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Varadkar said he still believes Ireland is a good place for people of the LGBTQ community to live.

Varadkar: 'There's a feeling in the gay community that homophobic attacks are on the rise'

Speaking to The Journal in a wide-ranging interview, Varadkar said the situation is ‘extremely worrying’.

THERE’S A FEELING in Ireland’s gay community that there has been an increase in homophobic attacks, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. 

Speaking to The Journal in a wide-ranging interview, he said:

“I don’t know if this is backed up by statistics, but certainly there’s a feeling in the community that there has been an increase in homophobic attacks in recent months. That is extremely worrying.”

His comments come after a man was left with serious facial injuries after an unprovoked homophobic assault on a Dublin Bus in the early hours of Sunday morning. 

Mark Sheehan, 26, was returning from a night out with friends when he was headbutted by a man. Mark and his friends had been returning from a night out in The George in Dublin city centre and had gotten on the 15 bus shortly before 4am.  

In June, LGBT+ groups met with gardaí about attacks in Dublin and what could be done about the situation.

Speaking to The Journal about the attack, Varadkar said, “based on what I have read, I believe that the attack on the bus was inspired by homophobic feelings”. 

He also confirmed that Justice Minister Helen McEntee has spoken to the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about the concern over homophobic attacks. 

However, Varadkar said he still believes Ireland is a good place for people of the LGBTQ community to live.

“I think if you’re gay, or lesbian, in Ireland, it’s probably one of the best countries in the world to live in. It’s not a particularly violent country. Discrimination, homophobia, and homophobic bullying exists, but perhaps not to the level that it exists in other places.

“And we have things like marriage equality, for example. I never forget the fact that there are 70 countries in the world where it’s still illegal to be gay, and only 30 where you can marry the person you love.

“So that gives you an idea of of how far ahead we are [compared to] the rest of the world, and also how much progress has to be made yet at an international level,” he said.

He said he believes new hate crime legislation will make a difference. 

“We have existing laws on incitement to hatred, but they’re written for a different time. And those laws now will make it a more serious offence,” he said. 

Varadkar had condemned the bus attack earlier this week, saying that people are entitled to feel safe on public transport.

Public transport and late-night club hours 

Speaking about concerns over people’s safety on public transport, particularly with plans to extend pub and club opening hours in the future, Varadkar said from a public transport and policing point of view, the planned change in the licensing laws will be a positive thing when it comes to public order. 

“We might get away from everyone hitting the streets at the same time,” he said.

The proposals for the late-night licensing laws for pubs and clubs will be ready by September, said Varadkar: “So within a few weeks. Realistically, the way the legislative timetable works, it could be a few more months before it gets through the Dáil.”

“I’d hope by next summer that we’d have a new licensing system in place,” he added.

Late-night public transport to get people home safely after a night out “has to be part of it”, said Varadkar.

“We do now have 24-hour services, not very many of them, but they do exist now for the first time. Services like Nitelink, late-night Luas and Dart, I think have to be part of it, because obviously people aren’t going to be driving home. And no matter what you do, there’s always going to be a limited number of taxis,” he said. 

“I’d like Ireland to have much more interesting nightlife. I don’t just mean pubs and clubs, I mean, night time cultural activities, and so on. And I don’t think everything has to be linked to alcohol. It’s kind of strange that if you’ve a night time venue that you have to close after you stop serving alcohol, you can’t just stop serving alcohol and stay open.

“So you know, our laws link things like that, for example, to alcohol, and maybe they shouldn’t. So we’re hoping to have the proposals ready for September,” said the Tánaiste. 

Ireland’s licensing system belongs to a “different age”, he said, as there is no nightclub license, only what is called a ‘special exemption order’, which requires club owners having to go to court to get permission to stay open late.

They have to do that by making out that “every Saturday night is a special event. And of course it isn’t”, said Varadkar. 

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