Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Vol. 257 No. 11

Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill 2018: Second Stage

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

We are starting this debate slightly earlier than I had expected, but I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also warmly welcome those in the Gallery.

There are not many.

They have not joined us yet.

I acknowledge those who are watching from elsewhere.

I am pleased to be able to introduce this Bill in the Seanad. The practice of conversion therapy has been condemned and discredited worldwide by institutions such as the UN Committee against Torture, the European Parliament and the Irish Council for Psychotherapy.

Yesterday, See Change began rolling out its May green ribbon campaign to encourage people to end mental health stigma. It is people's responsibility to maintain and nurture our own mental health and to do everything we can as ordinary human beings to assist our family members, friends, workmates and comrades in coping with whatever mental health challenges present in their lives. We must not fail to take action on the vacancy levels in our mental health services or the budget for such services being raided time and again. The human cost of this to families and communities is devastating.

The "LGBT Ireland" report was launched by former President McAleese in March 2016. One element of it studied more than 1,000 LGBTI young people between the ages of 14 and 25 years. Compared with a study conducted by UCD and Headstrong of youth mental health, LGBTI young people experience twice the level of self-harm, three times the level of attempted suicide and four times the level of severe stress, anxiety and depression.

From my experience, the primary mental health issues faced by my community can be adequately explained by the stigma faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people. We live in a society where many same-sex couples will not hold hands on the street, "gay" is still a term of abuse on the playground and mental distress is much higher among LGBTQI people.

Addressing the legacy of criminalisation and its impact on our culture is important. Homosexuality was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1973. When we reflect on LGBT experiences in mental health services, Professor Edward McCann and Ms Danika Sharek from the school of nursing and midwifery in Trinity College Dublin and UCD were published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing in 2014. Their survey noted negative experiences of mental health services, with 66% of people claiming an assumption that they were heterosexual, 29% claiming a negative reaction when they disclosed their LGBTI identities, 21% citing comments that their LGBTI identities were just a phase, and 13% claiming they were given advice that their orientation could be changed to a heterosexual one. The survey shows that the lingering damage of what was a long-standing policy still reverberates through the system at times.

A thread runs through many of the stories of people who have endured so-called conversion therapy. It is one whereby the individual who has come out to his or her family, having given that moment years of consideration, agrees to see someone on the request of a family member. I can only presume that the individual's willingness is grounded in a love for his or her mother, father, brother or sister and a deep desire for that person's acceptance. Our coming out stories often feature accusations of selfishness, with people asking how someone's coming out will affect them. Such a response can sometimes be just selfish worry, but it can also be as serious as blatant bigotry.

This Bill will help to affirm the identities of those who are struggling with their sexuality and deter others who seek to make interventions based on their fears or prejudices. It will prohibit conversion therapy as a deceptive and harmful act or practice against a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. We define "conversion therapy" as meaning any practice or treatment by a person who seeks to change, suppress or eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. This definition does not include any practice or treatment that provides assistance to an individual undergoing a gender transition, provides acceptance, support and understanding to a person or facilitates that person's coping, social supports and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions.

If enacted, the Bill would make it unlawful for any person to perform, offer to perform or advertise conversion therapy or to remove someone from the State for the purpose of conversion therapy. It also creates further offences that can only be committed by a professional, including referring a person to any other person to perform conversion therapy.

I share people's concerns about the acceleration of turmoil and hate in our fractured world. Sinn Féin is motivated to ensure that Ireland responds to that fractured world, a response that is aggressively focused on building a model, progressive, rights-based republic as a beacon of hope for people everywhere. For such short legislation, the Bill has a significant international dimension. If enacted untouched, this ban would be the most comprehensive prohibition of conversion therapy in the world. A number of months ago, the European Parliament passed a motion that stated: "[The European Parliament welcomes] initiatives prohibiting LGBTI conversion therapies and banning the pathologisation of trans identities and urges all Member States to adopt similar measures that respect and uphold the right to gender identity and gender expression". In banning this farcical practice, we would join Brazil, Malta, Ecuador, ten US states and two Canadian provinces.

Incidentally, a Brazilian judge approved gay conversion therapy last September, thus overturning a 1999 decision forbidding treatments that claimed to "cure" gay people. According to 2017 data from the Department of Justice and Equality, more Brazilians than any other nationality outside the European Union come to study in Ireland. Their influence has been felt and welcomed among our LGBT community. Speaking from the streets of São Paulo at a protest march towards the end of last year, Mr. Carlos Daniel, an activist and organiser, stated:

We have to help people understand that this decision wasn't something small. These types of thoughts are what get us killed here in Brazil every day. We are dehumanised and treated like objects. We have to show everyone that we exist and that the future is ours.

These are the realities that often bring people to our home on this island. We must ensure that anyone who comes to Ireland is respected and that his or her contribution to the diversity of our home is valued. This is why it broke my heart to hear a Brazilian who was the same age as me speaking in a Facebook video recorded at a Pentecostal church in Dublin city about the process through which he had rejected homosexuality only to be applauded and encouraged by the congregation as he was brought through his story by the pastor on the altar.

So-called conversion therapy is happening in Ireland, although the Irish Council for Psychotherapy has stated that efforts to change, manipulate or reverse sexual orientation and-or gender identity through psychological therapies are unethical under its guidelines. Investigative journalism by Hot Press and Gay Community News and comments by former President McAleese on RTÉ Radio 1 in March all shed a light on this harmful and deceptive practice. Organisations such as Courage International that promote the use of conversion therapies are in the State and have been advertised through parish newsletters. They aim to suppress a person's sexual orientation. One of their goals is to live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality. North of the Border, Core Issues Trust is a registered company that helps to reduce same-sex attraction.

The Bill will make it a criminal offence to remove someone from the State for the purpose of conversion therapy.

It is essential that we recognise the importance of faith in this conversation and that some religious people experience psychological distress because they see their sexual orientation and faith as being irreconcilable. I know many people who are both religious and LGBT. Positive exploration can address both the reality of sexual orientation and the possibilities of a spiritually and religiously meaningful life. They can be reconciled. I have no doubt there are huge numbers of religious people who would find the concept of conversion therapy as abhorrent as I do.

This is about legislating for the common good, which is the reason we are here. The intention of this Bill is to ensure that people who are distressed about their sexual orientation or identity are only offered interventions that accept and support that person for who he or she is, and I am asking for the support of the House for this legislation today.

I formally second this Bill, and I welcome the good folk who have come into the Chamber to listen to this debate today. I commend my colleague, Senator Warfield, who has done so much good work in the short time he has been here in support of issues of true equality. It is very fitting that a republican party deals with this issue today. It is also fitting and right that it will have cross-party support. Days like today show that the Seanad really does have value, because it can be seen that contributions made here can help to win that broad support and make a real difference to people's lives.

I was absolutely shocked to find out that so-called conversion therapy exists and is happening in our country and in our capital city. It sounds like a bad joke, something that one might expect to see at the end of an episode of "Father Ted". Of course, it is far more serious than that. This involves the manipulation of people's lives. I want to read out an email I received from someone concerning this Bill because I believe it speaks to a fundamental truth that all of us should recognise. I will not read out the name of the writer. He says:

Sexuality is not a choice. People are what they are, and that should be respected. It's heartbreaking that parents are forcing their children to repress themselves. LGBT+ youth in Ireland have a higher rate of suicide than their peers. A huge part of that is feeling like they can't be themselves. Banning conversion therapy could really help a lot of vulnerable [young people].

I believe that captures the essence of this Bill and why it is so important. Hopefully it will have a swift passage through this House, and indeed the Lower House as well. It beggars belief that anyone, in the name of religion, could espouse this kind of sick and twisted practice. It is absolutely stunning that in the 21st century people are putting forward this type of bigoted nonsense, but they are. I was absolutely shocked to hear that this is happening in our country. It is completely unacceptable. Let us do something concrete and take a small but significant step towards a republic we can all believe in and to which we can all have allegiance. Let us support this fine Bill today.

I know that other Senators will come in, but I acknowledge and make clear to Senators Warfield and Gavan, who are presenting this Bill, as well as the other Senators involved in the introduction of the Bill, that it is widely supported in this House and that many Senators feel very strongly about this issue.

The Bill’s objective is to prohibit conversion therapy, an extremely worrying practice. Senators have spoken powerfully, and I know that other Senators will speak about it as well. I wish to make clear at the outset that the Minister and I fully appreciate the reasons this Bill was brought forward. The Government will not oppose this Bill.

I believe that conversion therapy is at odds with both our domestic equality legislation and our international human rights obligations. These are important to our country. In terms of commitment to equality, Senators will also know that the programme for partnership Government gives a commitment to develop a LGBTI+ national youth strategy. This is a key commitment for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and makes a contribution towards the Government’s broader commitment to continue to strive for full inclusion of LGBTI+ people in Ireland. The strategy will be the first of its kind in the world. The Minister for Justice and Equality is also at the early stages of developing a national LGBTI+ strategy.

Turning to the details of the Bill, it is fair to say that while this is a short Bill it has significant implications. It is important therefore that this Bill to ban conversion therapy is carefully examined to ensure that it meets its objectives. Section 1 is the interpretation section which sets out the key terms in the Bill. It defines conversion therapy as meaning "any practice or treatment by any person that seeks to change, suppress and-or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and-or gender expression", and "does not include any practice or treatment which does not seek to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and-or gender expression", or which "provides assistance to an individual undergoing gender transition" or "provides acceptance, support and understanding of a person, or a facilitation of a person’s coping, social support and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions". Related terms such as sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are in turn defined.

Sections 2 and 3 are very important provisions on offences and penalties, and it is useful to outline them here. The Bill says, it will be an offence for any person to "perform or offer to perform conversion therapy on a person", to "advertise conversion therapy" or "remove a person from the State for the purposes of conversion therapy". It will be an offence for a professional to perform conversion therapy on a person, irrespective of whether monetary compensation is received in exchange or to refer a person to other professionals or to any other person or both to perform conversion therapy. In addition, a person is guilty of an offence if the person removes a person from the State where one of the purposes for the removal is to have conversion therapy performed upon that person or if the person does or attempts to perform conversion therapy on another person in a place other than the State but only if it is done or attempted to be done on board an Irish ship, on an aircraft registered in the State or by a person who is a citizen of Ireland or is ordinarily resident in the State and would constitute an offence in the place in which it is done. In regard to professionals as defined in the Bill, the Bill also provides that if a professional is found guilty of an offence under section 2 of the Bill, a court shall direct that the body regulating that profession, or any other regulatory body as deemed necessary, are notified of the conviction.

The Government fully sees the intentions of this Bill but is concerned, based on legal advice, that the Bill is not clear enough in its language. Any issue with clarity will lead to difficulties. The definition of conversion therapy is itself open to an extremely broad interpretation. As I mentioned, there is reference to any practice or treatment by any person that seeks to change or to suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. A difficulty, for example, is that it is not clear what practice or treatment is covered here. I note as well that the definition of "professional" covers an extremely broad spectrum. It refers to a person who is in possession of an official qualification or a warrant to practice or both as a care worker, counsellor, educator, family therapist, medical practitioner, pathologist, psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, social worker or youth worker.

It would be useful to hear more about the thinking on this. I know the Senators will agree it is of vital importance that, where a criminal offence is created, especially with imprisonment on conviction, the actions which amount to an offence are clear and unambiguous. We would have to be clear on the wording in the Bill so there is certainty on what amounts to an offence under this Bill.

It important, therefore, that if we are to achieve the objective of the Bill, we must work together to look at what changes may be needed. Another point is that it is very apparent that dealing with legislation on conversion therapy will need appropriate input across Government as part of the examination of the Bill. We also need to get an evidence base to establish the prevalence of conversion therapy in Ireland.

I again express my thanks to Senator Warfield for introducing this Bill and to the other Senators. I very much welcome the debate and, on a personal basis, I look forward to working with the Senator further on the Bill during its journey through the Houses. I believe in this Bill. While a number of issues have been raised at the legal end, I believe the Bill should be enacted as soon as possible. It is very important that people should not be coerced or in any way made feel they are not a whole person due to their identity or sexual orientation, and that they have the right to choose their sexuality now and into the future. I again thank Senators Warfield and Gavan.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I also thank Senator Warfield for drafting the Bill and putting it forward. I commend the Senator and look up to him as he has been a great advocate for LGBTQ rights, which is something that should be acknowledged. I want to put on the record, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, that we are grateful for his leadership on this matter. I welcome those in the Visitors Gallery who are here to support the Bill and thank them for taking time out of their day to come to listen to us.

The Bill seeks to prohibit conversation therapy which seeks to change, suppress and-or eliminate a person's sexual orientation, gender identity and-or gender expression. The Bill also criminalises attempts to take people abroad to access conversion therapies. Fianna Fáil is proud to support this Bill, which is co-sponsored by myself and other Members of this House, including other members of my own party.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in Ireland as recently as the 1990s. With that in mind, the progression of LGBTQ rights has not been insignificant. Ireland made history in 2015 as the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular ballot and this was followed quickly by the Gender Recognition Act, which was enacted in September 2015. Despite these gains in LGBTQ rights, it is astonishing that people can still be forced to undergo archaic and invasive therapy based on the notion that homosexuality is an "illness” that can be "cured” through psychiatric treatments. From speaking to my colleagues, I know this practice is being carried out close to home, in my own constituency, which leaves me dumbfounded as I cannot believe it is happening. On that basis alone, I would be delighted if this Bill was speedily enacted. By not criminalising these practices, Ireland is failing people within the LGBTQ community and leaving them vulnerable to psychological torment. Conversion therapies have been shown to have a negative impact on people's mental health as they can lead to lower self-esteem, depression and suicidal ideation. It is hoped the Bill will send out a powerful message that practices masquerading as "therapy” will not be tolerated in this society. To date, only Brazil, Ecuador and Malta have nationwide bans on the practice, and we will be joining these countries.

Turning to the main provisions of the Bill, it prohibits any person from performing or offering to perform conversion therapy or from advertising conversion therapy, and this is punishable by a fine of €1,000 to €5,000 and-or imprisonment of up to six months. The Bill also prohibits any person from removing a person from the State for the purposes of conversion therapy, which is punishable by a fine of €2,000 to €10,000 and-or imprisonment of up to 12 months. It prohibits a professional from performing or offering to perform conversion therapy, irrespective of whether monetary compensation is received or not, or from referring a person to other professionals to perform conversion therapy, and this is punishable by a fine of €2,000 to €10,000 and-or imprisonment of up to 12 months. If the Bill is passed, it will come into effect one month from the date of its passage.

Senator Warfield has highlighted what is involved in conversion therapy. In the past, some mental health professionals resorted to extreme measures, such as institutionalisation, castration and electroconvulsive shock therapy, to try to stop people from being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Nowadays, the techniques most commonly used include a variety of behavioural, cognitive, psychoanalytic and other practices that try to change or reduce same-sex attraction or alter a person's gender identity. While some of these contemporary versions of conversion therapy seem less shocking than therapies used in the past, they are equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers to patients, especially to minors, who are often forced to undergo them by their parents or legal guardians, and who are at especially high risk of being harmed.

Mainstream mental health professionals all say conversion therapy should be outlawed. All of the world's leading professional medical and mental health associations have rejected conversion therapy as unnecessary, ineffective and dangerous. The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his or her sexual orientation.

I again thank the Minister of State and ask her to support the Bill in its entirety. I thank Senator Warfield and the members of Sinn Féin. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, we are delighted to support the Bill and we look forward to its speedy passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I thank Senator Fintan Warfield and his colleagues for working so hard on this Bill, which is now on Second Stage. I acknowledge it has cross-party and non-party support in the House, which is very encouraging and positive. It is an indication of how we in Seanad Éireann can and do work together. I also acknowledge the comprehensive response the Minister of State has given to the House. I want to take up one point with her, which I will address shortly as it was covered in her response.

When I was first approached by Senator Warfield about this, I said there was no question about it whatsoever. The more I talked it through with him, it became clear the real issue here is about authenticity - the right that every person has to be themselves and to express himself or herself. No one has the right to curtail someone's ability to be authentic. No one can be fully happy and fulfilled if they are not authentic. The pressures in society that are put on people to conform in a certain way have led to serious issues, one of which was just referred to by Senator Ardagh in regard to mental health issues. How many people are no longer with us - brothers, sisters, friends, partners, loved ones - who took what some would say was the easy option while others would say it was the harder option, that is, to end their lives? They did not feel accepted, they did not feel they belonged and they had to fulfil the expectations of pathetic people who never meant anything to them at any stage in life. For those who were ridiculed from early childhood to advanced years, they felt they needed to conform because, in conforming, they are accepted; in conforming, they think they are loved and respected by peers who do not, quite frankly, give a damn about them anyway. Sadly, so many of us learned that lesson, perhaps too late in our lives.

I acknowledge the importance of this Bill. Hopefully, for a new generation coming by, people can be free to be themselves, to express themselves, to love who they want to, to associate with who they want to, to be free and, above all else, to be authentic.

I had thought of writing a few words today but, just before I came to the House, an email came across my desk. I want to read it to the House because I think it says it all. I will not mention the person's name. The person did not ask me not to mention their name, but I want to respect the person and I am conscious there are sensitivities around anyone who puts pen to paper. Suffice to say, it is from a lady in Sallins.

The email reads:

I’m from Sallins, County Kildare. I’m writing to you today as an individual who has struggled with her sexual identity her entire life. At age 16, I finally came to terms with my sexuality. I told my family who I really was and thankfully, they accepted and supported me. From speaking with my LGBTQ+ peers, I know that other people are not as lucky. Being LGBTQ+, there is a stigma. A stigma that we aren’t "normal". A stigma that we are mentally ill. A stigma that we can change who we are. We cannot change (and we don’t want to change). Conversion therapy does not work and only serves to damage LGBTQ+ people. The lack of a ban on conversion therapy here in Ireland only feeds into the negative stigma surrounding us. Senator, I urge you to support Fintan Warfield’s bill to ban conversion therapy today. Enough is enough.

I think that says it all. No other words are necessary to describe that. It crystalises the challenges and issues which people face and what we can do about it.

I note the Minister of State said that she is supportive, as is the Government, but she stated "The Government fully sees the intentions of this Bill but is concerned, based on legal advice, that the Bill is not clear enough in its language." I respect that and her commitment here today to work with everyone to get this Bill through both Houses and enacted. I ask her to use her good office and her contacts in Government to, together with the Attorney General, work in partnership with the Bill's proposers in order to iron out the difficulties in the words and the language, and keep the pressure on. This is about a legacy and an issue. It is an important one for the Minister of State, who is committed to diversity and respect to keep up the momentum and get this legislation through the Houses.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank Senators Warfield and Gavan for proposing and seconding this Bill and for taking the time and effort to draft this Bill. As someone who has brought in Private Members' Bills, I know that much time and effort goes into its drafting and ensuring that it is a Bill that can proceed through the House, and I thank them for their efforts in this regard.

We have changed quite a lot as a country in recent years. As Senator Ardagh noted of the marriage equality referendum, we were the first country in the world to vote to bring about the change in marriage equality. There was also further legislation in this area of giving equal rights to people. During the marriage equality referendum, there was a view that in rural areas people would be very conservative and would not want change but if one looks at the results, it is clear that right across the country, people wanted that change. Similarly, it is important that we bring about legal change in this area. It is important that there is proper effective legislation to prohibit conversion therapies and that it can be implemented.

This is not a criticism of the Bill, but an effort to be constructive. I wonder about someone who is under 18 years, particularly where a parent decides to take a person under 18 years out of the country for conversion therapy. Does the Bill cater for that? Can we deal with it in the Bill? It is not clear if that is the case as it is currently drafted. The Minister of State might comment on this. Where the parent has certain rights, is the Bill sufficient to preventing a parent from taking someone aged under 18 years out of the country to go through therapy? We need to look at this issue. It arose in relation to legislation on female genital mutilation, FGM, where children being taken out of the country is a significant issue. In that case the question of proofs arises in trying to introduce proper regulation and to ensure there is a penalty. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that it does not happen, and we must ensure that there is adequate cover in the legislation to deal with that.

Overall, the Bill is a welcome development. The Minister of State has clearly set out the Government's position and the legal issues which require clarification. At present, I have one Private Members' Bill before the Houses. Speaking with officials in the Department of Justice and Equality recently, I was told they had 67 amendments to the Bill. The Senators who brought forward this legislation should not take it as a criticism if the Department comes back with amendments. The idea is to ensure that the legislation can be put in place, that the law is implementable, enforceable and that it is strictly adhered to in this issue. It is important legislation. People should have the freedom to express their sexuality in a proper manner, without restriction, and there should be no process which could interfere with that and the draft Bill before us tries to do that.

I thank the Senators. This Bill has my full support and I would have no difficulty in giving my help or assistance to the Senators who are bringing this legislation forward.

I will share time with Senator Higgins.

I thank the Minister of State and Senator Warfield, especially, for putting this important Bill before the House, which I was delighted to co-sign. I welcome all the visitors to the Gallery today.

This is a subject on which I feel deeply. It is close to home and close to my heart. When my son wanted to let his aunts and uncles, of whom there are a great many, know that he was gay, I offered him help in spreading the word. When I spoke to my brother, he asked me how my son knew he was gay. In reply, I asked him how he knew he was heterosexual, which he acknowledged was a fair point and we moved on. LGBTI people know, especially when they are ready to share with others. As such, the very concept of conversion therapy is at best ill-conceived and at worst a "a deceptive and harmful act or practice against a person's sexual orientation, gender identity ... or gender expression", in the words of Senator Warfield's Bill. Conversion therapy is insulting to LGBTI people, it is harmful and dangerous. That is why we must support this Bill and ban the practice. Let us remember that so-called “conversion therapy” sometimes known as “reparative therapy” is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Such practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organisation for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTI people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy. Minors are especially vulnerable and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness and suicide. Conversion therapy - it pains me to use the distortion of the word when I know what real therapy is - has been deemed unethical by the much respected Irish Council for Psychotherapy and others.

It is so harmful and really dangerous given the fragility of some LGBTI young people and according to information provided recently by BeLonG To to the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, of which I am a member. Included in that committee's interim report, which was published last week and which I commend, is a statement by BeLonG To that the level of self-harm is three times greater among LGBTI young people than among the general population. The rate of attempted suicide is three times greater among them and they are four times more likely to experience severe or extremely severe stress, anxiety and depression. Of LGBTI young people aged between 14 and 18, 56% have self-harmed and 70% have had suicidal thoughts. A strong link was found between a young person having experienced LGBTI-based bullying and serious mental health difficulties. People may need support and therapy. I refer to proper, supportive, non-judgmental, empowering therapy, not the kind that Senator Warfield's Bill rightly seeks to prohibit, which is practised by charlatans with often-questionable religious beliefs that would seek to pathologise LGBTI people because of their sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

I fully support the measures to prohibit this kind of so-called therapy in Ireland, as proposed by the Bill. I also call for the supports that enable LGBTI young people to flourish, live well, and live good and happy lives in Ireland today. I commend the Bill to the Minister of State and congratulate Senator Warfield.

I am delighted to be one of the many co-signatories of this Bill. It is an extremely important one and I really commend Senator Warfield on introducing it. When I was a young person in Galway I had an older friend, in his 20s, who had gone through electroconvulsive therapy because he was gay. He had depression and it was framed around this. It was not framed as a conversion therapy but it effectively was. It was to try to imbue in him deep-seated trauma and guilt over his sexual orientation. It had significant repercussions for him in the years that followed. We found a community of support for him at a later point. That was my first time encountering a practice of this kind. It was not always framed exactly as conversion therapy but it was effectively operating in that way.

Senator Catherine Ardagh mentioned very disruptive medical forms of intervention, such as electroconvulsive therapy and forced hormonal injections. These are not the only interventions. Equally insidious are those forms that disguise themselves as therapeutic, as counselling and sometimes as family therapy. We have seen an increasing amount of evidence and heard stories, in Hot Press and elsewhere, about where such therapies are practised in Ireland. They might not always be framed solely as conversion therapy, and that is why this Bill will drill down to identify the many ways in which they might be framed. It is something that is happening.

The Minister of State stated we need to gather evidence to establish the prevalence of conversion therapy in Ireland. That would be very useful but we need to be absolutely clear that this does not need to be a precondition of our moving forward with legislation. We have in Europe the precautionary principle and we know there is a move in many places across Europe where we have seen an increase in the prevalence of conversion therapy. Therefore, it is very important that Ireland be ahead of the curve and put in place proper, preventive measures now rather than waiting to see whether a phenomenon arises and then responding to it. I caution that gathering evidence should not in any way delay the passage of this legislation. It should be speedy.

Another concern expressed by the Minister of State was on the definition of "professional". I recognise absolutely that there will need to be amendments. I am sure Senator Fintan Warfield will engage with the Government on the definition of "conversion therapy". I note, in regard to the definition of "professional", that there are those with qualifications but also those who present as professional. In this regard, we need to look to some of the areas of religious practice where a therapy may be presented by somebody who might not have a qualification at all.

I have a lovely quotation on which I will end because of the time constraint. We are celebrating the centenary of suffrage. I always love to quote Eva Gore-Booth, who, of course, had a partnership with Esther Roper. She has a wonderful gravestone in Hamstead that states: "Life that is love is God." It is about the fact that the proof of love is the acceptance and support we offer each other. There is a challenge in this regard and a role for love and inclusion among us, as legislators. It is important that we send a signal of love and inclusion in an active way. That is what this Bill is doing. I applaud it and encourage us to pass it through the House speedily. Perhaps the Government might allow time to ensure its speedy passage.

I thank Senator Higgins. I was generous to her because Senator Colette Kelleher was very brief and did not use all of her five minutes. The next speaker, Senator David Norris, has eight minutes.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend Senator Warfield on this very important Bill.

I wish to make two points right at the head. The first concerns the definition of "professional". I was horrified to hear of the Brazilian church where an attempt was made to convert a young Brazilian person. They are wonderful people. They are also so physically beautiful. They are a great adornment to the gay community in this country. I was really horrified by what happened. Despite the fairly lengthy and exhaustive list of people who are described as "professional", I wonder whether the person in charge of the church in question would be caught by it. I am not sure it all.

The Minister of State said we need an evidence base to establish the prevalence of conversion therapy. That would be very interesting. It will be a very useful guide but one case is too many. We already have evidence of at least one and perhaps quite a few others. I have a very large volume of email correspondence from people all over Ireland. This is not a Dublin problem. It affects every county of our Republic.

I remember when the therapy was called "aversion therapy". I remember very severe things being done. There were utterly disgusting. They used to put a volumetric analyser on a man's penis and show him pictures of men engaging in sexual activity. If there was any volumetric change indicating an erection, he got a hell of an electric shock. There were other practices in which one was given emetics. There was one success; one man died. He certainly stopped being gay; there is no doubt about that but he was a death. If one wants to go to that extreme, that it what occurs.

Aversion therapies or conversion therapies were practised in America. There were two poster boys – wonderful, masculine, handsome men – and everything was going swimmingly until, of course, they eloped together. That was the end of that one. I grew up during a period of these kinds of practices.

A lot of this stuff is religious now. As a religious, churchgoing, practising Christian, I find it utterly disgusting. When I was a teenager, Archbishop Fisher was the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a dreary oul' fool and a horrible snob but it did not cost me a thought to think that. I thought the man was just so ignorant, stupid and wrong. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ never once mentions homosexuality, good, bad or indifferent. That is how important it was to Jesus so I do not know where the Jesus freaks are coming from.

I remember dealing with somebody in the Hirschfeld Centre and before that in 46 Parnell Square who had been through the therapy. He came from a wealthy farming family in Kilkenny. They referred him and he was given aversion therapy. It totally scrambled his mind. He was a real walking casualty but he was so brave and wonderful in the way he fought against this. It very deeply affected the rest of his life so he was really a casualty. This is brainwashing. It has been condemned by all reputable psychotherapy bodies. It has absolutely no credibility whatever. On the religious side, the intention is to inflict feelings of shamefulness and sinfulness in the people. How crippling this is for vulnerable young people. How crushing the effect on young people to be given the impression that they are sinful, shameful and disgusting.

Conversion therapy is the male equivalent of female genital mutilation.

It is precisely the same kind of thing. It is a savage attack on somebody, whether a man or a woman. I would like to end by putting a human face before people today and put on the record three emails which I received, chosen from among many. This is from a man who wrote to me. He says:

I have personal interest in seeing this bill become law as I have direct experience of reparative or conversion therapy both as a young teenager and in to my early 20’s. Whilst I am grateful that my own experience has not had a lasting impact on my own emotional wellbeing, having worked through this incredible therapy, I have a number of friends for whom this has had a lasting impact. As a teenager I was subject to a form of 'therapeutic' intervention which sought to change my sexual orientation and included spiritual intervention using exorcism. This was deeply distressing and disturbing to me as a young person and I should never have been subjected to this form of religious or therapeutic abuse.

As a young adult I attended group therapy and ‘specialised’ courses entirely focused on changing my sexual orientation. As a young Christian I felt that there was no alternative and that my faith and my sexual orientation could not be reconciled, fortunately I learned that this was in fact not the case for the future.

Conversion therapy is underpinned by assumptions that sexual orientation or a trans identity are wrong and immoral. Banning such therapy gives a clear message that in Ireland these approaches are wrong and dangerous to the wellbeing of individuals who are LGBT.

The next email is even more stark. It is from a young woman from Galway. She says:

I, myself, am a lesbian. I have never been so proud of this country as when gay marriage was passed by referendum - I grew up in the countryside and believed it was an immutable fact that people did not care about me, would not care if I died, did not like me, or people like me.

The referendum passing was part of the reason I came out. My aunt got married to a lovely woman, and was happier than I’d ever seen her. [...]

From the age of sixteen, I had a friend from America who I knew as Ace, who was the same age. Ace would tell people I was his girlfriend to keep his gay identity a secret, and at times I would do the same. Ace let slip to his mother that he was gay, and shortly after was sent to conversion therapy. When I was nineteen, I learned from social media that Ace committed suicide. I cannot describe in words the sickly emptiness it left in my life, although Ace and I had not spoken in almost a year. [...]

Had I not been so lucky, I could have been in his position. It is a real possibility that had my luck been different, I could have been butchered by a gruelling, hate-based faux-psychological process designed to murder a human being by mutilation of the soul, inch by inch by inch.

I will briefly make reference to a final letter.

I am a very proud lesbian woman. When I came out to my parents I was forced into religious rituals of ‘getting rid of the gay’ in me. Safe to say that I am still very much gay but still petrified to ever come out to anyone in my family or ever be myself around them.

My experience has changed my life in many ways and I don’t want any child to grow up and face the cruel, inhumane, illogical and scary process of conversion therapy.

I commend Senator Warfield and all the rest of us who signed this important Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House and I thank her for taking the Bill. I understand the great humanity and compassion she brings to her job in respect of this particular issue. It is always hard to follow the father of the House but, in the time allocated to me, I will start at the end of Senator Norris's speech.

Despite the progress we have made as a society and as a country, there is an unknown within elements of society. Within that darkness those people feel the emotions of being afraid. There are people who are petrified. The issues of repression, cruelty and inhumanity still resonate with many people, including some who are meant to be people's pastors, family or support.

Like Senator Norris, I commend Senator Warfield on this Bill. I was happy to sign it. I speak not just as a Member of the House and as a member of the LGBT community, but as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, Parliamentary Assembly. Other Members of the House who travel and are involved in European committees will understand that there is a huge journey to take in parts of the world and that we in this country must continue to lead. Today is another example of taking that lead.

To those who are listening and who support the retention of conversion therapy or any elements of repression, I again say that sexuality is not a choice. In Senator Higgins's contribution she spoke about love and inclusion. The God that I and the faith-based community of which I am a member pray to is a God of inclusiveness. I was made in his image and likeness. That is what we must bring from today. It is about ensuring that people are free to be who they are and that they are respected and treated with dignity both by the State and by us as citizens of a republic.

There are parents and people in certain churches in certain communities who feel that we can repress, convert and change. We all know quite well that that practice and mindset is wrong and erroneous. We should look at the rates of self-harm and suicide among the LGBT community. We should look at the mental health issues. Today's legislation is as important as any we have had in the past. It is about ensuring that those who feel vulnerable and isolated know they are not alone. Members of this House and Members in Government are with them. Notwithstanding the points the Minister of State made in her speech about issues in the Bill which need to be clarified, tidied up and cleared up - and we can do that - there is cross-party support for this legislation.

Unfortunately, I happened to listen to some of the coverage on some of the US networks about different issues around sexuality in the United States over recent weeks. This is an abusive therapy. As Senators Norris and Warfield have said, it is condemned by all mental health organisations, by all of us involved in civic life and, as Senator Norris has rightly said, by the professionals in particular. If we can do one thing in this debate apart from expediting the passage of this Bill, it is to send a message that Seanad Éireann stands with and supports the LGBTQ+ community in its entirety, in a cross-party, collective and universal way.

This time last year I had the pleasure of being in the United States as part of a State Department-Boston College programme in which ten members of the Irish LGBT community travelled across parts of the United States. The one thing that struck me, very forcefully, was the way in which, in some cases, the trans community was misunderstood, not respected and not supported by community and family. I know we have a housing crisis in Ireland but, taking my mind back to that trip to North Carolina and Boston, I was struck by the number of trans people who were forced to couch-surf and to sleep in cars, and who had been thrown out of their homes by their parents because of ignorance, a lack of understanding and a lack of respect.

To fast-forward to today, this Bill is important. It is about the lives of people. It is about offering them a lifestyle where they can be free to be who they are. In a modern society, we should not have to have a debate to pass this Bill. We should not have this conversation, but we do have to. As long as there are people in this House like Senator Warfield and all Members who support this Bill, we will continue to be a progressive society.

I commend the Bill to the House and I thank the Minister of State for her contribution. I hope, as a consequence of the debate, we can learn to love and be inclusive, as Senator Higgins said. The proof of that is how we, as a society, behave.

It is important to contribute to the debate on this subject. I commend Senator Warfield. Within Sinn Féin, we have always promoted LGBT rights and equality. We would not have the depth of information and knowledge regarding what needs to be done, such as the banning of this therapy, if it was not for the Senator. As a mother of two sons, I owe him a debt of gratitude for that. I hope the Bill passes speedily.

I very much welcome the Minister of State's comments, her positivity and her recognition of what needs to be done. I also commend other parties, including Senator Ardagh's, and the other Senators who co-signed the Bill. It was one of the easiest Bills to gather signatures for in my party once it was explained in the way Senator Warfield explained it. I was astonished to learn that this practice is legal in the State. My sons are 16 and 14 and it is legal to change part of their identity using the most horrific and inhumane methods, which is beyond belief. This is not conversion therapy, it is conversion torture.

I thank all those who wrote to us in respect of this issue. I read every email I received. Some of them contained heartbreaking stories. One line resonated with me, in particular - "Is it better to have a dead straight child than a living LGBT child?" Like many others, I lost a friend because of her sexuality and I am angered that that is still happening. As a Catholic, I was particularly angered during the marriage equality referendum campaign that my church was used to dissuade people from giving others the right to be who they want to be and to love whom they want. Many of the same people are happy to go to houses and peer into the coffins of young people who have lost their lives because they felt there was no place for them in their communities. I come from a remote rural area and I know it can be incredibly difficult for young people who are not heterosexual because of the gossip and nonsense spread in the closed communities in such areas. People of all ages living in rural communities who are gay or lesbian should be brave and come forward. There are many people like me and they would be surprised where they would find the love and support they need, even in remote rural areas. They should come forward and be who they are. We ran an anti-bullying campaign some years ago in an attempt to generate a community response to bullying, part of which related to homophobic bullying. The campaign's slogan was, "Free to be me". We all need to be free to be who we are.

Ending the archaic, barbaric practice which was described in some of the emails we received and which is dangerous and damaging to people's mental health and well-being would be a good piece of work. It is probably one of the most significant pieces of work in which this Seanad will engage. I welcome the legislation and I thank all those involved in producing it. I also thank all those in the Gallery who came along to support the passage of the Bill. Above all, I thank Senator Warfield for his contribution on this issue.

I commend our youngest Member, Senator Warfield, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on LGBTQI rights. He is the perfect person to bring this Bill through the House because he represents the younger people of Ireland. I hope that this legislation will lead to an opening up of our communities to become inclusive, to recognise the reality of the society we live in and, as the Leader said, to recognise progress. The Bill aims to prohibit conversion therapies as misleading and damaging practices against a person's sexual orientation, gender identity and-or gender expression. This practice has been condemned by institutes such as the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the European Parliament and the Irish Council for Psychotherapy. This is an emotional debate and Senator Conway-Walsh expressed that in the context of her own suffering. Other speakers have pointed out that this is a highly emotive issue and it is timely that it is being discussed. It is a disgrace that these practices are still happening. Our message should be that we value the contribution of all the people on this island to diversity and that diversity and expression need to be cherished and protected. Two weeks ago, the European Parliament passed a motion commending members states that have prohibited these harmful practices and called on those that have not to do likewise.

Senator Warfield is showing leadership on this issue on behalf of his party and all the Members who have co-signed the Bill and he has received cross-party support as a result. I hope the Bill passes speedily through the Houses. My party fully supports and endorses the legislation and we will work with the Senator, the Civil Engagement group and all other parties to ensure the end of conversion therapies in Ireland.

I welcome the Minister of State and I commend Senator Warfield on initiating this important Bill. On behalf of Labour Party Senators, I am delighted to co-sponsor it with him. I welcome those in the Gallery who will hopefully observe the passage of the Bill through Second Stage.

The Minister of State commented on the internal system and I am glad the Government will not oppose the legislation. I recognise that she has raised issues about the vagueness of wording in respect of the criminal offence. Senator Warfield and I have had long chats about the wording and the need to be precise and specific in language when creating criminal offences while being particularly mindful of the provisions of Article 38.1 of the Constitution and the extensive case law that exists.

All of us would be delighted to work with the Government and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on strengthening the Bill and ensuring that the provisions relating to the criminal offence can be tightened in that regard. There would be no difficulty with that.

All of us are happy to support the Bill in principle, and immense cross-party support has been offered for it already. There is huge goodwill towards it. Senator Norris referred to the Private Members' Bill on female genital mutilation which was initiated in this House by me and passed some years ago. It is a useful parallel to make. There was unanimous support for that Bill, as there is for this one. The Minister for Health accepted the Bill and we steered it through the House, with Government amendments. Similarly, it created extra-territorial effect for various criminal offences. It has been an important Bill not just in terms of the practical impact, and there have been Garda investigations under it where the dreadful practice of FGM has come to light in Ireland, but also in that it has provided an important tool for advocacy to the many women's and other groups campaigning to end the practice of female genital mutilation. I see this Bill in the same light. It also sends an important symbolic message as to the type of society we wish to live in, quite apart from the practical impact.

In terms of what amendments might be made, we might consider changing the Title. I listened to my colleagues' contributions and they are quite right to point to the fact that the use of the term "therapy" in the Bill is misleading. Of course, the sort of practice we seek to prohibit in the Bill is not therapy in any sense. As Senator Norris powerfully said, it is more a brainwashing or manipulation technique. Senator Conway-Walsh spoke of it as conversion torture rather than conversion therapy. We may well have to consider the Bill's Title on future Stages.

I am grateful to the many people who emailed. Other Senators have referred to the many emails we have received in support of the Bill. I also wish to thank, in particular, Aengus Carroll for giving me a briefing on the Bill and for his great work with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, ILGA. I commend to colleagues the report produced by the ILGA in 2017 on state-sponsored homophobia. It provides a very useful comparative framework to examine legislative models around the world. When we examine the provisions in the Bill in more detail on Committee and Report Stages we might have regard to that report. To make a few general points in the comparative context, if this Bill were passed, subject to the amendments we have discussed, Ireland would have the most comprehensive legislation in the world in terms of prohibiting the practice of so-called conversion therapy or brainwashing techniques.

We already led the world on LGBTI rights when, in 2015, this was the first country to pass a law on marriage equality by popular vote by way of referendum. We are all very proud of leading on that. As Senator Buttimer so eloquently said, we should be seen to take a lead again on this issue. Indeed, we also took a lead in the gender recognition legislation. We learned from best practice in other countries when we debated that Bill, and many amendments were made in the Seanad and the Dáil to strengthen the legislation. We can learn from other jurisdictions. We might consider Malta which already has fairly extensive legislation. The Title of its legislation is the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Act. It is perhaps a more positive name when we come to considering the Title of this Bill.

I am also grateful to Aengus Carroll for pointing me to recent news from California, where this type of so-called therapy or brainwashing is being prohibited as part of a legal framework dealing with fraud. It is an interesting model because at the core of this issue is a misrepresentation of what is being offered. The Civil Code of California is to be amended to read that anybody who engages in advertising offering to engage in, or engaging in, sexual orientation change efforts with an individual is seen as taking part in this type of fraudulent activity. There are useful models we can examine.

I look forward to Ireland, through the adoption of this legislation, becoming a world leader in prohibiting this reprehensible practice of so-called conversion therapy. I look forward to working with Senator Warfield, whom I commend again, and other colleagues on a cross-party basis as well as the Minister and her officials on strengthening and improving the Bill and moving it forward swiftly through both Houses so it can become law before too long.

I attended a conference on Saturday called HeadSpace2018 at Trinity College. It was about how people should use creativity as they grow older, and how creativity can hold onto elders in a way they should be held onto and how their quality of life as they get older can depend more on creativity than on finance and security. In the middle of it - there is a reason I am telling this story - a choir came on stage. Its members were from the inner city and many of them were intellectually disabled and many had adult Down's syndrome. They sang with much gusto, brilliance, rhythm and joy. As I sat there I recalled the words of Tom Murphy, who said that it is when people sing that one knows who they really are. That is right.

Senator Boyhan spoke, in a different context, about knowing who we really are. Sometimes it is hard to express who we really are on a daily basis, and for people to listen to who we really are, be it intellectually, emotionally, politically, socially or in any way. For me, therefore, the idea of conversion therapy is anathema to everything that everybody's individual heartbeat stands for. In fact, I will return to the arts again to speak about immersion. If one were to be immersed in something like the arts, they contain a better conduit or channel for who one really is when things get stuck because we do not have the legislation to free people. That is what this legislation is about, freeing people to be who they really are and how their hearts beat. That is the fundamental and profound right of all citizens. I am seeking to make the connection between who people were and how the arts gave them that conduit and how Senator Warfield's Bill is trying to free that up once again.

I do not like the word "conversion". Even though I am in my 60s, I know I look 38.

When I was in school there was conversion around the way we thought. Shame and sin took precedence over affection and loving. It was all about shame and guilt. Our idea of the Christ or God was to do with pain, purgatory and limbo. Our history was confined to how we were affected as opposed to what we emanated. I do not like the term because it was not until I got to university that I got a sense of freedom and a thought process - again it was only through the arts - that allowed one to find out who one was.

I commend Senator Warfield. I am a member of the arts committee with the Senator and he stands up for the arts extremely well. He stands up for his people or tribe, as I do for mine in north Mayo. While he stands up for his tribe, people and his age, he also stands up for the future and for the past extremely well. I commend and support him on the Bill. The Minister of State has made some interesting points about language, as have Senators Bacik and Colm Burke. If anything, they just want to help Senator Warfield give this Bill a safe passage. We will help as well. Senator Colm Burke made the point about somebody who is under 18 years of age. How do we deal with that? How do we contain everybody and how do we give this Bill the safest passage? We will do that in whatever way we can.

I read every one of the emails and I responded to as many as I could, but one of the most interesting things I noticed was the humility with which people wrote.

That is very interesting because a lot of the emails that come in say "I want", "I need", "I am entitled" or "I have a right". They did not write at that level but with humility, saying this is their life, this is what has happened and this is how they need to move forward, and asking if I could help. I commend the Bill and am delighted to speak on it and to support it. It is an outstanding way forward.

I thank all the Senators who supported the debate. I should acknowledge that this is Government time, which is a reflection of the cross-party support for the Bill. Some 20 Senators are co-signatories, including Senators from Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Green Party and Independents. I should say that Senators John Dolan and Billy Lawless wished to co-sign the legislation but, due to unforeseen circumstances, it was not possible. I note their support for the Bill.

I thank Senator Ivana Bacik for her advice and support in the drafting of the legislation. I am hopeful that this debate will ensure the safe passage of the Bill through the Houses. I thank the Government for outlining that it will not oppose the Bill and accept entirely that there may be wording issues and that changes may be required. Sometimes when one sits on a piece of work for six or seven months, one just wants to let it go and allow the ten Stages within the Oireachtas to iron out the issues.

The legislative opinions were becoming almost contradictory or overwhelming. None of the 20 signatories who co-signed the legislation has waived his or her rights to amend the Bill on further Stages. The Bill represents the first attempt by these Houses and, by extension, the State to navigate our way through certain language such as "sexual orientation", "gender identity" and "gender expression". From my understanding, none of this language, even within gender recognition legislation, has been defined in legislation. We must all partake in that process of navigation and I am absolutely open to discussion with the Department on the direction of the Bill.

I concur with Senator Norris, who cited the Minister of State's assertion that we need to get an evidence base to establish the prevalence of conversion therapy. I mentioned in the Irish context that my heart was broken when, on Facebook, I heard a Brazilian the same age as me, who was recorded at Pentecostal church in this city, speaking about the process through which he rejected homosexuality. He was applauded and encouraged by the congregation and by the pastor at the altar. That Pentecostal church is about 500 m from my home and the Minister of State's constituency office. There is evidence that it is happening under our noses as well as elsewhere.

We also have to reflect on the experiences of LGBT people in our State mental health services. In my opening speech today, I cited a survey in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, whose respondents experienced the following: "An assumption that I was heterosexual" - 66% of respondents; "a negative reaction when I disclosed my LGBT identity" - 29%; "comments that my identity was just a phase" - 21%; and "advice that my orientation could be changed to a heterosexual one" - 13%. There is lingering damage from what was long-standing policy that still reverberates through the system.

I thank Senator Colm Burke for his support. He wonders if the Bill is sufficient to ensure that a parent cannot remove someone from the State. Senator Bacik mentioned female genital mutilation, FGM, as did Senator Colm Burke. We took that piece from the FGM legislation. Whether it needs to be slightly amended remains to be seen.

I thank Senator Higgins for her very beautiful words on the need for legislators to bring love to the conversation. I thank Senator Norris for reading those emails. It is really important that we allow the voices of people to be heard. The second email he read was about Ace, who eventually took his own life. We have to consider the international dimension. As a member of the LGBT community, wherever I go I will research what it is like to be LGBT in that country. Most of the issues we debate here on LGBT rights get coverage in the international press. We can set the example. Others cannot celebrate Pride, let alone speak in their parliament. They will look to Ireland for international best practice. We can provide that best practice.

I thank everyone who has spoken. I wish I could go through all the issues. I will conclude by saying that those who are distressed about their sexuality should only be offered interventions that support them for who they are.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 8 May 2018.
Sitting suspended at 2 p.m. and resumed at 2.45 p.m.