Following an apology by the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D., in 2018, on the 25th anniversary of Decriminalisation of Homosexuality, the Government announced the development of a process to expunge convictions under the repealed legislation – ‘crimes’ which would now be legal.
“We have come a long way and, we remember those who suffered, and we also acknowledge that we still have more to do. There is always more to do…”An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D., 23 June 2018
The first effort was through the Gardaí, using a confidential email address. However, no emails were forthcoming.
Subsequently, a proposal for a Working Group – the Disregard Working Group – was put forward and in summer 2021 the group was established and started to meet. Research was commissioned, discussions were held on the legality and scope of a Disregard scheme and how it could be implemented reaching the widest possible audience. The prosecutions and convictions are now seen as a gross human rights violation of those involved. The group’s first progress report was published in May 2022.
The research uncovered many instances of how the legislation was implemented – there were hundreds of convictions from independence in 1922 up to about 1987; the impact of the legislation had a very damaging impact on those arrested, charged, prosecuted or convicted; the threat of prosecution was used to harass gay men, and was considered a blackmailers charter; the existence of the law had a severe effect on the development of the LGBT community, and on the provision of public services, in particular during the Aids crisis; the impact was also experienced in different but connected ways by the L and T communities; and overall there is a general acknowledgement that this was a gross human rights abuse, putting it in the same general context as Magdalene Laundries, Industrial Schools, forced adoption.
One of the huge issues that has emerged is the lack of documentation, accounts, experiences of what the criminal laws meant. Apart from some academic research into some cases, there is little known about the lives of those impacted. This is a huge gap in the history and understanding of the development of LGBT rights and communities in Ireland. There is an opportunity during this process to uncover some of those histories of those directly impacted by the laws – through prosecution, forced emigration, isolation etc.; of those indirectly impacted – those who came of age in those time; and an opportunity to capture a deeper history of Irish LGBT people in a way that will inform future change, and develop an agenda for restorative justice
In this phase, the Working Group are now embarking on a public consultation to seek input on a series of questions before they present a final report and recommendations to the Minister for the Disregard Scheme.
Future phases, dependent on either State or private funding, will seek to expand significantly on the collection of information, digital artifacts, personal stories and research, possibly becoming a repository of historical information on LGBT+ people and communities and in particular, a site for commemorating and memorialising those prosecuted under the legislation.
Thanks to The Rowan Trust, who fight for social justice with communities pushed to the margins.