I thank Senator Nash in particular for bringing forward this motion this afternoon and for his ongoing work on these issues and the constructive way in which he has worked with my office to bring us to this point. I also thank Members of the Seanad for giving time and consideration to this important issue.
It is a special day in these Houses. I feel privileged to be the Minister for Justice and Equality at this time and to be in a position to support this motion, to recommend that Government supports it and to have worked with Senator Nash to advance matters thus far.
Twenty-five years ago this week, an important step was taken which changed the lives of many people in Ireland. The enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 sought to repeal Victorian-era laws which criminalised members of our society, forcing them to conduct their personal and private lives in secret. Homosexual men in Ireland were ostracised and criminalised simply because of their sexual orientation.
These laws caused immeasurable harm. Nothing that can be said here today can undo the unjust suffering and discrimination the homosexual community experienced in the years prior to decriminalisation. As a Government, we must acknowledge those wrongs and seek to improve lives for all members of our society in order that they can live freely and without fear of discrimination.
I am delighted, therefore, to support the motion in this House which, at its heart, offers an apology to all those affected by the criminalisation of consensual same-sex acts in Ireland prior to 1993. This motion is reflective of the Government's commitment to ensuring that Ireland is a society for all people, an equal society and a fair society.
In 1977, a Senator in this House, Senator Norris, took a significant High Court challenge against the laws which criminalised homosexuality in Ireland. That was a brave first step towards the decriminalisation of homosexual relationships and is one which is widely recognised as the critical step that ultimately led to the 1993 Act. The case led to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the laws against homosexuality in Ireland were in direct contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. The impact and significance of that challenge cannot be underestimated.
All these years later, it is entirely appropriate that this debate should be taking place in the Upper House, with Senator Norris set to give what I know will be a memorable speech. I wish to thank Senator Norris for his leadership on this issue. I am sure his determination to fight against such injustice was instrumental in ensuring freedom for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, community in Ireland today. The Senator's courage in standing up for human rights, and the support provided to that challenge by former President Mary Robinson, a former Member of this House, has certainly been marked in this nation's history.
I thank Senator Nash for his collaboration since the introduction of the Private Members' Convictions for Certain Sexual Offences (Apology and Exoneration) Bill, out of which arose this motion today. In consultation with the Taoiseach and the Attorney General, I have been working with Senator Nash to identify legislative solutions. There are significant practical and legal difficulties but we are working to find resolutions, including through consultations with the UK Home Office. I hope to be back in this House reporting progress before too long.
To revert to the motion before us, it recognises the great harm caused to many people by the criminalisation of these relationships in Ireland. These laws were clearly discriminatory in nature and were also a direct infringement on the personal and private lives of those they affected. Immeasurable hurt and immeasurable harm was caused to many people in our society and to their families, their friends and communities.
Decriminalisation was a huge step in Ireland's ability to progress towards equality for the LGBTI community in Ireland.
Today, Ireland is celebrated around the world for the value its citizens place on equality following the same-sex marriage referendum and in recognition of the diversity in our current Cabinet. It is doubtless incomprehensible to many, especially to many young people in Ireland today, that there are members of our society who still feel the effects of such discrimination in their daily lives, and yet that is the case. There are people who still feel the isolation, the hurt and the stigma created by those laws, which denied the LGBTI community the ability to live openly or without fear or to engage actively in civil and public life and which suggested that society did not value or even tolerate them simply because of their sexual orientation.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I extend a sincere apology to all those people, to their families and to their friends, as well as to any person who felt the hurt and isolation created by those laws, and particularly to those who were criminally convicted by the existence of such laws.
Successive Governments have slowly but steadily worked to make Ireland a more equal and inclusive society since decriminalisation in 1993. Some of that progress is captured in this motion. Many legislative measures have been introduced which have sought to improve the lives of all members of society in order that they may marry, regardless of sexual orientation, that they may be recognised by their chosen gender, that they may enjoy equal rights to family relationships and to address discrimination in all forms. Such progress can only be welcomed.
However, that does not mean there is not more work that must be done. The motion before the House today also reflects our desire to continue to ensure that the law fully recognises sexual and gender minorities and that people in our society are free to fully express their identities without fear and without discrimination. My hardworking colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is absolutely committed to advancing equality measures and has begun work on an LGBTI strategy.
The past cannot be undone. It is the responsibility of this Government and those that follow in our footsteps that we continue to progress and promote equality for all and that our policies and our actions strive to ensure that human rights are protected. It is of the highest importance that our citizens can live in freedom and participate fully in our society, while those who continue to face discrimination and violence are protected by the State.
I thank Members for their attention this afternoon. This cross-party motion is a historic and important step for Ireland, one which I am proud to support on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of same-sex intimate relationships. I again commend Senator Nash, as well as his colleagues, Senators Bacik, Ó Ríordáin and Humphreys, for their work.
I salute Senator Norris for his steadfast dedication to equality and human rights.