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Cónal Thomas
Conversion Therapy

Department to look at 'extent and nature' of conversion therapy in Ireland before moving to ban

The practice refers to any form of psychological intervention which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Children has commissioned further research into the practice of conversion therapy in Ireland before progressing plans to outlaw the controversial practice, it has emerged. 

The delay in banning the practice in the Republic, a commitment contained in the Programme for Government, comes after it was decided that research is needed to determine how prevalent it is, and in what settings it occurs, before legislating to ban it.

Minister Roderic O’Gorman said in April that a scoping paper on the issue had been prepared for the Department of Health to further proposals to ban conversion therapy.

The practice refers to any form of psychological intervention which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation. 

It is typically carried out in settings without qualified medical supervision. 

In May, a subgroup of the Government’s LGBT+ steering committee was set up and has met twice to further the issue, but the Department recently decided that more research is needed into how widespread conversion therapy is in Ireland. 

A spokesperson for O’Gorman said “we need to look at the extent and the nature of it here.

“Obviously for any law you need a proper evidence base, and if you’re putting into law something that comes with a prohibition you have to be absolutely clear what the activity is that you’re looking to outlaw.”

They said there is a lack of data and research available on the practice of conversion therapy in the Republic, and in which settings it may occur. 

This could include non-clinical practices like religious settings, they said. 

It is expected that this research will not be completed for several months with work on drafting legislation due to commence in 2022. 

A recent debate in Northern Ireland around banning conversion therapy has brought renewed focus to the Government’s commitment to outlaw it here. 

In March, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said that a rush to ban the practice in Northern Ireland could lead to ineffective laws that enable it to continue.

Sinn Féin’s Hargey said she would like to bring forward draft legislation immediately, but told MLAs she had received expert advice that more time was needed to ensure any legislation is watertight. 

The Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] has opposed a ban on conversion therapy. Former leader Arlene Foster was regarded to have gone against that policy earlier this year when she abstained from a Stormont vote on a ban – a move that hastened the plot by hardliners in the party to have her removed from the top job.

In 2018, Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield proposed to put a ban in place in the Republic with Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill.

It would prohibit conversion therapy as “a deceptive and harmful act or practice against a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression.”

Almost 20 senators co-signed Warfield’s Bill when it was first put forward but it has only reached the committee stage in the Seanad.

The Psychological Society of Ireland this week reiterated its 2019 position that conversion therapy “has no place in any modern society”. 

“To even call it ‘therapy’ is an affront to the work we do as Psychologists and adds a layer of validity to it that’s not deserved,” then-PSI President Ian O’Grady said. 

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