Bugger Off: The Law in Ireland Today


February 1988
Issue 1

The Criminal Law in Ireland Today

In Ireland today all contact of a sexual nature between males is illegal and “wrongdoers” are liable to arrest, charge and imprisonment.

The present anti-gay laws are contained in two old Eng­lish statutes, both over 100 years old, which, although repealed in all parts of the U.K., still remain in full force and effect in the Republic of Ireland.These crimes are: — Buggery: Contrary to S.61 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, which carries a max­imum sentence of penal ser­vitude for life. This penalty applies even where this “abom­inable crime” is committed bet­ween consenting adults in private. Gross Indecency: Contrary to S.ll of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1885, which carries a sentence of two years imprisonment. This covers all other sexual contact and is commonly known as “the laying on of hands”.

A similar view is taken by the Roman Catholic Church which permits one male to love another as his neighbour, but not in a permanent relation­ship. Thus it is that we are criminals and sinners, doomed to imprisonment in this life and eternal damnation in the next. This line of approach is illogical, unrealistic and tot­ally unacceptable.

Why do we want these laws changed? What adults do in private is their own business, and who has the right to impose their moral values on someone else, especially where the part­ies are consenting, are adult, and where no-one is being hurt? However, there are other reasons too. The most basic and fundamental problem of any gay person is that of try­ing to come to terms with his/her sexuality and having done that, to live, what is for him/her, a normal, productive and happy life in society. The difficulty is with people’s un­educated and intolerant views towards homosexuality. It is difficult enough for any gay person to shake off the shack­les of a conditioned upbringing in Ireland today, all the more so for a non-gay person to feel or understand what it is to be gay. Non-gays should not crit­icize what they do not under­stand, but learn to accept what is different, and equally good. So the main difficulty in living a gay lifestyle is the lack of understanding and the poor attitude of society in general.

In order to improve the lot of gay people, it is necessary to improve the perception of gays in the eyes of society. Efforts are being made, and are continuing towards this end. People in general, and in many cases gay themselves, must be informed that a large number of gay people exist in every society, that they are the same as everyone else except in their sexual orientat­ion and that they do not con­form to the stereotype of “pansey” or child molester in a trench coat. Coverage in the media of gay activities, gay publications and the various gay groups have all helped to raise the profile of gay people. The fact that gays are regarded as criminals in the eyes of the law lends credence to the anti-gay attitudes of many people. It is for this reason that political and legal pressure is being brought to bear with a view to having these laws changed. This has included recent ele­ction of David Norris to the Senate. Tonie Walsh running as an independent candidate in the local elections, lobbying of political parties and supp­orting other groups with sim­ilar goals to our own. By far the most direct challenge to these laws has been the Norris case in the High Court, subse­quently appealed to the Supreme Court, where three of the five judges found that these laws were not inconsistent with the constitution. This case has since been brought to the European Court of Human Rights, where it is claimed that the laws are in breach of Article 8 of the Convention, the right to priv­acy. The case has been there for about two years and will probably take another year. It seems that the Irish Government will be found to be in breach of Human Rights and Fun­damental Freedoms, as was the British Government a few years ago when Jeff Dudgeon in Northern Ireland successfully brought a similar case against them. This would not auto­matically change the law here, but it would mean that the Irish Government would feel morally bound to change the law, as happened in Northern Ireland.

The relevant question would then be what would replace these laws. In the U.K. the new laws are very restrictive and to stay within them a couple must be over twenty-one, con­senting, and in a locked bedroom. Threesomes are out. This has also meant a much more rigorous enforcement of the law and the use of ‘pretty’ police officers to entrap people in public toilets. In Ireland, the call is for homosexual relationships to be put on a par in all respects with hetero­sexual relationships, including the age of consent. In order to be able to influence any pro­found changes in our laws we must be in a position to apply direct and indirect pressure on our politicians. All gay people, and others who support our just call for equality are asked to do their bit for this worthy cause. Examples of what can be done include:

  1. Becoming members of polit­ical parties and attempting to change policies from within.
  2. Campaigning through trade unions.
  3. Writing letters to newspapers supporting gay issues and com­plaining where anti-gay articles are printed.
  4. Perhaps the best way is to join the Political Action Group of the National Gay Federat­ion which operates from the Hirschfield Centre.

In the final analysis, the test will be whether or not we will be able to change the think­ing of enough politicians. We already have Senator Norris on our side, can you help us to get more?

pull quote icon close