Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Legislation on Homesexuality.

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

3 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the matters covered at his briefing for political correspondents on 21 May; if, in particular, he will expand on his reported comments regarding the statement made to the European Court of Human Rights by the Irish Ambassador to the Council of Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The matters which were discussed at my meeting with the political correspondents on 21 May 1992 covered various topics of current interest. The newspaper reports in regard to the statement on legislation on homosexuality, referred to in the question, by the Irish Ambassador to the Council of Europe were incorrect in that his statement was not made to the Court of Human Rights but to a Council of Europe meeting of the Committee of Minister's Deputies on Human Rights. As regards the timing of the legislation, it will have to fit into the Government's legislative programme.

Would the Taoiseach not agree that the Government's record of compliance with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights is deplorable and that the various specific promises that have been made by Government Ministers have not been kept? In late 1990 the then Minister for Justice promised that we would have legislation on this matter before this House by late 1991. Will the Taoiseach state if such legislation will be brought before the House by the end of 1992? Will he comment also on his reported statements that the ambassador concerned was not speaking on behalf of the Government when he indicated the legislation would be dealt with by the end of this year?

First, I will reply to the latter part of the Deputy's question. The ambassador concerned said that the legislation is "included in the Government's legislative programme for 1992." The ambassador, on the basis of the information given to him by the Department of Justice in the earlier part of May, was following exactly the information available to him.

Of course, it is open to Government to establish their own priorities, and we changed our priorities after that date. The ambassador was quite in order in what he said. However, I have said here, and I will now repeat what I said last week, the Government's legislative position is that this legislation will not be before this House before the end of this year.

It is three and a half years since the European Court of Human Rights delivered its decision on the issue of homosexuality. Will the Taoiseach indicate when he expects the legislation to be brought before this House and will he also indicate how far advanced the legislation is?

I have already stated on numerous occasions in this House that such legislation is included in the Programme for Government and will take its place in the queue of priorities that the Government have already set. It will not be proceeded with this year, as I have already said. I have already listed the legislation that we want to seen from the Department of Justice this year; but this legislation is down the line in the queue, as I have already stated quite clearly.

I have nothing further to add to that. It appears the Deputy wants instant solutions to all the problems in the area of social legislation and may I remind him that we are just over 100 days in Government.

Fianna Fáil have been in Government for five years.

Surely the Taoiseach cannot say we are looking for an instant solution to this problem when the legislation has been promised on many occasions? May I ask the Taoiseach if the Government have considered legislation on homosexuality, if they have agreed to it and if, despite the delays to which he has referred, they will introduced such legislation?

The Deputy must not have listened to what I said. This legislation has not come before the Government yet. We have established a list of priority legislation which we want to see emanating from the Department of Justice and this legislation is down the line. That is the exact position.

Will it ever come to Government?

Deputies J. Bruton, De Rossa and G. FitzGerald rose.

There are a number of Deputies offering. I want to make progress on other qustions also. I will call Deputy John Bruton, Deputy Garrett FitzGerald and Deputy De Rossa for a final question.

May I ask the Taoiseach what is the priority list?

I will give the Deputy some of the priorities. The Home Ownership Bill and the White Paper on Marital Breakdown are the top priorities——

There are questions on the Order Paper in connection with that very matter.

This arises out of the Taoiseach's reply. It is a legitimate question and the Taoiseach might be allowed to reply.

The Deputy might look at Question No. 6 in the name of one of his colleagues.

May I ask the Taoiseach if he is serious about going back on a commitment entered into, as he said, in good faith by our ambassador to the other governments of the Council of Europe in respect of action to be taken following a decision made by the European Court of Human Rights three and a half years ago? Is he conscious of the consequences for this country's reputation, not only in regard to these areas, of going back on a commitment of that kind and the consequent action which may be taken against us because of that?

The Deputy did not listen to what I said in my reply. I said that this legislation is part of the Government's legislative programme and it will be proceeded with in due course. I also said that some of the measures to which I referred were the Government's top priority and this legislation would have to take its place in the queue.

The Commitment given by our ambassador was for 1992. The Government are going back on that commitment.

Deputy De Rossa for a brief, final question.

Will the Taoiseach put on the record of the House his commitment to introduced this legislation in compliance with the decision of the European Court on Human Rights? We are talking about an Act introduced in 1861. Therefore, we are not looking for an instant solution to the problem — it is over 130 years old. This Act criminalises adults in Irish society——

Questions, please.

——because of their sexual orientation.

I must proceed to another question.

I am asking the Taoiseach to put it on the record of this House that he is committed to introducing this legislation here.

Let us proceed by way of supplementary questions.

This legislation is part of the Government's legislative programme.