Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week led Irish government apologies to all those who were criminalised for their homosexuality prior to the repeal of the laws in 1993.
Speaking in Dáil Eireann he said: “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 forebears.”
He made his remarks during a debate on an Irish Labour Party motion to mark the 25th anniversary of Ireland’s decriminalisation of homosexuality. In the course of his speech he went on to say that several patriots involved in the founding of the Irish State – both men and women – were homosexual.
He said: “The (Irish) State’s laws affected gay men in a legal sense, (but) they had a chilling effect on lesbians as well.”
It was not possible to erase the injustices done to them, he said.
“What we can say is that 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,” said the Taoiseach.
Last weekend, at a commemorative event in Dublin Castle attended by Irish advocacy groups, judiciary and politicians, Mr Varadkar said efforts are being made to expunge convictions of men for being gay because the State wanted to go further than just an apology. He hoped this might be possible by the autumn or the end of the year.
“Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, working with our colleagues in the Labour Party, will be consulting with the Gardaí, the DPP and the UK Home Office to develop proposals to allow us to expunge historic convictions on request, where there was consent,” said Mr Varadkar. “An apology is just an apology. We want to go further and expunge those convictions as well,” said Mr Varadkar.
Mr Flanagan delivered a public apology in Seanad Eireann on behalf of the Irish State to members of the LGBT community who suffered as a result of the criminalisation of homosexuality. He paid particular tribute to Senator David Norris, who campaigned for equality for many years since 1977: “This was a brave, first step towards the decriminalisation of homosexual relationships, and is one which is widely recognised as the critical step that led to the 1993 Act. The impact and significance of that challenge cannot be underestimated.”
“I extend a sincere apology to all of those people, to their family, and to their friends.
“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,” said Mr Flanagan.
He said the Ireland of today is celebrated around the world for the value its citizens place on equality following the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015.
Mr Flanagan has said he is going to bring a proposal to Cabinet to hold a referendum on removing article 41.2 of the Constitution on the role of women which states: “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”
The referendum is set to be held in October on the same day voters will also be asked if they want to remove article 40.6.1 on blasphemy.