THE GOVERNMENT IS today apologising to men who were convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex activity prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993.
Between 1940 and 1978 an average of 13 men a year were jailed for homosexual offences, while between 1962 and 1972, there were 455 convictions.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has noted how Ireland has changed in his lifetime, stating that men were prosecuted just a few years before he was born and how a gay man being elected Taoiseach “would have been unimaginable”.
“I was born in 1979 and in the three years before that there were 44 prosecutions in this country. It’s not that long ago.
“Last year I had the privilege of being elected Taoiseach, something that would have been unimaginable when I was born, and would have seemed impossible even a few short years ago.”
Speaking in the Dáil Varadkar thanked people who “helped change minds and change laws”, he said these people “fought for me before I did so myself”.
He included Senator David Norris, who brought his case for decriminalisation to the Supreme Court thirty-five years ago.
In 1988, the European Court of Human Rights decided in favour of Norris in a landmark case.
Varadkar also acknowledged former President Mary Robinson who signed an act into law twenty-five years ago “that brought an end to decades of cruelty and injustice”.
He also made reference to Declan Flynn who was murdered in Fairview Park in 1982, describing how ‘his only crime was that he was gay’.
He was brutally attacked by five young men, one a teenager, who shouted ‘Hide behind a tree. We are going to bash a queer’.
“These were young men who had grown up in a society which hated and feared homosexuality. They took the law into their own hands. And all too often, people allowed the law to do its bashing for them.”
However he noted how on the date of the marriage referendum three years ago, ”the bench where Declan Flynn was killed, at Fairview Park, was covered with flowers and notes”.
‘Special tribute to unknown heroes‘
In his official apology to the men who were convicted under the historical legislation, Varadkar said it is “deeply traumatic to feel that you are rejected by your own country”.
“Homosexuality was seen as a perversion, and trials were sometimes a cruel form of entertainment. Others saw it as a mental illness including the medical profession at the time.
For every one conviction there were a hundred other people who lived under the stigma of prosecution, who feared having their sexuality made public, and their lives destroyed.
“In this country we were too silent on too many issues for far too long. It was the voices of the brave few who gave us all hope and who changed things for everyone.
Today the people I want to pay a special tribute to are the unknown heroes, the thousands of people whose names we do not know, who were criminalised by our forbears.
“Men and women of all ages who tried to live and love and be themselves in a society where their identity was feared and despised, and who were aliens in their own country for their entire lives.”
He said that while “we cannot erase the wrong that was done to them”, we “have learned as a society from their suffering”.
“Their stories have helped change us for the better; they have made us more tolerant, more understanding and more human.”
The Seanad Dáil heard the motion at 5.45, while the Dáil is scheduled to hear the motion from 6pm.
The Labour Party motion on the issue, tabled by Senator Ged Nash, has received all-party support in the Dáil.
The motion says the law prior to 1993 caused harm to gay people and to their family and friends.
Apologising in the Seanad, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said:
“To any person who felt the hurt and isolation created by those laws, and particularly to those who were criminally convicted by the existence of such laws.”
Flanagan also paid tribute to Senator David Norris describing his legal battle as “a brave, first step towards the decriminalisation of homosexual relationships”.
The Taoiseach has also announced that he will host a State event on Sunday to mark 25 years since decriminalisation.