Monday 19 August 2019

We must learn from suffering of unknown gay heroes: Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: Laura Hutton/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: Laura Hutton/PA Wire
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has paid tribute to the thousands of "unknown heroes" who were criminalised for being gay in Ireland before the ban on same-sex activity was finally lifted 25 years ago.

"We cannot erase the wrong that was done to them. What we can say is that we have learned as a society from their suffering," he said.

He was speaking as the Dáil and Seanad offered a "sincere apology" to those who were convicted under the law that was repealed in 1993.

During the debate, Mr Varadkar and other politicians remembered Declan Flynn, the young man killed in Dublin in 1982 for being gay.

The Taoiseach said Mr Flynn had been "brutally attacked" by a group of men, one of whom shouted "we are going to bash a queer".

"When the Oireachtas makes something a crime, some people believe they have a licence to punish those they believe are committing it," Mr Varadkar said.

"These were young men who had grown up in a society which hated and feared homosexuality. They took the law into their own hands."

He said that after Mr Flynn's death there were huge protests by groups who were horrified at the sentence given to his attackers, and "a movement was mobilised in Ireland".

Mr Varadkar also paid tribute to long-time gay rights campaigner Senator David Norris - whose activism heavily contributed to the move to change the law in 1993.

He said that so much had changed in Ireland and pointed to the marriage equality vote in 2015.

Mr Varadkar said that, as a gay man, being elected Taoiseach was "something that would have been unimaginable when I was born, and would have seemed impossible even a few short years ago".

Children's Minister and gay rights campaigner Katherine Zappone said the apology was "so historic". She said it would be emotional for her that the State is acknowledging the harm that was done by the law.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the change in the law did not end discrimination, but it "did set off a chain of actions which have changed our country unquestionably for the better".

Like Mr Varadkar, he paid tribute to Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the justice minister in the Fianna Fáil- Labour coalition that repealed the legislation.

Mr Martin said she insisted the Dáil should see it as a human-rights issue and rejected attempts by some to keep some inequality in the law.

Mr Martin said there are many countries where homophobia was still promoted by governments. He singled out Russia and nations in Africa.

"Commemorating progress in our own country is an empty gesture if we do not speak up for those in other countries who are suffering," he said.

In the Seanad, Mr Norris said gay people had been "ashamed and terrified" under the old laws.

He quipped that it was "extremely gracious of the Government to issue an apology for a bill that didn't originate in this country". He said it had been a British law, and the Irish people were "always generous, decent and compassionate".

Irish Independent

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