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July 24, 2021, Budapest, Hungary: A member of the LGBTIQ community holds a rainbow flag during the annual Budapest Pride march. Thousands of people took part in the annual pride parade in Budapest. Aleksander Kalka

Fiona O'Loughlin Ireland can remain a leader on LGBTQI+ rights if it stands up to Hungary

The senator says Ireland must support the EU’s legal action against Hungary’s anti-LGBTQI+ laws.

TWO YEARS AGO, Hungary introduced laws banning the portrayal of LGBTQI+ content to those under 18. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claims the laws are aimed at safeguarding children as harsher punishments for convicted paedophiles have been introduced.

But an amendment was added prohibiting content, such as educational material, aimed at minors that depicts any ‘divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality’.

This is unprecedented for an EU member state. These laws discriminate against people based on gender identity and sexual orientation, are in direct violation of the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ people and have rightly been labelled as anti-gay propaganda by the European Commission, the European Parliament and many EU member states.

hungary-budapest-viktor-orban-state-of-the-nation-address Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gives his annual state of the nation address in Budapest, Hungary, Feb. 18, 2023. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

It’s not the first time that Orban has been criticised over his human rights record. In early 2020 a law was introduced preventing people from legally changing their gender. Later that year the Hungarian parliament banned same-sex couples from adopting children. These new laws are a carbon copy of Putin’s 2013 law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”.

polskie-babacie-polish-grannies-protest-warsaw-poland-2022 April 21, 2022, Warsaw, Poland: Polskie Babacie ('Polish Grannies') activists run a protest throughout Warsaw in protest of Putin's war in Ukraine and his stance on rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Bianca Otero Bianca Otero

This ban imposes hefty fines on people who provide information about LGBTQI+ matters or hold gay pride rallies.

The Kremlin has recently extended the ban to adults as well as children in a further deterioration of human rights for the LGBTQI+ community.

Last year the European Commission referred Hungary to the Court of Justice of the EU over the new laws, saying they are in violation of EU internal market rules in addition to violating the fundamental rights of individuals.

Ireland must take a stand

It is now time for Ireland to formally take a stand against Orban’s attack on what should be the non-negotiable rights of its citizens.

As a leader in LGBTQI+ rights and a progressive society which has introduced gay marriage and consistently argues in favour of gay rights and the importance of sexual freedom, the Irish Government needs to join this European Commission court case without delay.

Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin has strongly criticised Hungary’s unjust law, and it is expected a memo will be brought before Cabinet ministers before the end of March seeking approval for Ireland to join the EU proceedings against Hungary.

It is believed some 20 other EU member states could do the same in the coming weeks. If this comes to pass it would make it the largest human rights infringement proceeding ever brought in front of the European Court of Justice. While it’s rare for EU member states to join together in this way – this is one of the extraordinary times when action is needed. Ireland should be at the forefront and lead by example by being the first to join this action before the deadline of 27 March.

Council of Europe

In May, as Leader of the Irish Delegation to the Council of Europe, I will be hosting the fourth summit of the Council in its 73-year history in Reykjavik, Iceland. The Council is not only the guardian of human rights, democracy and the rule of law and an organisation with the technical expertise to draft legal standards, but it is also a political community.

It is not a defence organisation. By strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law in its member states, it contributes to democratic security for the whole continent.

Hungary’s anti-LGBTQI+ laws highlight the urgent need for the Council of Europe to be given greater political clout. However, the summit is the ideal place for European leaders to state their unequivocal confidence in the EU’s founding values and speak out against Orban’s law.

The EU has, for the most part, been a particularly successful example of a disparate group of nations coming together for the common good, working closely to maintain a union that promotes liberty, freedom and the fundamental rights of all its citizens. Hungary’s law is more than just an attack on LGBTQI+ people; it is an attack on our way of life in the EU and goes against everything that the bloc stands for.

In this, the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s entry to the bloc, it is more important than ever to make our voices heard against any form of repression and discrimination. It is only by taking a stand that we will ensure the continued success of our European project and lay the foundations for generations to come.

Fiona O’Loughlin is Deputy Fianna Fáil Leader in the Seanad and Leader of the Irish Delegation to the Council of Europe.

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