‘Work has begun’ on quashing pre-1993 homosexuality convictions

Gathering at Dublin Castle celebrates 25th anniversary of decriminalisation

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone: “Living in Ireland during criminalisation, as a lesbian, was stressful; it was difficult.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone: “Living in Ireland during criminalisation, as a lesbian, was stressful; it was difficult.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Work has started on amending legislation to expunge the criminal convictions of gay men prosecuted before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar told some 700 people at a reception on the 25th anniversary of decriminalisation that it would take some time but it could be done.

Speaking in Dublin Castle, Mr Varadkar said the Child and Family Relationship Act would be amended by the summer recess to permit same-sex parents to have their names on their children’s birth certificates.

The gay rainbow flag flew from most flagpoles at the castle as the Dublin Ukelele Collective entertained guests queuing to enter the reception.

In his speech Mr Varadkar said the most remarkable thing about being gay in Ireland today was that it was totally unremarkable.

“You’re not that special, even if you think you are,” he said, adding to laughter: “To quote Lady Gaga, maybe I was born this way.”

As he paid tribute to all those who had suffered, campaigned and acted for gay rights, Mr Varadkar said the one thing they could be certain of was that “history is always changed by hope”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “History is always changed by hope.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “History is always changed by hope.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Independent Senator David Norris, who took a court case that eventually led to decriminalisation, received sustained applause when he addressed an audience including judges, politicians, diplomats and leading community and gay rights activists.

Mr Norris said he was “just a telegram from the past” but he had a message that young people no longer needed to feel ashamed or afraid to be gay.

He said it was wonderful to get the apology from the State “but it would be even better to get an apology from the church”.

Mr Norris paid tribute to former president Mary Robinson, who led his court challenge, and to former tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who pushed for the gay marriage referendum.

Beaten to death

The most emotional moment at the reception occurred when Niall Behan spoke about his uncle Declan Flynn, who was beaten to death in Fairview Park, Dublin, in 1982, which was a catalyst for the gay rights movement.

Mr Behan said his uncle’s killers walked free even though they were convicted of manslaughter. He said his uncle was let down by the judicial system and that a judge had said his death “could never be considered murder” and that the gang were, Mr Behan quoted, “cleaning up the area”.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said Ireland had chosen to love rather than hate since homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993.

That choice was “the product of hard work, and the profit of the sacrifice of many, including those whose work towards decriminalisation we celebrate here this evening”.

Ms Zappone referred to the transformation of Irish society in the past 25 years. “It is a journey which saw President Mary Robinson welcoming the first group of out lesbians and gay men to the Áras”, decriminalisation and then gay marriage.

State apology

Ms Zappone said that “living in Ireland during criminalisation, as a lesbian, was stressful; it was difficult.

“Not only was Ireland a homophobic state and, often, society, but so too was it a deeply, and often violently, misogynistic one.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar joining in the Dublin Ukulele Collective band with Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar joining in the Dublin Ukulele Collective band with Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ms Zappone referred to comments by the Taoiseach that some of the State’s founding members were gay. Among the gay women were “Dr Kathleen Lynn, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Elizabeth O’Farrell, Julia Grenan, and Helena Molony”, who were suffragists, revolutionaries, patriots and “almost certainly all sexually attracted to women”.

And she quoted Irish lesbian poet Mary Dorcey, who wrote: “Perhaps the heart is constant, after all. Perhaps it makes no difference who we love, what voice lures us, what name we call. It’s always the same love, is it not?”