bow my head to Senator Norris and I thank him for all he has done for the communities here in Ireland. I also bow my head to the Leader of the House, Senator Buttimer, and I anticipate all of the work of our young Senators, such as Senator Warfield, and of those who will come to make sure that we, as a society and as a people, will be better for all that is being done now for the rights of, and fairness and equality for, the citizens of Ireland.
I thank Senator Grace O'Sullivan for both her contribution and her brevity because I do want to allow Senator Norris in. Equally, I have Senators Bacik and Buttimer and I have to allow the Minister to have at least three minutes. She has been very generous in allowing her time to be curtailed by two minutes to allow for Senator Norris. We must be finished by 6 p.m. however.
As Samuel Beckett might say, this is another happy day. I am very grateful to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, for his generous comments. Not all of them were accurate. I look at the Gallery and I see a dozen old comrades who played such a significant role in this period. I salute every single individual one of them for this. They are often forgotten - I was the headliner - but the work they did was absolutely crucial. It is extremely gracious of the Government to issue an apology for a Bill that did not originate in this country. These were British imperial statutes and we should not accept any responsibility for them. The Irish people were always generous, decent and compassionate. In 1967 or thereabouts, Mícheál Mac Gréil wrote a book calledPrejudice and Tolerance in Irelandand he showed that even at that stage, before the gay movement got going, a plurality of people in Ireland believed the laws were wrong. I also wish to pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, who, with Ann Louise Gilligan, played such a remarkable role in the campaign for marriage equality.
There is a friend of mine in the Gallery who told me a story just yesterday. He met somebody, they agreed to have sex and, when they finished, he discovered that a watch and a large sum of money were gone. He went to the police and the fellow was caught, but he then said that it had been payment for sex and the whole thing was dropped because my friend was then faced with a criminal charge. He never got the watch or the money back. This is what people felt with regard to the police. They were ashamed and terrified. It was not all grim, however. There was an awful lot of fun involved. I ask for the indulgence of the House for some broad language.
I remember the first gay pride march, which I think was in 1974. I had a picket that said homosexuals are revolting. The 46A bus nearly went into the railings of St. Stephen's Green. We were picketing the Department of Justice. All of the secretaries had their eyes out on stalks. A lorry drove up and the Minister's new carpet was thrown out on the pavement, followed by a helper who got out, took one look at us and said to the driver, "Jaysus Mick, fucking queers". Mick got out, took one look and said "What about it? I don't give a bollix, a picket is a fucking picket mate". He took up my picket and walked around with us for five minutes. I thought that was a wonderful example of working-class solidarity.
I thank the Acting Chairman very much. We had a remarkable legal team, which included Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, now two former Presidents of Ireland. It also included Garret Cooney and Paul Carney. We lost in the High Court but it was really good judgment. Mr. Justice McWilliam accepted all the evidence we introduced. This is a principal theme I added in. I insisted on having expert witnesses from all over the world to end the silence, and it worked. We were on the front page of the newspapers day after day. That was a remarkable achievement. We had Professor John Spiegel, who was head of the American Psychiatric Association when it removed homosexuality's classification as an illness, and we had Donald West, regius professor of forensic psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. Then, however, Mr. Justice McWilliam took a swerve and said that nevertheless, despite all this, he had to find against the plaintiff because of the Christian and democratic nature of the State. We then went off to the Supreme Court where we actually got a divided judgement, three judges to two. The Chief Justice misdirected himself in law and two other eejits signed his judgment, but there were two very important dissenting judgments which dealt with privacy and withlocus standi, which were made by Mr. Justice McCarthy and Mr. Justice Henchy. I then remember Míne Bean Uí Chribín saying to me that she knew me, that I would not be satisfied with homosexual decriminalisation and that the next thing I would want would be homosexual marriage. I said that was a wonderful idea, I thanked her and told her that she should let me know if she had any further ideas.
I then put down the first Civil Partnership Bill in 2004. The Government followed it up with a Bill which I denounced as a dog licence. I am absolutely unabashed because, although I know there is somebody in the Gallery who lambasted me for it, it is the role of a human rights activist to go for the gold, not to accept any crumb that falls from the table of government. There were 179 differences between the Bills. The language was nastily anti-gay in that legislation.
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was wonderful. The Opposition put down mean-minded amendments that were discriminatory. She listened and said - and this is the golden rule - that as Minister for Justice, she would need clear, cogent and factual reasons for accepting any discriminatory amendments, that she had not found such and that, therefore, she would not accept the amendments. This is a good day. I would also like to mention the late Dr. Noel Browne, who was the first person to speak about homosexuality. I would like to solemnly thank my colleagues in the Gallery for the wonderful work they did.
I was willing to be far more indulgent than I have actually had to be. The Senator's contribution has been more than welcome.
We have two final speakers for whom only five minutes remain. While the Minister is supposed to have at least five minutes, she is willing to allow two to three minutes. It would be great if Senators Bacik and Buttimer could manage to do it in seven minutes.
It is wonderful to welcome the Minister to the House. I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with her on equality issues for many years. It is wonderful to remember her wife, Ann Louise Gilligan, and to pay tribute to all our distinguished visitors in the Gallery. Again, it has been a pleasure and privilege to know and have worked with many of them over the years. It is also wonderful to stand behind my colleague, Senator Norris, who has blazed a trail for so many people for so long on equality and LGBTI issues.
I am proud to support this motion and to be part of the Labour group. I commend my colleague, Senator Nash, who has worked hard on this in conjunction with the Minister and the Government to ensure that this is genuinely a cross-party motion and that we can celebrate the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. This significant important apology and exoneration will mean so much to so many people.
There are other legacy issues we can deal with to make Ireland a more progressive and equal society. We did something about that several weeks ago with our vote on 25 May. I am pleased to be here and help celebrate this. I give way to my colleague and another great comrade in the struggle, Senator Buttimer.
In welcoming the Minister, I acknowledge her bravery and remember Ann Louise Gilligan. I congratulate Senator Norris for his leadership over generations. There are people in the Gallery whom we must acknowledge and support, not least our good friend, Tim Hayes, a Leinster House usher, as well as Kieran Rose, John-Paul Callinan from Cork, and Edmund Lynch, people who stood up when it was uncool to do so. We remember the late Chris Robson today, who was one of my heroes. He inspired like Senator Norris to instill bravery in us. I smiled when Senator Warfield said he was only a year and a half old 25 years ago. I remember being that soldier who was afraid to walk into Loafers in Cork or to celebrate a relationship. In my job as a teacher, I could have been fired. However, people like Arthur Leahy and Cathal Kerrigan in Cork transformed lives for many of us and gave us hope.
It is a special day for equality and civil liberties. It is one we perhaps thought we would never get to. The Minister for Justice and Equality said in his contribution that the past cannot be undone. Today, however, is a day that can help. It is a day we recognise Máire Geoghegan-Quinn but that we did not all become gay 25 years ago. As Senator Norris said, we were there long before that. Imagine the number of people could have lived a much different and a much better life had our culture and our laws not been the way they were. I want to remember those men, some of whom are with us today, friends of ours, who left our country and some who went to their eternal reward. We are fortunate that we can say nice and genuine things about Senator Norris and he can listen to them.
It is about time the Senator was embarrassed.
We always needed a leader. Today is about two people. It is about the bravery of Senator Norris and a Minister who signed the Bill to decriminalise homosexuality. That is why we are saying sorry. More important, that is why we are saluting the people in the Gallery. We thank and salute them for their courage. Our world is a better place for what they have done. No words of mine or from other members of the LGBT community can say enough thanks. Their legacy is there for all time. They have made our lives a better place. They have made us speak about who we are. We can wear a ring and celebrate our lives.
When the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, asked me to do the wrap-up speech for this motion, I jumped at the chance because I thought first of all of Senator Norris. I want to acknowledge his extraordinary bravery. As Senator Boyhan said, it was such a difficult time for him to start this campaign. I remember when he came up to me and Ann Louise Gilligan at our first fundraiser for our efforts to move forward the agenda, he spoke to us about how difficult and how challenging it would be. There were many people around us to support us then but that was not the case for him when he started his campaign. He still moved forward and managed to convince, not only a nation, but the European Court of Human Rights. He also convinced the Government at the time to enable the decriminalisation of homosexuality. I jumped at the chance to come here and salute Senator Norris, as well as to acknowledge his bravery and courage. Ann Louise Gilligan and I were privileged to follow in his footsteps, stand on his shoulders and walk alongside him as we continued the freedom journey.
It is also marvellous to see so many of our people in the Gallery, to acknowledge them and all that they did. They worked with us as we brought forward these changes, with the support of the Labour Party. I acknowledge the motion tabled by Senator Nash. Senator Bacik was our junior counsel in our case. She is so humble that she never says that. I acknowledge Eamon Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte and Deputy Joan Burton.
Senator Buttimer showed leadership in his emotional coming out and during the marriage equality referendum. I acknowledge what was done by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Fianna Fáil. I shook the hand of Senator Warfield and Sinn Féin. Then there is the work of the Independents. It is extraordinary that this is not just an all-party motion but that we have practised this way in legislation, policy-making and resourcing. It is because of the courage of Senator Norris.
I am so privileged to be back in the Seanad, a place I love. It is where I was first able to say as a public representative that I am a lesbian and am proud to be here. It is right and fitting that we do this here. It will be done in the other House shortly. It is important we are finally saying, "Sorry". I was sitting here earlier thinking how sorry I am about the times I hid my sexual identity and how the apology will contribute to the ongoing freedom, especially of our young people whom Senator Norris loves as well.