That Dáil 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acknowledges that the laws repealed in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 that criminalised consensual sexual activity between men: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;
— 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 thirty 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 & Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010;
— the Marriage Equality Referendum and the Marriage Act 2015;
— the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015; and
— 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 am grateful that we all have this opportunity to mark the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland. It can be hard to change laws, and it can be even harder to change hearts and minds, to change what is considered normal, and to change a culture. Twenty-five years ago this week, President Mary Robinson signed into law an historic Act that brought an end to decades of cruelty and injustice. The Fianna Fáil-Labour Party coalition at the time deserves recognition for its courage in driving this change, and a special mention should be made of the then Minister for Justice, Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who piloted the legislation through this House and the Seanad. I also particularly want to acknowledge the work of Senator Ged Nash in introducing this motion.
Several pieces of legislation were repealed in 1993. Many were historical and stretched back to the 19th century, and even before the Famine. There was some legislation from 1842 and some from 1847, with the main legislation dating from 1861 and 1885. While that legislation was brought through the House of Commons rather than an Irish parliament, Irish Parliaments and Irish Governments defended it nonetheless for decades. They were very much dogmas of a different time and they dictated how we treated and mistreated our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters. It is oppressive to live in a constant state of humiliation and a constant state of fear. It is also deeply traumatic to feel that one is rejected by one's own country.
As the work of Professor Diarmaid Ferriter has shown, between 1940 and 1978 an average of 13 men a year were jailed for homosexual offences. Between 1962 and 1972, there were 455 convictions. I was born in 1979, and in the three years before that, there were 44 prosecutions in this country. It is not all that long ago, and it is very much in living memory. Homosexuality was seen as a perversion and trials were sometimes a cruel form of entertainment for the media and the public. Others saw it as a mental illness, including the medical profession at the time. For every one conviction, there were a hundred other people who lived under the stigma of prosecution, who feared having their sexual orientation made public and their lives and careers destroyed as a result.
Last summer, I was in San Francisco and I had the opportunity to visit a memorial in City Hall in honour of Harvey Milk. Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to office, and he was assassinated 40 years ago by those who were offended by, and opposed to, everything he stood for. His portrait now stands in the Taoiseach's office. Milk believed that hope was never silent, but too often in this country we were too silent on too many important issues for far too long. It was the voices of a brave few who gave us all hope and then changed things for everyone.
I was just a child when Declan Flynn was murdered in Fairview Park, his only crime being that he was gay. He was brutally attacked by five young men, one a teenager, who shouted: "Hide behind a tree. We are going to bash a queer." He died from asphyxia after been given an horrific beating by those men. When the Oireachtas makes something a crime, people believe that they have a licence to punish those whom they believe are committing it. These were young men who grew up in a society that feared and hated homosexuality. They took the law into their own hands, and all too often, people allowed the law to do its bashing for them.
A year after Declan Flynn's death, there were huge protests in Dublin, organised by a coalition of groups that were horrified at the lenient sentence given to his attackers. From that, a movement was mobilised in Ireland. The same year, we had the first Pride parade in Dublin. People would no longer remain silent. Pride, as we know, is now a festival of diversity, colour and inclusion, but we should not forget that it did not start out that way. Pride festivals in many parts of the world today are still very much protests, with protestors who get attacked.
The date of 22 May 2015 is one that I will never forget. It was the day of the marriage referendum, and the bench where Declan Flynn was killed at Fairview Park was covered with flowers and notes. We think of him today on this anniversary, and of the very different Ireland that we live in now. We also remember those who paved the way for this change. We had many tireless campaigners over the decades such as the people involved with the Irish Gay Rights Movement. We had the inspiring example of our own Senator David Norris, who brought his case for decriminalisation all the way to the Supreme Court 35 years ago and who never allowed defeat to dampen his determination or good humour.
We also owe a debt to Europe. In 1988, the European Court of Human Rights decided in favour of Senator Norris in a landmark case. That created the impetus and provided the momentum for us to change our laws. Some years later, Senator Norris wrote a letter to The Irish Times and said that, for the first time, he felt like he was a full and equal citizen in his own country. We should of course acknowledge, as he does, that he did not take the case on his own. A dozen men who could not be named took the case with him. Some of them are in the Gallery tonight.
So much has changed since then. Three years ago, we helped to transform how this country was seen around the world when we voted so decisively for marriage equality, the first country in the world to do so by popular vote. Last year, I had the privilege of being elected Taoiseach by this House, something that would have been unimaginable to politicians when I was born and perhaps seemed even impossible a few short years ago.
There are many people who helped change minds and change laws, and their contributions should also be remembered, people who fought for me and other gay people long before we fought for ourselves. I think today of people who are no longer with us - champions like Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan, someone whose courage helped to change the laws in this country.
We have a long history of same-sex relationships in this country, and it is something we should be more aware of. Indeed, Aristotle wrote that the Celts openly approved of same-sex relationships, and there are many references to such relationships in Irish mythology. They are even provided for in Brehon law.
It is no secret that a number of patriots who were involved in founding our State, men and women, were also gay. While the State's laws affected gay men in a legal sense, they had a chilling effect on lesbians as well.
Today, the people I want to pay a special tribute to on behalf of the Government are the unknown heroes, the thousands of people whose names we do not know, who were criminalised by our forebears. They are men and women of all ages who tried to live and love and be themselves in a society where their identity was feared and despised and who were aliens in their own country for their entire lives because they felt that love that dare not speak its name. We cannot erase the wrong that was done to them but we can say that we have learned as a society from their suffering. Their stories have helped to change us, as a country, for the better. They have made us more tolerant, understanding and human.
This evening, we mark the anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland and the progress made since then. We have come a long way, we remember those who suffered and also acknowledge that we have much more to do. There is always more to do, whether it is promoting LGBT equality on other parts of this island and around the world, combatting bullying in schools or the workplace or working to improve sexual health. Harvey Milk reminded us of the challenge we face in society to "break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions." He understood why it needed to be done. We do it for ourselves, for others, and most of all, for the young.