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Kieran Rose, Chris Robson, Phil Moore and Suzy Byrne celebrate the decriminalisation GLEN

20 years ago homosexuality was decriminalised, but not everyone was happy...

Paul McGrath of Fine Gael at the time spoke against the bill and said he was concerned what impact it would have on society as a whole.

TWENTY YEARS AGO today, Ireland passed legislation which officially decriminalised homosexuality.

While most in the Dáil welcomed the Bill, proposed by the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn on behalf of the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition government, some were deeply unhappy about it.

Quoted in Cathy Herbert’s radio package for RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Paul McGrath also of Fine Gael at the time spoke against the bill and said he was concerned what impact it would have on society as a whole:

Are we now to see exhibitions in public by homosexuals? Holding hands, kissing, cuddling etc. Is homosexual behavior to be put on a par with heterosexual behaviour? And I think we should reflect that the majority of the people in this country would not be in favour of such a move.

Eamon Gilmore congratulated Minister Geoghegan-Quinn on decriminalising the bill and acknowledged that she faced much opposition from what he called “intolerant groups”.

She has stood up to the threats of her own backbenchers, including indeed a colleague in her own constituency who has shown no shame in exploiting any difficulties which the Bill may have caused for her.

Although Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael said it was time to reform the law on homosexuality, he said he’s party would be introducing an amendment to change the proposed age of consent to protect young “vulnerable people”:

It is the view of my party that 18 years is the appropriate age that should apply in this case. The party is conscious that teenage years are tender years and it is anxious to strike the correct balance between removing unnecessary criminal taboos and protecting vulnerable people under the law.

Five deputies spoke against the bill on that night, one of them was Noel Ahern of Fianna Fáil, who said that the State had a responsibility to safeguard the sexual development of our children and in a way, compared homosexuality to abortion:

I feel that all this liberal, social legislation that’s being pushed through lately it’s all being done to soften us up for what people see as the big event, which is abortion and I’d just like to use this opportunity of giving my message that abortion is a different category and will not run.

There were many representatives that backed the Bill back in 1993, including current represtatives, the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald.

“The concept of male homosexuality as a criminal act has done its share in upholding prejudice and in creating and sustaining a climate in which some of our citizens have been marginalised and ostracised. Individuals and families have suffered greatly,” said Minister Fitzgerald.

“What we are concerned with fundamentally in this Bill is a necessary development of human rights,” Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the then Minister for Justice told a Dáil debate.

While Mervyn Taylor, the former Minister for Equality and Law Reform said the bill was the “right of each individual to participate fully in society”:

What could be more important for us as legislators, than to create a climate and a space in which two people who have chosen each other can express and share their love?

Senator David Norris, who had campaigned for the bill for 16 years, said it made him breathe more freely:

Young people will no longer have to grow up in the shadow of the taint of criminality which has blighted the vulnerable youth of so many of our citizens with terror and shame.

“The passage of the Bill in June 1993 was a watershed in the lives of gay and lesbian people in Ireland,” said Kieran Rose, the head of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network. “No longer were Irish people to be treated as criminals, just because of who they were.”

Related: Today marks the 20th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality>

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