Taoiseach pays tribute to thousands of ‘unknown heroes’ criminalised for being gay

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (BrianLawless/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (BrianLawless/PA)

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has paid tribute to the thousands “unknown heroes” who were criminalised for being gay in Ireland before the ban on same sex activity was finally lifted 25 years ago.

And Mr Varadkar and other politicians remembered Declan Flynn the young man killed in Dublin in 1982 for being gay.

The Dáil and Seanad today debated an all-party motion which has offered a “sincere apology” to those who were convicted under the law that was repealed in 1993.

Justice minister Charlie Flanagan apologised in the Seanad to members of the gay community affected by the old legislation.

The Taoiseach opened the debate in the Dáil.

He said he wanted to pay special tribute to “the unknown heroes, the thousands of people whose names we do not know, who were criminalised by our forbears”.

Mr Varadkar said there were “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.

“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.”

He also raised the case of Declan Lynch.

He said: “I was just a child when Declan Flynn was murdered in Fairview Park, his only crime that he was gay. 

“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.  

“When the Oireachtas makes something a crime, some people believe they have a license to punish those they believe are committing it. 

“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.

“A year after Declan Flynn’s death there were huge protests in Dublin, organised by a coalition of groups who were horrified at the sentence given to his attackers, and a movement was mobilised in Ireland. 

“The same year we had the first Pride parade in Dublin.

“People would no longer remain silent.  Pride as we know now is a festival of diversity and inclusion.

“We shouldn’t forget, it did not start out that way. And pride festivals in many parts of the world today are still very much protests. And protesters get attacked.”

Mr Varadkar also paid tribute to long-time gays rights campaigner Senator David Norris.

He said that so much has changed in Ireland and pointed to the marriage equality vote in 2015.

Mr Varadkar also said, “Last year I had the privilege of being elected Taoiseach, something that would have been unimaginable when I was born, and would have seemed impossible even a few short years ago.

“There are many people who helped change minds and change laws and their contribution should also be remembered.  People who fought for me and other gay people long before we fought for ourselves,” he added.

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