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Irish - Considered using HIV epidemic to defend criminalisation of homosexuality


Jim Allen:
In 1993, Ireland officially decriminalised homosexuality.

Newly-released papers reveal the lengths they went through in the 1980s to defend the criminalisation of homosexuality, including considering using the HIV epidemic.

Tuesday 22 August 2023 By Lauren Boland, The Journal.

In Brief:

--- Quote ---Lawyers for State wanted to use AIDS crisis to defend Ireland's ban on same-sex relationships

THE STATE’S LEGAL team that defended Ireland’s criminal ban on sexual relationships between men in the 1980s wanted to use the HIV/AIDS crisis to argue its case in Europe.

Decades-old files newly released by the Department of Justice to the National Archives show the lengths the State went to in order to try to preserve legislation that criminalised homosexuality.

Ireland was brought to the European Commission of Human Rights and later the European Court of Human Rights by now-Senator David Norris, who argued that the ban violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 1983, it initially discounted the idea of arguing that a ban on homosexuality was necessary on health grounds, deciding that there was no evidence on which it could build that argument.

However, the matter was raised again two years later in 1985, when at least two members of the State’s legal team were in favour of using the HIV/AIDS crisis to try to defend the ban.

Acting on their advice, then-Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry brought a memo to a Cabinet meeting asking the Government to authorise the legal team to raise AIDS in its defence.

Attorney General John Rogers, Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan O’Donnell, and the Departments of Health and Justice took positions against the proposal, which was ultimately dropped once again.

A lawyer for the State had prepared a report, dated 25 September 1985, that urged the government to argue that the emergence of AIDS should permit Ireland to keep its ban on gay relationships.

In his report, the lawyer described holding meetings with several doctors working in hospitals in London, who gave “various views on the appropriateness of raising AIDS” to defend the legislation – one of the doctors strongly supported it, another was less inclined toward the idea, and a final doctor fell somewhere in the middle.

The lawyer said: “In my view [...] to require a country to change its law and to relax criminal sanctions on homosexuality would most probably have the result of increasing the level of such activity in the society concerned.

In the light of the present knowledge of AIDS, that is a risk which no State should be forced to take.”

His official advice was: “I am of the opinion that the issue of AIDS should be raised squarely in the pleading to be filed on behalf of Ireland. It is a matter of policy as to the manner in which the disease is raised.”

Norris won his case before the European Court of Human Rights and Ireland passed legislation that decriminalised homosexuality on 24 June 1993.

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