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Ireland considers raising the age of consent for homosexuals to 21 when decriminalizing homosexuality

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When the government was planning to decriminalize homosexuality in 1993, it considered raising the age of consent for homosexuals to 21.

At the time, the age of consent for heterosexual sex was 17, and remains the same today.

State records released this month reveal that government officials considered raising the age of consent for homosexuals 30 years ago when preparing legislation to decriminalize homosexuality. .

Generally, state documents, which are official documents from government agencies or the Office of the President, are declassified and made available to the public 30 years after the fact.

However, some records may be released before or after that period for various reasons. For example, records related to the Northern Ireland peace process are now typically released after 20 years.

In 1993, one of the most debated elements of the bill to decriminalize homosexuality was whether to set the age of consent at 17.

Ultimately, the government decided to set the age of consent for all sexual relations at 17 years old. This age is still maintained today.

However, internal Justice Department records written in early 1993 listed the age of consent as 17, 18, or 21.

“Moving from criminalization to equality may be too big a change to do all at once,” one document says, “from one extreme to the other.”

SP Norris 8 - Extreme
Department of Justice/State Documents

Department of Justice / State Documents / State Documents

In 1993, the government was under increasing domestic and international pressure to decriminalize homosexuality. Ireland is an anomaly in Europe, having had to legislate based on a European Court of Human Rights judgment five years ago.

During the 1970s and 1980s, David Norris campaigned for the decriminalization of homosexuality, first as a lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, and then as a member of the House of Lords.

He said such laws violated the Constitution’s position on privacy and initiated domestic proceedings in 1977. In 1980, Norris’ case was lost in the High Court. He then appealed to the Supreme Court, but lost again, so he turned to Europe.

In 1988, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in favor of Norris, stating that Ireland’s criminalization of homosexuality did indeed violate Norris’ right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

council of europe

Five years later, homosexuality is still a crime in Ireland, and its European neighbors were watching closely to see what Ireland would do next.

In an internal Department of Justice memo, officials discussed the need to change Irish law on the matter.

One memo stated that if Ireland did not comply with the ECtHR’s decision, the European Committee of Ministers would “determine what action to take”.

The document states: “Although the Commission does not have powers to compel States to comply, it has strong persuasive powers, backed by powers of suspension from the Council of Europe as a last resort, should the need arise.” “There is.”

“It is considered that Ireland’s membership in the Council of Europe should not be called into question in this matter and this can only be ensured by enacting the necessary legislation to comply with the judgment.

“Therefore, for practical purposes, we have no choice but to legislate on this issue.”

sp norris 1
Department of Justice/State Documents

Department of Justice / State Documents / State Documents

In another memo written in February 1993, Maile Geoghegan-Quinn’s aide said the then justice minister would prepare the bill with “the highest priority being to have it ready by Easter”. He said he was hoping for

“Low developed country”

A Justice Department official said the ECtHR’s decision “does not establish any requirements regarding the age of consent and therefore governments have some discretion in this regard.”

“There are three ages: 17, 18, and 21.

It might be better to accept from the beginning that everything has its pros and cons and is open to debate at any age.

In arguing for the age of 21, one document states that this age is “probably the most acceptable age for those who do not want decriminalization but recognize that they have no choice.” ing.

The document states that the legal age for same-sex relationships in Britain at the time was 21.

However, it was also pointed out that the UK “lags behind other European countries” in having a low age of consent. (The age of consent in the UK has since been lowered to her 16 years.)

SP Norris 7 - 21
Department of Justice/State Documents

Department of Justice / State Documents / State Documents

Considering the arguments against choosing 21 as the age of consent, the document states:

“We will be accused of not looking outside the UK for inspiration for the bill. 21 will probably not be acceptable to decriminalization campaigners.”

“From one extreme to the other.”

When considering 18 as the age of consent, the authorities stated that 17 “may be too low for Irish society to accept at this time” and that 18 “is a lower age (i.e. for the general public) than the age of 17 and 21.” may be seen as an acceptable compromise between the two.” ”.

One note read:

Moving from criminalization to equality may be too big a change from one extreme to the other all at once.

Furthermore, “17 is the age at which many boys still attend single-sex schools, some as boarders, and if homosexual acts at that age are legal and the ages of consent are equal.” “The implication is that there may be further pressure on some boys.” acceptable.

“The very fact that 17 is what the gay community wants (i.e. one of the extremes) could cause a backlash from the public.”

The document states that choosing 18 years would “maintain the distinction between the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual acts.” Therefore, the principles of normality and equality are not recognized. ”

SP Norris 5 - 18 years old
Department of Justice/State Documents

Department of Justice / State Documents / State Documents

However, the document notes that choosing 18-year-olds instead of 17-year-olds “would be considered discriminatory by homosexual and liberal views.”

“Despite being seen as a compromise measure, it may still be unacceptable to the majority of public opinion.”

When discussing the merits of choosing 17, the document pointed out that this was the age recommended by the Law Reform Commission at the time.

“The commission’s recommendations are therefore likely to be used by those advocating equality in this area. 17 years is the minimum age for heterosexual intercourse, and once homosexual acts reach the same age, there will be no discrimination. .

“That would be the most acceptable age (perhaps the only acceptable age) for the gay community and for liberal and left-wing views in general.”

The document added that the age of 17 “would not be far removed from the minimum age across Europe.” In fact, it would be at the higher end of the range.

At the time, the age of consent in most European countries ranged from 12 to 18 years, with the majority opting for 15 or 16 years.

SP Norris 6 - 17
Department of Justice/State Documents

Department of Justice / State Documents / State Documents

One of the arguments against choosing 17 is that having a common age of consent regardless of a person’s sexuality would make homosexuality a completely normal human activity, i.e. a state-related one just like heterosexual activity. It means that it is acceptable.”

“We need real reform, not the British model.”

In a letter to then Attorney General Harry Whelehan on May 2, 1993, Chris Robson, co-chair of the GLENN (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network), said he and others felt that the government was , change the law,” and they were concerned about several elements proposed in the bill.

“After so many years, we hope you understand our concern that the new law should represent real reform. There are two possible approaches to the necessary changes,” Robson wrote. Ta.

The 1967 law had a “British” model, which maintained the criminal status of homosexuals but exempted people from prosecution in certain limited circumstances.

“The alternative approach recommended by the Irish Law Reform Commission in 1990 is consistent with European practice.

“This includes the repeal of old UK legislation and the introduction of gender-neutral criminal laws for both straight and homosexual people, which prohibit abusive and exploitative behavior.

“Gender-neutral laws are already in place when it comes to sexual assault, and similar laws could be introduced when it comes to public sex.”

SP Norris 3 - Glen Letter Top
Department of Justice/State Documents

Department of Justice / State Documents / State Documents

SP Norris 4 - Glen Letter Bottom
Department of Justice/State Documents

Department of Justice / State Documents / State Documents

Mr Robson said the first approach had been a “disastrous failure in the UK, with so many young people becoming criminals and a huge increase in public prosecutions, that all political parties in the UK are committed to further change and there is currently no evidence of real progress.” Laws are being enacted.” He was challenged at the European Court of Human Rights. ”

Replacing outdated legislation with an already discredited model would undoubtedly be a missed opportunity and a substantial setback.

Regarding the age of consent, Robson said the Law Reform Commission had recommended that the age of consent should be equalized, and “this is the rule in almost all European countries”.

“The proposed age would be 17 years, which would in fact be higher than the common age of consent in Europe. Again, the committee’s recommendations would be based on the promise of ‘equal status’ in partnership government programmes. is completely consistent.

“Certainly, following the Commission’s recommendations on both issues will provide a real opportunity to get this reform right the first time.”

The government finally settled on a common age of consent of 17 years, and the law decriminalizing homosexuality was finally passed on June 24, 1993.

Mr Norris, a member of the Seanad Party since 1987, is the first openly gay person to be elected to public office. He is the longest serving member of the Irish Senate and recently confirmed he plans to retire in January.

The reference number for these state documents is 2023/16/8.

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