Justice Minister offers "sincere apology" over State's criminalisation of homosexuality

Charlie Flanagan was speaking ahead of the 25th anniversary of decriminalisation

Justice Minister offers "sincere apology" over State's criminalisation of homosexuality

Charlie Flanagan. Photo: RollingNews.ie

Updated 19.45

The Minister for Justice has issued a sincere apology to everyone affected by Ireland's historical criminalisation of homosexuality.

Charlie Flanagan was speaking in the Seanad ahead of a motion that will acknowledge the harm caused by the laws - and offer a full State apology to all those affected.

He made the apology ahead of the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 which decriminalised gay sex between males.

Minister Flanagan said the act "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 ostracized, and criminalised, simply because of their sexual orientation," he said. 

“These laws caused immeasurable harm.

"Nothing that can be said here today can undo the unjust suffering and discrimination that 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 so that they can live freely and without fear of discrimination."

Between 1962 and 1972, 455 men were convicted for homosexual offences in Ireland.

Nearly 500 were jailed between 1940 and 1980.

“As Minister for Justice and Equality, I extend a sincere apology to all of those people, to their family and to their friends," said Minister Flanagan.

"To any person who felt the hurt and isolation created by those laws, and particularly to those who those who were criminally convicted by the existence of such laws.”

'Deeply traumatic'

In the Dáil, Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said not so long ago it wouldn't have been possible for him to be Taoiseach because of his sexuality.

File photo of Leo Varadkar

He also remembered people who were persecuted and even killed because they were gay.

Mr Varadkar observed: "It is oppressive to live in a constant state of humiliation, a constant state of fear. It is also deeply traumatic to feel that you are rejected by your own country.

"I was born in 1979 and in the three years before that there were 44 prosecutions in this country.  It’s not that long ago."

He added: "Last year I had the privilege of being elected Taoiseach, something that would have been unimaginable when I was born, and would have seemed impossible even a few short years ago.

"There are many people who helped change minds and change laws and their contribution should be remembered. People who fought for me before I did so myself."

Senator David Norris was one of those who led the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality.

Speaking in the Seanad this afternoon, Senator Norris said: "I remember [Catholic campaigner] Mina Bean Uí Chroibín saying to me, 'We know you, you won't be satisfied with homosexual decriminalisation; the next thing you will want is homosexual marriage'.

"So I said, 'what a wonderful idea. thank you very much Madame, if you have any further ideas please do let me know."

Motion

The motion put forward by Senator Ged Nash will acknowledge that Ireland's laws were: "Improperly discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and an infringement of personal privacy and autonomy; caused multiple harms to those directly and indirectly affected, namely men who engaged in consensual same-sex activities and their families and friends."

It notes that the criminalisation "had a significant chilling effect on progress towards equality for the LGBTI community, acknowledging in particular the legacy of HIV/AIDS within the context of criminalisation."

It will also further acknowledge hurt and the harm caused to those who were deterred by those laws from being open and honest about their identity with their family and in society - and that this "prevented citizens from engaging in civil and political life and deprived society of their full contribution." 

Mr Varadkar will also host a State event in Dublin Castle on June 24th 2018 to mark 25 years since decriminalisation. 

Additional reporting from Jack Quann ...