Irish leader Leo Varadkar backs fight for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland

Irish leader Leo Varadkar has spoken out in support of LGBT equality in Northern Ireland.

The Taioseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland was speaking at a state reception marking 25 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in the country.

Varadkar, the first openly gay leader in the country’s history, used his speech to speak out in favour of equality for LGBT people in neighbouring Northern Ireland, which is a region of the UK.

He said: “In the United Nations and around the world, I as Taoiseach and Ministers will speak up for LGBT civil rights in other countries, countries that still criminalise or discriminate, whether it’s central or eastern Europe, whether it’s in the Arab world, or whether it’s not too far away in Northern Ireland.”

Elsewhere in the speech he quoted Lady Gaga.

Varadkar said: “The most remarkable thing about being gay in Ireland today is that it is totally unremarkable. You’re not that special – even though you may think so. And you’re certainly not abnormal.

“To quote Lady Gaga, ‘Baby, I was Born this Way’.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty)

Patrick Corrigan, of Northern Ireland’s Love Equality campaign, said: “We welcome this latest public statement of support from the Taoiseach.

“At a time when there has been no devolved government at Stormont for 18 months, and the UK government has turned its back on the LGBT+ community here, it is all the more important to hear the Taoiseach speaking out about the continued discrimination faced by people in Northern Ireland.

“Theresa May should take note that a prime minister of our next-door neighbour is speaking about the UK in the same breath as parts of the world infamous for discrimination against LGBT+ people.

“This discrimination against gay people in Northern Ireland is now happening on the Prime Minister’s watch. She has the power to end it, but is choosing not to act. We thank Leo Varadkar for his pledge to keep speaking out around the world until that changes.”

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without same-sex marriage, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May has faced calls to act on the issue in the UK Parliament due to the ongoing suspension of the region’s devolved power-sharing Assembly.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (Sean Gallup/Getty)

LGBT campaigners in the region say it is up to the Prime Minister to deliver equal rights in the absence of the devolved government, which broke down more than a year ago and shows little signs of reforming.

Justine Greening, who was May’s Minister for Women and Equalities until January, recently put her name to a letter urging the PM to act.

Greening signed a letter alongside other cross-party sponsors of a backbench bill to bring equal marriage to Northern Ireland, after the PM’s high-profile intervention on upskirting.

They wrote: “We welcome the prime minister stepping in to back a private members’ bill to make upskirting a specific criminal offence in government time, after it was blocked at second reading last week.

“As MPs from across the House of Commons, we were disappointed that a Bill to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland was recently blocked in exactly the same way.

“It is deeply unfair that, in 2018, same-sex couples in Northern Ireland are prohibited by law from marrying, but those in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland are permitted to do so.

“A change in the law ought to be introduced by a fully functioning devolved administration, but the lack of a functioning government in Northern Ireland should not delay the provision of fundamental rights.

“Hence, the government should bring the bill to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland into its own time in the House of Commons.”

Justine Greening getty

Justine Greening (Getty)

The letter was signed by Labour MPs Conor McGinn, Wes Streeting, Karin Smyth, Ged Killen, Yvette Cooper, Owen Smith, and Angela Eagle, Liberal Democrat Layla Moran, Green MP Caroline Lucas, and Conservatives Justine Greening and Nick Herbert.

The issue is complicated by Theresa May’s government reliance upon the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to prop up its majority in Parliament.

The DUP, founded by ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ leader Ian Paisley, has traditionally held strong anti-LGBT views.

However, current leader Arlene Foster has said she hopes to begin to reach out to the LGBT community, and plans to attend PinkNews’ summer reception in Belfast this Thursday (June 28).