Taoiseach tells story of gay Co Louth teenager at EU summit

‘I said very clearly to Viktor Orban that your law will harm young people,’ Michéal Martin says

 

The 27 leaders of the European Union have been told of a Drogheda teenager’s experiences of homophobia during a row over a discriminatory law introduced by Hungary at a Brussels summit.

Micheál Martin told his counterparts about the efforts of Ruairí Holohan to highlight the issue of homophobic bullying.

“I took the opportunity to share an interview I had last November with Ruairí Holohan from Drogheda in the context of Unicef project in terms of the rights of children,” Mr Martin told journalists.

“Ruairí took me through his story in the interview, and he was raising the issue of homophobic behaviour in schools, the difficulties for young people, teenagers in particular, as they come out as they want to engage and so forth and the challenges that they face.”

Ruairí was selected by Unicef Ireland for its #KidsTakeOver of the Taoiseach’s office last November.

On Friday, Mr Martin shared the teenager’s story with the gathering of presidents and prime ministers to highlight that young people are at risk if LGBT people are discriminated against at State level.

The Hungarian law bans the portrayal of gay people in content for under-18s as supposed “promotion” of homosexuality, in a law that links being gay or trans with paedophilia and would curtail sex education on the issue in schools.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán was furiously confronted by EU leaders at the summit, including by Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel who explained his own struggle to come out to his parents.

Mr Martin described the meeting as “passionate” and a “heartfelt outpouring” in which the EU leaders made it clear to the Hungarian prime minister that he had crossed a line and there could be implications for Hungary’s receipt of EU funds.

“I said very clearly to Viktor Orban that your law will harm young people, will suppress the rights of young people,” Mr Martin told journalists.

“Many members made it very clear to the Hungarian prime minister that these laws were offensive to the esprit de corps of the European Union,” he continued.

“Of all the meetings I’ve attended, it was quite extraordinary. An outpouring of heartfelt views from members across the table. Xavier Bettel in particular, give a wonderful personal, eloquent testimony to his own life story and the impact that laws like this could have.”

Mr Bettel shared the story of his own struggle with his sexuality with the EU leaders, warning the Hungarian prime minister that many gay young people take their own lives due to stigma and discrimination.

“I did not become gay. I am, it is not a choice,” Mr Bettel told Mr Orbán according to sources close to the meeting.

“This is very bad, this is stigmatising . . . This is really terrible in a European country. I respect you, but this is a red line. It is about basic rights.”

Mr Martin had a conversation with Ruairí in November as part of a Unicef event to mark World Children’s Day, for which Ruairí was selected to speak to the Taoiseach about efforts to combat homophobia and increase respect for LGBTI+ young people.

“My reimagined world is a place where I could walk down the street being the person I am when I’m with my friends, in school, or performing - when I’m happy,” Ruairí said in a statement at the time.

“I could be myself, and every day would be Pride - there wouldn’t need to be a Pride parade. There would be no need to ‘come out’, because you would just be yourself.

“My sexual orientation may be different to others, but that doesn’t make me different to other people. I don’t want any young person to be the target of hate or disrespect, or to fear being attacked verbally or physically.”

The European Commission has taken the first step towards legal proceedings against Hungary over the legislation, adding to ongoing infringement procedures due to the erosion of democratic norms in the country, and most EU states including Ireland signed a joint declaration condemning the law.

There are also moves to withhold EU funds from countries that breach the rule of law, as the EU prepares to begin distributing large amounts of Covid-19 stimulus money.

“There was absolutely no doubt leaving that meeting that Hungary was left in no doubt that a line had been crossed. and without question it would have implications in terms of future decisions around funding,” Mr Martin said.