- 04 Nov 22
The public consultation aims to provide an opportunity for those affected to inform the development of the scheme and to provide thier input on a number of key issues, the Department of Justice said.
A public consultation considering a scheme to dismiss historic convictions of gay and bisexual men has been launched.
A statement from the Department of Justice said that the consultation will provide an opportunity for people affected by this topic and organisations to inform the development of the scheme, additionally providing input on key issues, based on lived experience.
Consensual sexual acts between men was criminalised before the foundation of the Irish State, and remained in place until decriminalisation in 1993.
The Government, back in 2018, announced plans for a scheme to disregard the criminal records for offences, meaning that the sexual acts involved would now be legal.
In May of this year, the Working Group Progress Report was published by the Department of Justice, containing a number of recommendations, including a targeted public consultation for those affected and representative groups or organisations.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee has launched the public consultation, aiming for it to run online for several weeks, with a set close date of Friday, December 9.
Responses during the consultation will be used to inform the final recommendations of a Working Group, examining the development of the disregard scheme.
Under legislation that is no longer in existence, hundreds of gay men were charged in the 20th century, with homosexuality officially decriminalised in Ireland on June 24, 1993.
In the years leading up to the decriminalisation, convictions for consensual sexual acts were rare, however, they were extremely common up to and throughout the '70s.
Professor Diarmaid Ferriter carried out research which found that between 1940 and 1978, 13 men a year were jailed for homosexual offences on average. There were 455 convictions under this legislation between 1962 and 1972.
Speaking about the launch of the scheme, Minister McEntee said: “We want to ensure that any potential scheme is as effective and accessible as possible so that we can exonerate those impacted by these outdated laws and address some of the lingering harms of the past.
“I would encourage any of the affected men, their families, loved ones and the wider LGBTQ+ community to engage with this consultation so that we can be mindful of their unique perspectives as we move forward.”
The survey examines ways the potential scheme could be more accessible, methods of encouraging participation in the scheme, and, most importantly, ways to minimise the potential for re-traumatising applicants.
Once this period of consultation is closed, a summary report will be prepared by the Working Group, aiming to give an overview of the submissions received.
Acknowledging the criminalisation laws up 1993, Minister McEntee said that the “damage that was caused by these laws continues to impact negatively on too many people’s lives."
While admitting that “we cannot undo the hurt inflicted on people who were discriminated against for simply being themselves,” the minister added that “we can contribute to the healing process."
McEntee added that this consultation is “another important step” in acknowledging and addressing the “individual harm that was done to generations of gay and bisexual men, while also showing that we are willing to re-visit and confront uncomfortable aspects of our past."
A bill aiming to exonerate gay and bisexual people convicted of breaking the law was presented to the Oireachtas by Labour Senator Ged Nash in 2016, receiving cross-party support.
Nash welcomed these newly announced developments and encouraged people to engage with the consultation.
“This process began in 2016 with Labour’s Conviction for Certain Offences (Apology & Exoneration) Bill,” Nash said in a statement.
“The first element was the historic 2018 State apology to LGBT+ citizens and community for the harm caused by Ireland’s laws and the discrimination and injustice visited upon individuals and the LGBT+ community more broadly.
“The second aspect of Labour’s Bill was to establish an appropriate scheme that would provide for the setting aside of historic convictions carried by some gay and bisexual men and the full exoneration of adult men who were criminalised for who they are and who they love.
“For much of our history, Ireland was a cold and harsh place for the LGBTI+ community and citizens. We have made progress but events earlier this week shows we still have some distance to travel.
“Part of that journey involves coming to terms with our past and having a reckoning with it.”
The consultation survey, and more information about it, can be found here.