Tonie Walsh knows more than most about Ireland and homophobia. For 40 years, he has been at the forefront of gay rights, and his CV demonstrates just what pivotal a role he has played: he was president of the National LGBT Federation at a time when homosexuality was classed as criminal in Ireland, he was among the founders of one of gay Dublin's most important community spaces, the Hirschfeld Centre in Temple Bar, and he co-created Gay Community News, Ireland's largest and longest-running gay publication.
Walsh, who grew up in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, and moved to Dublin after school, has witnessed all kinds of homophobia, not least the dark days of the 1980s when two men, Declan Flynn and Charles Self were, respectively, beaten and stabbed to death for being gay. He remembers the casual anti-gay language, the sneering of conservative politicians, the threat of violence that hung in the air if the wrong person saw you emerge from a gay pub.
More recently, he has seen a new form of homophobia, one stoked by far-right zealots and conspiracy theorists, many of who purport to be devout Christians, and facilitated through social media. He has seen them attack new Children's Minster Roderic O'Gorman - who is gay - on the basis that he was once photographed with Peter Tatchell, the British gay rights campaigner who has made controversial comments about underage sex. (Tatchell claims his views were misrepresented.)
O'Gorman, who was the victim of what appeared to be an orchestrated Twitter attack, moved to distance himself from any views attributed to Tatchell, but it wasn't enough to quell the rage of his tormentors. Walsh says their actions amount to little more than dog-whistling homophobia.
"They are conflating paedophilia and homosexuality," he says. "We thought in the early 1990s [homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993] that we had laid that odious, age-old slur to bed. It's been a stick to beat gay men with for a long time and the fact that you've people openly spouting that nonsense again is a real cause for concern."
Last Saturday, hundreds of protesters marshalled by far-right groups, the National Party and the Freedom Party gathered outside the gates of Leinster House. Some of those bore placards depicting nooses, while National Party leader Justin Barrett called for the death penalty for so-called paedophile-apologists. Footage shared on social media showed that members of an LGBT-friendly group holding a counter-demonstration were attacked by some in attendance.
John Connors, the actor and campaigner of the Travelling community, also spoke at the event - which its organisers called March for Innocence - but he did not respond to requests for comment by the time of going to press.
In a conversation with Review, Barrett says "homosexuality wasn't mentioned at any point - this was about paedophilia and the protection of children. We were calling for the resignation of Roderic O'Gorman. His sexuality has nothing to do with it."
Barrett says he and his party opposed marriage equality, but says he is "absolutely not" a homophobe. "I am opposed to the LGBT+ whatever-you-call it agenda to push sex education to primary school children," he says. "My initial response was to ignore it because I think there's a risk giving that element a platform and I very much try to avoid that," Roderic O'Gorman told TheJournal.ie this week. "But the volume with which they were able to magnify the lies they put forward was such that it was starting to creep into the discourse.
"I think a very significant amount of it was motivated by homophobia. Most people involved, which makes it all the more worrying, were careful in how they crafted their abuse. But I think that was the basis of it, that I'm somehow incapable of making decisions regarding children and young people."
For Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty International Ireland's executive director, the abuse directed at the Children's Minster was a chilling reminder that in some pockets of Ireland there is a deep-rooted hatred of gay people.
"As a gay man and a father, I have been frequently attacked, right back to 2007 when it become publicly known that we [Colm O'Gorman and his husband, Paul] were parenting children. I've been told I'm not fit to be a father. I had someone say I was only too happy to get into bed with a priest."
The founder of the abuse survivor's group One in Four, O'Gorman was the victim of clerical sex abuse when he was a child.
"After many years in the public eye, I have got used to that sort of abuse," he says. "I've toughened up to it. But it's very hard for those close to me, especially my family."
He says the sustained attack on Roderic O'Gorman was among the worst he has witnessed. "Those attacks began long before that photograph with Peter Tatchell. And that has to be seen in the context of the kind of attacks that Katherine Zappone would have had when she was appointed Minister for Children - and from exactly the same kinds of people. A website was created before the last general election associating her with witchcraft and other such nonsense."
Paula Fagan, chief executive of LGBT Ireland, says it is vital that fit-for-purpose hate speech legislation is enacted, and for social media networks to deplatform those who post homophobic comments. "A lot of it seems to be orchestrated and it's come from far-right groups," she says. "Interpol published the statistics on extreme right-wing groups and it was the first time that Ireland featured in that report.
"We've seen a trend towards more overt, threatening behaviours," she adds. "It is still isolated, but there is a trend upwards. Looking at our stats, we went from 11 calls about violence up to 40 last year - and that's a big leap."
Fagan says a common thread for many of those who espouse naked homophobia is their hatred of immigration, of Muslims and "minorities in general". She says their aggression can filter down and potentially trigger anti-gay sentiment among some who are impressionable.
One prominent figure in the LGBT community - who is also well-known among the wider population - initially spoke on record to Review about the homophobia he has experienced, including being assaulted in broad daylight in Dublin city centre, but then opted not to have his name used.
"I just don't want to bring them down on me," he says. "Already, I get tweeted stuff like 'paedo', which is so hurtful, and I'd be fearful that by going public on this, I'd be piled-on. I'd even be worried about my life - there's a lot of hate out there.
"After the marriage referendum in 2015 there was this collective feeling of euphoria, but homophobia has never gone away. It just looks a bit different now. Social media has amplified it and the people spouting all that hatred are getting away with it - no matter how many times they are reported, they are still there, on their platforms, shouting abuse."
He believes fringe elements in Ireland have taken their cues from the rising popularity of conservative figures such as Andrzej Duda, who was re-elected president of Poland this week. "My partner is Polish and he is really worried about what's happening there," he says. "The frightening thing is that people like that are getting to power all over the world."
Another gay man who has campaigned against the rise of homophobic far-right elements declines to be involved in this article: "I've decided not to make a comment. What has happened happened and I really don't want to give these people [far-right agitators] any more attention," he says.
Lisa Connell, managing editor of Gay Community News, understands the reluctance for people to put their heads above the parapet, but she believes it is vital that homophobia is confronted. "We can't ignore what's happening," she says. "We have to call it out for what it is."
She is comforted by the sense that for the vast majority of Irish people, overt homophobia is a cause for revulsion. "I really feel that the sentiment is, 'Oh no, we don't really have Irish people like that, do we?' We recognise that sort of aggression from fringe elements in our neighbours on both sides of the water [the US and UK], but we can forget that that dark underbelly is here, too.
"We can say to ourselves, we're the people who voted for marriage equality and to repeal the Eighth [amendment on abortion], but we sometimes forget that there's this cohort of people, who are amplified on social media, who think very differently and they're not afraid to show just how homophobic they are.
"And I think they've become emboldened by the likes of Duda getting re-elected because it sort of vindicates their standpoint - they're thinking, 'If somebody in Poland is saying 'We think LGBT people are intrinsically disordered, something is wrong with them, we don't want them near our children' then that really does embolden anyone who might think like that here. And Duda isn't even hiding it. It's 'You're paedophiles - we don't trust you near children'."
Moninne Griffith, chief executive of BelongTo, the LGBT youth organisation, says homophobia is still felt keenly by today's teenagers. "There's a huge variation in the sort of prejudice they're encountering," she says, "from people who don't realise the language they are using them is hurting them - banter among friends - to actual physical attacks and damage to their property. Young LGBT people are experiencing slurs, exclusion, isolation..."
She says a survey of young LGBT people found that 90pc reported mental health issues during lockdown. "Some of them find themselves in really difficult situations, where they might be in a family environment and their sexuality is not supported. You've even people who get cast out of their homes. In our survey, over 50pc of them didn't feel that they were accepted."
She fears that a climate of normalised homophobia will seep down to children and teenagers and intensify the problem. "So much progress has been made over the years and it would be awful to see it regress," she says.
There are sobering reports that even children of primary school age are displaying homophobic attitudes. In February, the Dublin writer Gavin McCrea was attacked in a south Dublin park by a group of six boys. He had been jeered with homophobic insults and had stones thrown at him before being assaulted. He sustained a broken nose and cheekbone.
"I am a private person and going public in this way makes me uncomfortable," he said at the time, "but I felt it was the right thing to do. I think it's important. I was bullied severely from the ages of 10 to 20, after which I left Ireland vowing never to return, and now I have and I am made to revisit those old experiences. It has been quite intense. I say 'revisit' because the kids who beat me up were 12 to 14 years old, the same age as the kids in my youth. It gave me a bizarre feeling of déjà vu."
Tonie Walsh, meanwhile, believes it is worthwhile to try to engage with homophobes, to open a line of conversation. "We can't pretend it's not happening," he says. "We have to try to understand them.
"They seem to be broken people who are lashing out at everything and everyone. They must feel very marginalised, like nobody is listening to them. I don't know what it's like to carry that much hate around with you, but it must be draining.
"It comes down to us refining our notions of empathy and tolerance and education and rather than ignoring it or being adversarial towards it, we should apply whatever mechanisms we have in society - either legal or social mechanisms - to engage with these broken, hurt people.
"I know full well," he adds, "that that's an enormous task and it won't achieve results overnight. But we have to start somewhere."