Convictions for Certain Sexual Offences (Apology and Exoneration) Bill 2016: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I will be sharing time with my colleague, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

I am pleased to introduce 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 loved. On 23 May 2015 this 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 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 being beamed into their homes. It was a powerful expression of who we were - 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 not lived long enough to see that day of days. I thought of those who, for the bulk, if not all, of their lives had been isolated, alienated, discriminated against, persecuted and, in some cases, prosecuted for being who they were. I also thought of colleagues like Senator David Norris, whose personal courage and, at times, sheer bloody-mindedness helped to usher in legislative changes and changes in societal attitudes and opinions. He cannot be here today, but I know that he is following the debate attentively.

The 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 related 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 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 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 as a society we have come a long way in a relatively short space of time and made Ireland a better, more equal and tolerant place. Many 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 issues, as well as Senators Ivana Bacik, David Norris, Jerry Buttimer and others.

When I sat the leaving certificate examinations in 1993, sexual acts between same-sex couples were illegal. By the time I got to college in September of that year, gay men had finally been 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 the country a much better, more tolerant and inclusive place.

An important element of the 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 United Kingdom, we should apologise to and exonerate those who were convicted of sexual offences before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993. They would be innocent of committing any crime today. Turing's law, as it has become known in the United Kingdom, was passed yesterday, but unlike the proposition before us, 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 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 David Stanton, and 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 a campaigner and advocate for equality, to not just agree not to oppose the Bill but to accept it, its central ambition and the manner and spirit in which it has been tabled. If the Minister of State and his ministerial colleagues are concerned about elements of the Bill, I suggest we take it to Committee Stage with the minimum of delay. We were 26 years behind the United Kingdom in decriminalising homosexuality. Let us not be left far behind again and let us act now. If there are 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". 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 Gerald Nash's Bill. I congratulate him on the work he has done to bring this important legislation before the House. At its heart 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 in society. That is not what equality means. It is not in the gift of one group to allow another to be themselves. Equality is very different. It is an understanding we are all equal in every sense and that if any group are deemed or perceived to be lesser, we will do everything in our power to override, undermine, fix and change that understanding.

In the past few 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 schools and we also passed the Gender Recognition Act and amended section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. These were five commitments made by the Labour Party which were achieved in government.

What we are doing 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 this as a state and apologise for it. The legislative provisions at the time and the constitutional provisions, until very recently, made people feel that they were lesser beings. They made people feel second best, not full and complete parts of this republic. I say this in the context of the current situation worldwide because often we can be quite complacent about the advancement of human rights and the equality agenda in this state and across Europe. As we look around the world today, we see the new political dispensation in Russia and the new political situation in the USA, where the Vice President has stated openly his belief LGBT people can be corrected by some bizarre form of medical intervention. That is the new political dynamic we are facing in the United States of America. We are saying quite clearly in Seanad Éireann today that this republic, on the edge of Europe, believes not only do LGBT people not need to be corrected but that the fact that LGBT people were not full, complete and equal members of this republic in the past is something for which we must apologise. We must be absolutely determined to ensure we will 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 - it will make it easy for members of the LGBT community to come to terms with themselves and come out to their family and friends in various parts of Ireland. There is, unfortunately, still a very dark road ahead for many young and not-so-young people who still feel as if they are living 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 states in America. That is not the case.

What we must do in this republic and the Houses of the Oireachtas is ensure 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 Gerald Nash, I sat my leaving certificate examinations 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 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 from where they came, found it remarkable that before 1993, engaging in homosexual activity was a criminal act.

I know that the Minister of State feels strongly about this issue. I congratulate him for the work he has done heretofore in his equality brief. We have met on a number of occasions to discuss various issues. He is a person with a deep commitment to equality. As Senator Gerald Nash said, when issues such as this come before the House, there is often a temptation for Governments to pick holes in things. There is sometimes a temptation for Opposition parties to play politics. In this instance, the Minister of State will acknowledge that Senator Gerald 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 ccould be done at a different stage of the legislative process.

The Members of 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 that this agenda is going in 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 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 time. I commend Senator Gerald Nash for the work he has done and my Labour Party colleagues for supporting the Bill. I commend Senators across the House who are standing in solidarity with the Bill and the Minister of State's endeavours to bring this issue to the fore. It will mean an awful lot for people who lived in the shadows 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 David Stanton. He is a Minister of State and a politician who is deeply committed to the principles of equality, as he proved in the work he did as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I commend Senators Gerald Nash and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin for bringing forward what I think is very important legislation. Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin spoke about the 1990s, which was when we sat our leaving certificate examinations. I shared the campus at Belfield with Senator Gerald Nash when we were both student activists and it was quite shocking. Senator Alice-Mary Higgins was also there. It is amazing. It is like a UCD alma mater-----

It is like a reunion.

I was not born.

The Senators plan to meet up here. Is that it?

Yes. Former Senator and Leader of the House Maurice Manning was our lecturer at the time.

This is exceptionally important legislation. It is funny when one talks about an apology because the word "sorry" is only one word but it means so much to so many. 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 made 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 last week on the teaching of history and believe that in order to look to the future, one has to understand the past. The wrongs that 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 would, in a sense, be acknowledging that somebody did 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 the Minister will not oppose it. If there is tweaking to be done, it will only be of a technical nature to ensure everything will stand up to whatever scrutiny the Attorney General and others may give 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 is over-fulfilling promises. It is creating a new definition of political promise and delivery and rhetoric and all that is going on. The people who will suffer as a result are those on the margins. The people who suffered bigotry and all that goes with it in the past are the ones who will suffer most from what is going on. What we achieved in the marriage equality referendum was world renowned. We set a standard and a template for what Ireland, as a small country, could 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. This is a small country, but it is a country with a proud tradition and 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 happened in the past and putting the structures in place to say the simple word "sorry" is something on which we should definitely come together and unite in this House. I sincerely hope the work Senator Gerald Nash has done to bring this Bill to the floor of the House will receive unanimous support and that we will see the Bill becoming an Act signed by the President and part of who we are and the structures of society. I wish the Bill well. I look forward to engaging on it on both Committee and Report Stages. I hope I will be here to welcome its passing when it is passed by the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and commend the Labour Party group for bringing forward the Bill which my party, Fianna Fáil, will be happy to support. I was glad to hear Senator Gerald Nash mentioning our colleague, Senator David Norris, who cannot be with us and remembering the great work he did 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 examinations. I sat my leaving certificate examinations 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 will give some comfort and redress to those who were on the wrong side of things in those days. The poet Philip Larkin said sex came to Britain sometime between the end of the ban on Lady Chatterley's Lover and the Beatles' first LP. I do not think it came to County Kerry quite as fast.

My party has a good record in terms of the general thinking behind the 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 Press which 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 that of 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 the Bill to undo some of the damage 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 done by the State to gay men and those close to them. It seems surreal at a time of such increasing acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community 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 its Final Stages in this House only 24 years ago in June. It is the sad reality that Ireland's record on LGBTQI+ equality issues has been a noticeable stain on our 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 equality of LGBTQI+ citizens, as evidenced by the major legislative initiatives in recent years such as the legislation on civil partnership in 2010 and the passage of the historic Gender Recognition Bill in 2015, not to mention that incredible day for politics 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 what happened on 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 it showed, hailing it as a landmark day for Irish politics and the true achievement of equality for LGBTQI+ citizens. While in many ways I share that sentiment and fully recognise what a special day it was for many people, I often feel that, because there is such a strong perception that equality was secured for LGBTQI+ people in the marriage equality referendum, the urgency of the fight for advancement and our ongoing commitment to always look for avenues to improve the lives of LGBTQI+ citizens have dissipated somewhat.

It is easy to look at the referendum result and think 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 the 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 LGBTQI+ citizens. For example, transgender citizens under the age of 18 years and those who identify as gender non-binary are still not adequately accommodated under the Gender Recognition Act 2015. This needs to be changed. 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 made by the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to lift the lifetime ban of MSM blood donations, 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 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 applaud Malta for last month being the first European country to ban gay conversion therapy. It would be a significant statement of Ireland's commitment to equality for LGBT citizens if the Oireachtas were to consider enacting a similar ban.

Another issue relates to the worrying statistics for 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 the "No" campaign had during the marriage equality referendum on the mental health and well-being of those in the Irish LGBT community. In the light of this and the concern and statistics, we should be considerate and target national efforts to deal with these problems.

Another worrying statistic shows the recent increasing level of HIV 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 on the preventive drug PrEP and improving LGBT+ specific sexual education in schools.

I was also contacted recently by a retired lecturer from Trinity College Dublin whose same-sex partner's pension entitlements were denied as the lecturer had not been married by the age of 60 years, despite the fact that civil partnerships were not even legal before he turned 60. I understand this extraordinarily unfair administrative anomaly will be dealt with by Senator Ivana 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, 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 the future. All of the challenges that faced the LGBT+ community were not resolved on 22 May 2015. All of the challenges that face that same community today will not be resolved 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 LGBT+ citizens in the future. I am proud to support the Bill.

I thank Senator Gerald Nash and his colleagues for bringing the Bill to the House. It deals with 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 here quick to partake in the debate. It was my intention to come, but I was delayed. I was also present for Senator fintan Warfield's valid contribution. They were two compelling cases for why we should be supporting the Bill.

What are we talking about? The explanatory memorandum states the 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; 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, but what I am more concerned about and seeking clarify on is that the explanatory memorandum further states the Bill will not confer any statutory right on any person, not create a cause of action or cause the fresh accrual of a cause of action, and 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 David Stanton, will be familiar with the redress legislation brought forward by a previous Government. It recognised the hurt, the violation and the abuse of citizens. The State brought forward a redress scheme. It will not right all wrongs, but it is in place and has been established. That is an important point.

I am supportive. I am also mindful of the great work Senator David Norris who is not with us 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 others. All politicians, on all sides, do this in both Houses of the Oireachtas and there are various reasons for how they so operate.

Ultimately we want equality, fairness and justice. An apology simply is not enough. Through legislation, offering opportunities and education, employment law and everything else, we have to demonstrate time and 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 the House. At this point I am happy to commit myself to supporting this legislation on every Stage. It is positive and progressive and while it may not go far enough, it is a big start.

I will speak on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who regrets she cannot be present owing to other business, but she is very interested in this issue. I also thank Senators Gerald Nash, Ivana Bacik, Kevin Humphreys and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin for introducing the Bill.

The Bill 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 from 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 Gerald Nash alluded. Alan Turing's life was portrayed recently in "The Imitation Game". If one saw it, one would have seen the injustice meted out to him in the end. Mention also was made of Oscar Wilde. I join in recognising the work of Senator David Norris in this area.

There is no system of disregarding convictions in Ireland. 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 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 the 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 had received as a consequence of their actions was unduly harsh, an apology for such treatment and an exoneration in respect of those acts which had occurred in the special circumstances of the Second World War.

The disregard of a conviction in the United Kingdom in such cases is of offences under the 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 years 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 the authorities in Northern Ireland are preparing to implement the 2015 Bill which has now been 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 Bill, it is clear that it is significantly different from the formalised approach I have outlined. Section 1 sets out the now abolished offences to which the Bill will 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 for 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 person, create a cause of action, as the Senator 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 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 said, some of these issues can and will be dealt with on Committee Stage when the details can be tweaked. The point which gives rise to the most significant concern is that the Bill, as 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 for persons convicted of consensual same-sex sexual acts, the Bill will, in fact, extend beyond the boundaries of that objective in the manner outlined. This would have very serious implications, not least for the victims of such crimes. I am sure the Senators sponsoring the Bill will give careful consideration to how this issue might be dealt with. It may be that the declaratory effect of the Bill can be clarified.

The United Kingdom takes a different approach, which is to look at each case individually and ensure 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 dividing the cases into those in which consent was an issue and it was not.

The Senators’ Bill also seeks to extend its provisions to convictions which took place prior to the creation of Saorstát Éireann. That 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. 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. 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 it believes require further consideration if the Bill is to achieve its purpose and not have unintended consequences. All legislation goes through this process, which 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 sought to incorporate all of 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 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, which is why the Government is concerned about the impact of unintended consequences of the Senators' Bill, particularly on the victim, if exoneration was to be extended 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, 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 improving the lot of the victim which has too often been forgotten. The 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 the Bill and very much welcome the debate.

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 about the Bill. I commend Senator Gerald Nash and his Labour Party colleagues for 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 historical perspective and for those men still alive and their families who will be affected by its provisions.

I must, unfortunately, introduce a discordant note in pointing out that Senator Lynn Ruane's contribution was very negative, given the gargantuan changes we have seen.

Senator Lynn Ruane is not in the Chamber.

I know that 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 changes 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 of friends who are living abroad and do not want to return to Ireland because of the way they were treated here. I salute them. I think of the many people who are scared to come out, older people in particular, in communities. This tremendous day is for all of them. As Senator Victor 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 organisations who do that every day. They are champions of equality.

Senator Lynn Ruane is one such person.

My point is that on a day for celebration, Senator Lynn Ruane's comments were somewhat negative. I am entitled to my view and express it as a Member of the House.

The purpose of the Bill is to enhance equality, fairness and justice for those who were 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 gay people were viewed and the way we were treated by the State, the church and society. Fortunately, we have moved on and the Bill serves as another symbol of progression towards full equality. I share Senator Lynn 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 had the progress on the road to equality we have seen. We would not have had the changes in marriage equality, adoption, inheritance and tax law and blood donations. The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and his predecessor, Deputy Leo Varadkar, drove the latter change. I reject any negative connotation to what we have done and are doing in that regard. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard 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. These 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 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.

The Leader should say that to the young transgender people who do not have a pathway because the legislation refuses to provide it.

This and the last Government have been the most progressive ever on the issue of equality. I challenge anybody on that assertion. 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.

I am not lecturing anybody.

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. The Bill is about our friends 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 that we were lesser beings. That is why the Bill is welcome. It is a celebration of those people who have died and cannot be here. I celebrate, too, Senator David Norris and all jof 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 Lynn Ruane's remarks. I see that she is back in the Chamber.

I would like to respond to the remarks made about me by the Leader while I was not in the House. He is out of order. I am being blamed for having aspirations and not being complacent about what has been done to date.

The Senator must allow the Leader to continue.

He is dissing me for having aspirations for the future. If he had been here for the whole debate, he would know that I said nothing different from what was said by other speakers.

The Leader singled me out because he came in late and only heard my contribution.

The point I am making is that this is a day for celebration. The Government and its predecessor have worked more than any other in the history of the State to bring about equality.

That does not mean that we should not acknowledge what remains to be done.

The Senator must allow the Leader to continue, without interruption.

We have brought about change.

Who said that was not the case?

Will the Senator, please, resume her seat?

The Leader is incorrect that I did not acknowledge the changes achieved.

The 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 recognise and remember those 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 Lynn Ruane made was overtly negative on blood donations and pension provisions. The last Government changed inheritance and tax law under the Finance Acts to ensure equal treatment for all citizens.

The Bill 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 the 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 the 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 Parliament, conscious of the legacy of the State and recognising the improvements we have made in the lives of people. Like Senator Lynn 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 David Stanton.

I commend my colleagues in the Labour Party group, Senators Gerald Nash and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, for proposing and seconding this important Bill. I am very proud as leader of the Labour Party group to speak in support of the 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 on 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 on how much or how little remains to be done or the tone of the debate, we are all in agreement on the need to ensure we will build on the equality measures already passed in successive years, another of which we are celebrating.

On behalf of Labour Party 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 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 victims will not in any way be 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 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 through being convicted of acts that are no longer criminal and which were consensual and did not involve persons under the age of 17 years. The legislation is very clear in that regard and provides for an apology and exoneration for those convicted who may no longer be alive.

The Minister of State referred to Turing's law, which is coming into force in Britain this week and 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 for 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 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 them on Committee Stage. The important point today is to celebrate the fact that we are all here in support of the Bill and the important principle it contains which will make a real difference to so many.

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 him speak very eloquently about his experience of taking the famous case which led to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and, ultimately, decriminalisation in 1993, a matter about which others have spoken. He also spoke publicly at a meeting we held in Trinity College Dublin - I had never heard him speak about this issue before - about his work, with many others in providing character references for men who were being prosecuted in the courts in the 1970s under the 1885 Act for offences such as that related to gross indecency, about which Senator Ned O'Sullivan spoke. Subsequently, we published some of the transcripts of the hearings. It 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, Mr. 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. That 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, 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 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 to pass marriage equality by way of popular vote, which was hugely significant.

There are legacy issues, to which Senator Lynn Ruane referred. The issues in question relate to anomalies in our laws. The Bill seeks to address one of them, 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, about which Senator Lynn Ruane also spoke. She referred to the case of Mr. David Parris, also a colleague of mine in Trinity College Dublin, 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's pension owing to what is called an anti-gold digger clause that requires people to have married before a particular age. In Mr. Parris's case, the Trinity College Dublin pension scheme stipulates the age of 60 years. He had reached the age of 60 years before he was legally able to marry or enter a civil partnership with his long-term partner. 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 Fintan Warfield so eloquently said, that there are many LGBT people living in countries such as Uganda and Russia and many others where there is no such equality and people still live in fear of expressing their sexuality. Even in Ireland, my colleague in Trinity College Dublin, Professor Mark Bell, recently published on the ongoing concerns about ongoing discrimination in the workplace that LGBT persons, particularly transgender persons, in Ireland experienced. In 2013 the Fundamental Rights Agency survey of Ireland found that 20% of LGBT people across the EU had reported experiencing workplace discrimination. In Ireland the figure is 18%, but it 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 the workplace. 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 will find very few cases being taken related 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 believe they have to be silenced in some way about their sexual orientation.

The Bill started life as Private Members' legislation to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which I introduced in the previous Seanad and 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 of our colleagues. Senator Gerald 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 parties or groups for this important legislation.

I think we all agree that 23 May 2015 was a truly historic day for the country. The declaration by the people 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 had 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 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 the Bill, commend Senator Gerald Nash and his colleagues for bringing it forward. It is also welcome 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 done by the State against vulnerable and minority groups. I could think of the women in Magdalen laundries and Bethany Homes, children in industrial schools and people with disabilities. The list could go on and on. A group of citizens who were treated disgracefully is the group at which the Bill is aimed, namely, the homosexual and LGBT community. The Bill will strengthen and reinforce the abolition of previous apparent sexual offences such as buggery and offences against the person which we know today were never criminal acts. We know that 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, quite frankly, was abhorrent.

In 1895 one of Ireland's most celebrated wordsmiths, Oscar Wilde, was sentenced in England to two years' hard labour for the so-called crime of being a homosexual - for loving another man. It is appropriate during the debate on this important Bill to read a few lines from Oscar Wilde's great poem and rebuke to the society that had imprisoned and criminalised him. I refer, of course, to "The Ballad of Reading Gaol". That incredible poem reads:

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.

With the permission of the Chair, I would like to share my time with Senator Alice Mary Higgins.

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-----

I understand that, but I would like it to be noted.

Senator Lynn Ruane was not present either when Senator Jerry Buttimer spoke.

She was not present when he made his comments, but I would like it to be noted that I was very disappointed by his behaviour.

It was an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Then he should have been more careful in what he said.

He upset the whole House.

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 some of the concrete and practical suggestions put forward by Senators Fintan Warfield and Lynn Ruane and others are part of that ambition. The 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 and recognise as having been wrong. We need to mark the past ground as unacceptable and 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 today. 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 put down 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 in which LGBT rights need to be respected and promoted in an active way. I imagine the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, whose work overlaps into that area, will seek to do that also.

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 also.

This is a practical measure. We have seen how a criminal measure can change 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 also.

I thank all of 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 its principle but he also fully endorses its ambition. He referred to the declaratory effect. He has got it in one. The Bill is declaratory by nature and effect, deliberately so.

I was involved in the campaign for an amnesty for members of the Defence Forces who had deserted to fight with the British Army during the Second World War. They 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 United Kingdom and the former Minister Alan Shatter to resolve the matter.

We have examined the matter closely. We have examined the impact of the legislation in considering the approach we should take.

The Minister of State raised significant concerns related to non-consensual acts. It was never the intention of the Bill that there would be an apology to or an exoneration of anyone involved in convictions pertaining to non-consensual acts. I trust that the Minister of State accepts this. I know that 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 in that regard. We have no difficulty in working with him and officials to clarify the intentions of elements of the Bill. If he believes it can be improved on the advice of the Attorney General, we are open to suggestions.

I appeal to the Minister of State, given his good nature and 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 of new politics – perhaps it is intended – 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 Ivana Bacik and me. Senator Ivana Bacik developed the Competition (Amendment) Bill last year. She worked closely with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, and officials to get the legislation right to bring it to a point where it went through all Stages in the Seanad. It will be taken in the Dáil shortly and 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 Lynn Ruane and Jerry Buttimer put paid to it. I mean that in the best possible way. I thank all Senators for their support. I know that Senator Jerry Buttimer is passionate about this entire agenda, as is everyone, including Senator Lynn Ruane. Senator Fintan 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 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 these places. They are concerned about the appalling vista in one of the world's largest, most significant and important democracies.

In recent years we have had a good record in 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 had been victims of clerical sexual abuse. The Taoiseach performed a great service to the nation. One of his proudest days was when he stood up in the Dáil to express his sorrow and apologise on behalf of the people to those who had been the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

The marriage equality referendum represented a landmark for us in the country reaching adulthood. The adoption of legislation to provide for an apology to gay men who were criminalised by this society and for their exoneration would mark our maturity as a nation. I am keen for the Minister of State to consider this and engage with us positively to move the legislation expeditiously through the process. Together, we can develop it 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 they 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.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 7 February 2017.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 2 February 2017.