Irish government apologises to gay men convicted before decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland
"We do it for ourselves, we do it for others, and, most of all, we do it for the young."
The Irish Government has, on Tuesday, apologised to the men who were convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex activity prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993.
The legislation, called the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 1993 Bill, was proposed by then Fianna Fáil TD and Minister for Justice Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. The bill removed laws which criminalised sexual acts between men.
Between 1940 and 1978, an average of 13 men a year were jailed for homosexual offences. Between 1962 and 1972, there were 455 convictions.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in an emotive speech, noted the great strides Ireland has taken in recent decades, mentioning that in his early years, 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," the Taoiseach said.
"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."
Varadkar mentioned the tragic tale of Declan Flynn, who was brutally attacked and murdered by five men in Fairview Park in 1982.
"I was just a child when Declan Flynn was murdered in Fairview Park, his only crime that he was gay," he stated.
"He was brutally attacked by five young men, one a teenager, who shouted ‘Hide behind a tree. We are going to bash a queer’. He died from asphyxia after been given an horrific beating.
"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.
"The 22nd of May 2015 - a date I will never forget - it was the day of the marriage Referendum - the bench where Declan Flynn was killed, at Fairview Park, was covered with flowers and notes."
The Taoiseach went on to thank those who “helped change minds and change laws”, mentioning how they "fought for me before I did so myself".
Varadkar also mentioned Senator David Norris, who brought his case for decriminalisation to the Supreme Court 35 years ago.
In 1988, the European Court of Human Rights judges finally ruled in favour of Norris, stating that Irish laws contravened the Convention on Human Rights. This saw a 16-year-old legal battle finally put to rest.
Five years later, the laws were changed.
Varadkar also acknowledged former President Mary Robinson, who signed an act into law 25 years ago “that brought an end to decades of cruelty and injustice".
He finished his speech by paying a special tribute to all "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.
"We cannot erase the wrong that was done to them," Varadkar said.
The Taoiseach also announced that he plans to host a State event on Sunday to mark 25 years since decriminalisation.
His statement in full is available to read here.