Taoiseach Leo Varadkar apologises to thousands of ‘unknown heroes’ who were criminalised for being gay in Ireland

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar apologised to thousands of “unknown heroes” who were criminalised for being gay in Ireland.

On Monday Varadkar gathered with other politicians in Ireland to pay tribute to those who fell victim to the ban on same sex relationships in the country, which was only lifted 25 years ago.

Opening 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.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar apologised to those who were criminalised by Ireland’s previous law on same sex relationships (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

He added 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 gave special mention to the case of Declan Flynn, a young man who was killed in September 1982, and whose murder is seen as the catalyst for LGBTQ Pride in Ireland.

Belfast Celebrates Gay Pride

He paid special tribute to Declan Lynch, whose murder in 1982 instigated Pride in Ireland (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

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.”

It was illegal to be in a same sex relationship in Ireland until 25 years ago (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

He went on to pay tribute to long-time gays rights campaigner Senator David Norris, highlighting that 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.