'Spend referendum cash on HIV tests' - senator
GAY AND lesbian rights groups have reacted angrily after a former Fianna Fáil senator claimed a gay man told him the money being spent on the forthcoming Marriage Equality Referendum would be better spent on HIV testing for the gay community.
Jim Walsh quit Fianna Fáil last week, saying he could not support the party's stance on the upcoming referendum.
He is opposed to legislation which would allow gay couples to adopt. Speaking in the Seanad yesterday, Mr Walsh said he was speaking to a gay man over the weekend, who said the referendum is going to cost the taxpayer about €21m.
"He suggested that money could be so much better spent, in his opinion," added Mr Walsh.
"He said, for example, if that money were to be used to provide free HIV testing to people who are homosexual - where there's an increase now in the numbers affected by HIV - it would be far better expenditure of money."
Gráinne Healy, co-director of the Yes Equality campaign group, described the senator's comments as "extraordinary".
She accused him of trying to muddy the waters ahead of the referendum. "It's a referendum about including lesbians and gay couples in the institution of marriage," she told the Irish Independent.
"It's very unfortunate that the senator is apparently trying to bring in other issues that are contentious.
"Is he trying to discredit the Government's decision around calling for a referendum?"
She said she was "at a loss" on why he is trying to bring in these other issues.
"I'm baffled as to why he is making these comparisons," she said.