Ireland concerned at ‘alarming pushback’ against LGBTI rights, says Varadkar

Taoiseach is joined at UN by Tánaiste Micheál Martin who suggests the Government is preparing to recognise Palestine as an independent state

Ireland is deeply concerned at the “alarming pushback against LGBTI rights and the rise of violence and hatred towards LGBTI people at home and abroad”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

In a speech to an event at the United Nations in New York on Monday, he said “draconian laws” were being re-introduced in some countries.

He said these included “the threat of the death penalty, openly discriminatory laws” while there was an increasing backlash against transgender people, and heightened polarisation, including at the United Nations.

“We deeply regret escalating attempts by some states to undermine existing international commitments and standards.”

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The Taoiseach said Ireland was committed to responding to this pushback.

Separately at the UN, Tánaiste Micheál Martin suggested the Government was preparing to recognise Palestine as an independent state.

“Our view is as part of the Programme for Government that in terms of the recognition of Palestine, the Palestinian state, our view is that we favour that.”

He said the timing of such a development and the impact of taking such a decision had to be weighed up in order to have some impact and “adding value to getting a resolution to the crisis”.

Asked directly if this would happen within the lifetime of the Government, he said: “It well may very well, but that’s a call we will make. We’re doing some assessment in relation to that internally within the Department [of Foreign Affairs].”

Mr Martin said he had just returned from the middle east and would be having further talks on the issue this week in New York.

In his address on LGBTI rights, Mr Varadkar said: “In the year when we mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it is more important than ever to re-affirm our dedication to the universality of human rights, that LGBTI rights are human rights.”

The Taoiseach said the history of Ireland teaches “that we are not here to lecture or dictate to others, but to share our journey”.

“Ireland also continues to face challenges, and we are not so naive to think that LGBTI people don’t continue to face significant barriers to full participation in public life. I sincerely hope that our story can be a source of some optimism at a difficult time.

“I can vividly remember an Ireland shaped by shame, conformity and fear, where my election as Taoiseach, as prime minister, as an openly gay man would have seemed an impossibility.

“To those who argue that marriage equality, or recognition of gender diversity, threatens to undermine society, our experience has been quite the opposite.”

The Taoiseach said that same-sex relations between consenting males was only decriminalised in 1993 when he was in secondary school.

“Yet eight years ago, in 2015 Ireland became the first country in the world to provide for marriage equality by popular vote in an historic referendum and to enshrine that right in our constitution.”

“Also in 2015, the Gender Recognition Act was passed, which allowed for transgender citizens to have their gender recognised through self-determination.”

He said this legislation had been in place for eight years and had “worked well”.

He said the Government was planning “to legislate to disregard historic convictions for consensual sexual activity between men and ban so-called conversion therapy”.

“These are momentous legislative changes – but the real effect runs much deeper. Our culture has changed. Our society’s understanding of family and inclusion has evolved. The Ireland of today is more understanding, more accepting, more inclusive and more equal. More willing to respect fluidity, diversity and personal freedom.

“This real social change would not have been possible without sustained, dedicated advocacy, clarity of vision and an unshakeable belief that things can be better, that change is possible.

“I believe that civil society is vital to this change and championing civil society and defending human rights defenders is part of Ireland’s foreign policy.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent