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Dermot Ahern and Same Sex Families

May 11th, 2008 · 34 Comments · Irish Politics, Lesbian, LGBT, Marriage Equality, Same Sex Partnerships

His Excellency Dermot Ahern, TD, Minister of Foreign Affairs of IrelandImage via Wikipedia

Last week’s reshuffle has no doubt caused a headache for those campaigning on the matter of recognising same sex relationships. From initial research and remembering the announcement of a new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may well have given lesbians and gay men and their organisations a significant migraine.

I go back to June 1993 for my initial diagnosis – the Dáil debates on the decriminialisation of homosexuality (yes 15 years ago next month). Dermot Ahern TD. was a backbencher at the time and spoke at the second stage of the Sexual Offences Bill. I have republished his speech below – it to flog a phrase to death, makes for interesting reading.

Mr. D. Ahern: I do not often find myself in agreement with my constituency colleague, Deputy McGahon, [MP adds – FG TD for Louth and vociferous opponent of decriminialisation of homosexuality] but on this occasion I am. Perhaps it has something to do with the atmosphere in our constituency.

A Deputy: Sellafield.

Mr. D. Ahern: I have reservations about this legislation. I have already made these views known privately to the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party and the Minister.

Reference has been made to our international obligations. However, no reference seems to have been made to the Constitution of this Republic. I wish to give some Members of the House food for thought by quoting from the Constitution.

Article 40.1 states:

– All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.

– This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function.

That question bears some thought. In regard to the family, Article 41.1.1º states:

‘- The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.

Article 41.1.2º states:

The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority …

Article 45, which outlines the directive principles of social policy, states:

– The principles of social policy set forth in this Article are intended for the general guidance of the Oireachtas. The application of those principles in the making of laws shall be the care of the Oireachtas exclusively …

Article 45.1 states:

The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the whole people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice and charity shall inform all the institutions of the national life.

I am not being intolerant in my remarks. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a very tolerant person. As legislators, we have a duty to legislate for the common good. We seem to have reached the stage where we are legislating for pressure and minority groups. We have a duty to consider what is in the common good of all the people and to legislate for that. We should not legislate for hard cases, I do not say this in any intolerant way but we should legislate for the common good.

Reference was made to our international obligations. We have a duty to legislate for the standards and norms which we regard as appropriate for the Irish people. This does not necessarily have to include all the people, but we should strive to achieve a certain standard and norm in our society. The Houses of the Oireachtas have the primary function of laying down rules for the people and the standards they should strive to achieve, and we should never forget that.

I quoted from Article 41 of the Constitution which deals with the position of the family in our society. Many countries, including Britain, are now looking at why families are breaking down. The tragic murder of the young Bolger child in England led to people questioning why society is breaking down in that country. One of the reasons given for the breakdown of society is that the family unit is breaking down. We should strive to protect the family unit as the primary unit in our society. That is not to say that families do not break up — of course they do — but we should aspire to attain that. I think most Deputies would agree with those sentiments.

It was stated that we would be in breach of the charter of the European Court of Human Rights if we did not introduce legislation to implement its decision. I do not for one minute accept that we have to implement this decision. Britain has decided to derogate from the Social Charter and, in effect, from European monetary union. Yet, business is still being conducted and no one seems to have taken the British Government to task for this.

Much play is made of the word “equality?, for example, equality in regard to the age limit. I wonder if this issue will end here. Will the pressure groups which have succeeded in having this legislation brought before the House stop here? I think not. Will we eventually see the day in this country when, as has happened in the USA, homosexuals will seek the right to adopt children? We should think seriously about this possibility.

I have a problem with the age limit of 17 years. I appreciate that the Minister is endeavouring to equalise the age limits for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. However, under the child care legislation passed by this House a child is defined as anyone under the age of 18 years. We should bear this in mind.

I have a problem with the provisions on prostitution. I understood that the norm in Europe was to liberalise the laws on prostitution but——’

And with that Deputy Ahern stopped speaking to share the time with another colleague. If you wish to see what he was agreeing with Deputy Brendan McGahon about well you can read it here. But here’s a punchline from Deputy McGahon’s speech so you get the gist…

‘Homosexuality is a departure from normality and while homosexuals deserve our compassion they do not deserve our tolerance. That is how the man in the street thinks. I know of no homosexual who has been discriminated against. Such people have a persecution complex because they know they are different from the masses or normal society. They endure inner torment and it is not a question of the way others view them.

The Lord provided us with sexual organs for a specific purpose. Homosexuals are like left hand drivers driving on the right hand side of the road. The Minister should seek a derogation from the ruling of the European Court to prevent this unacceptable legislation being foisted on the Irish people. I remind the Minister that the age of consent has been reduced to 12 years in Holland. Will we have to accept such an appalling move in years to come? Many Members of the Minister’s party are very unhappy about this legislation although some of them have expressed their support for it. The Minister should put the issue to the people in a referendum.’

Those were the days..

And what of the days to come? The Heads of Bill on the Civil Partnerships legislation is now delayed by over a month. Minister Ahern may not have it so high on his agenda (if it were ever that high on Brian Lenihan’s).

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