Northern Assembly passes motion to pardon gay men for homosexual acts

Law already passed in Westminster now given legislative consent in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Assembly has passed a motion pardoning gay men convicted for previously illegal homosexual acts.

The issue was brought before the Assembly on Monday by the independent unionist Minister of Justice Claire Sugden under a wider motion relating to the British Policing and Crime Bill.

The motion permitting for retrospective pardons was passed without the necessity of a recorded vote with the only declared opposition coming from the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party Jim Allister. The motion gave legislative consent to a law already passed at Westminster.

The DUP chairman of the Assembly's justice committee Paul Frew was the only member of his party to speak on the motion, which, as well as dealing with the pardoning of homosexual acts, relates to UK maritime enforcement powers, UK cross-jurisdictional arrest powers, and anonymity for victims of forced marriage.


Mr Frew outlined how the committee addressed the issues and added that while his committee “was content with the proposal to extend the provision for pardons for convictions for abolished homosexual offences to Northern Ireland, it also agreed to ask the Minister of Justice whether she is minded to undertake a review to identify the scale of other anomalies specific to Northern Ireland that may need to be addressed in relation to heterosexual offences”.

Save Ulster

Mr Allister, noting how Mr Frew was the only DUP speaker in the Assembly, referred to how in the past the party was associated with the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign.

“We had a speech by the chairman of the [justice] committee, but he did not at any point, as is normal, speak on behalf of his party. Why? Because his party does not want to have anything on the record about the matter,” said Mr Allister.

“That is why. The party of ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ does not want to have it on the record that it said anything about the matter, which is why it is so anxious that there should be no vote in the House on it. It is because of its embarrassment,” added Mr Allister.

“The DUP has those in its ranks who carried the placards saying, ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’, and they know that the action that the House is taking is validating that very thing by saying that it was wrong for it to have been an offence.”

Mr Allister also claimed that Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) members who had misgivings about the motion were "suppressed" by the leadership from opposing the gay pardons element of the motion.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt described the claims as "close to outrageous", telling the assembly on Monday: "We debated the matter at length this morning and are treating it not as a moral issue but as a legal one."


Mr Allister said the motion was “a fashionable pandering” to a particular interest. “It is now so fashionable to jump on board the LGBT bandwagon that you simply abandon all principles and leave your beliefs outside the door,” he said.

Mr Allister sought but failed to have an amendment carried where the reference to pardons was removed from the motion.

“The issue is whether the House in 2016, in its arrogance, thinks that it can take it upon itself to rewrite the law of 40 years ago,” he said.

“It cannot, and it should not. The law was the law. If those who chose to break the law, knowing what the law was, paid a penalty, that was the law taking its course, whether they were homosexual or heterosexual,” added Mr Allister.

Mr Allister, who is the only TUV MLA at Stormont, tried to have his amendment put to the house but he was unable to raise two tellers to record the vote. The main motion was carried by acclamation without the necessity of a recorded vote.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times