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Ruairí Holohan, speaking with Micheál Martin last year. Merrion Street

Taoiseach tells story of gay Drogheda teenager at EU summit, as pressure ramps up on Hungary over new law

A majority of the leaders insisted that discrimination must not be tolerated in the 27-nation bloc.

LAST UPDATE | 25 Jun 2021

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said Hungary “was left in no doubt that a line was crossed” with the country’s new legislation that will ban showing content about LGBTQ issues to children.

At a EU Summit, the majority of the leaders insisted that discrimination must not be tolerated in the 27-nation bloc and told Viktor Orban that the new Hungarian law goes against the EU’s fundamental values.

Speaking to reporters about the meeting, Martin said he used the opportunity to share the experience of a Drogheda teenager who spoke with the Taoiseach last year about the everyday homophobia he experiences.

“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,”  Martin told reporters.

“Rory 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,” he added.

Holohan, who was 15 at the time, spoke to Martin over Zoom as part of a series of events for World Children’s Day.

As reported by RTÉ at the time, Holohan said even though Ireland has progressed so much in the last few years, homophobia is still widespread.

The Transition Year student, came out at 13.

The Taoiseach said he made it clear to Hungary that the new law “will harm many people and suppress the rights of your people”.

Martin told the media today that there was an “extraordinary outpouring of heartfelt views” from people around the table at last night’s meeting, stating that it was made clear to Hungary that the laws were “offensive to the core” of the EU.

Hungary gave its perspective on the new laws, but the Taoiseach said action will be take by the Commission over the matter, stating that it will have future implications on funding to the country. 

The Taoiseach said the EU is there to protect citizens rights in terms of their fundamental rights, adding that Hungarian citizens are EU citizens.

“Hungary should reflect on its position and change its laws,” he said.

Following the meeting, the Dutch Prime Minister said, “Hungary has no place in the EU anymore”, as EU leaders hit out at the country’s new legislation in his country that will ban showing content about LGBTQ issues to children.

“Being homosexual is not a choice; being homophobic is,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Orban during the meeting, according to a EU diplomat. The person spoke anonymously according to usual practice.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte launched a virulent tongue-lashing, suggesting that Orban activate the same clause in the bloc’s treaty that Britain used to leave if he is not happy with the EU’s principles, another diplomat said.

On his way into the summit, Rutte told journalists “for me, Hungary has no place in the EU anymore”.

Facing Orban inside, Rutte said: “You have passed the line. This time it is too much,” according to another EU official in the room.

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga said on Twitter that Hungary has no intention of leaving the EU.

She wrote: “On the contrary, we want to save it from hypocrites.”

Hosting the summit in Brussels, European Council president Charles Michel recalled that values such as freedom, tolerance and human dignity are at the heart of the EU, said another diplomat with direct knowledge of the discussions.

He added that the discussion was “an in-depth and at times even emotional debate”.

Speaking to reporters in Cork, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said calls for Hungary to leave the EU are “premature”.

“The debate in relation to LGBTI rights in Hungary is now very much underway in the European Union. Let’s wait and see where the consensus moves on that issue,” Coveney said.

I think calls for Hungary to leave the European Union are premature, I have to say. But there is clearly a debate needed on this issue, because there are certain things within the European Union that we need consistency on and this is one of them.

The law was signed on Wednesday by Hungarian President Janos Ader after Hungary’s parliament passed the bill last week.

It prohibits sharing content on homosexuality or sex reassignment to people under 18 in school sex education programs, films or advertisements.

The government says it will protect children, but critics say it links homosexuality with paedophilia. It will enter into force in 15 days.

Speaking upon arrival at the meeting in Brussels, Orban ruled out withdrawing the law, insisting it does not target homosexuals.

He said: “It’s not about homosexuality, it’s about the kids and the parents.

“I am defending the rights of homosexual guys but this law is not about them.”

The issue has turned a harsh spotlight on the EU’s inability to rein in the “illiberal democracies” among its ranks like Hungary and Poland, whose deeply conservative, nationalist and anti-migrant governments have flouted the bloc’s democratic standards and values for years.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday morning, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there has to be “strong moral pressure from the rest of Europe on what has transpired” in Hungary.

He said that “it is not just about sending a signal but sending a very clear message” about European values.

In addition to that, every avenue has to be explored in terms of the legal framework in Europe to pursue this issue. Moral pressure does matter but also asserting European values matters on an issue so fundamental as this.

He added that there are “fundamental rights” around diversity that are celebrated in Ireland and that this is important that these are “asserted and articulated strongly and that Hungry hears that”. 

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is openly gay, said the Hungarian law further stigmatises homosexuals and should be fought.

He said: “The most difficult thing for me was to accept myself when I realised that I was in love with this person of my sex.

“It was hard to say to my parents, hard to say to my family … we have a lot of young people who do suicide because they do not accept themselves, how they are.”

In coordinated messages on Twitter, several EU leaders wrote that “hate, intolerance and discrimination have no place in our Union. That’s why, today and every day, we stand for diversity and LGBTI equality so that our future generations can grow up in a Europe of equality and respect”.

Many attached a letter to their tweets addressed to European Council president Charles Michel, who hosted their summit, as well as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, who also took part in the meeting.

The letter, signed by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, among others, continued: “Respect and tolerance are at the core of the European project.

“We are committed to carry on with this effort, making sure that future European generations grow up in an atmosphere of equality and respect.

Hungary was not mentioned by name, but many of the same leaders signed a letter earlier this week backed by 17 countries calling on Ms von der Leyen’s commission, which watches over the respect of EU laws, to take the government in Budapest to the European Court of Justice over the bill.

The commission has already taken the first step in legal action.

On Wednesday, Brussels sent a letter to Hungary’s justice minister seeking “clarifications, explanation and information” about elements of the bill.

It said that some provisions appear to “directly violate the prohibition of discrimination based on sex and on sexual orientation”, and would put homosexuality, sex change and divergence from self-identity “on the same footing as pornography”.

Asked yesterday about the Hungarian bill, Guterres said: “All forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable and obviously any form of discrimination in relation to LGBTQ+ people are totally unacceptable.”

Speaking after a meeting with Guterres, EU Parliament president David Sassoli said a mechanism making payouts to Hungary from a Covid-19 recovery fund conditional to the respect of the rule of law should be activated.

Sassoli said: “The time has come now for the law to get applied.”

Includes reporting by Christina Finn, Rónán Duffy, Niall O’Connor and Press Association, © – AFP, 2021

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