Gays celebrate decriminalisation: Alan Murdoch in Dublin reports on the Dail's landmark decision

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Indy Politics
IRELAND'S homosexual community was last night celebrating after the Dail agreed to decriminalise homosexual acts between consenting adults, ending a 20-year legal battle.

The move was precipitated by a 1988 European Court of Human Rights ruling forcing Dublin to lift the previous ban. Though the homosexual age of consent (17) will be higher than that in most Continental European states, it will be four years lower than Britain's.

Hard-line Catholic opponents of the change quietly accepted its inevitability, as their bishops had reluctantly done earlier this week. Some MPs warned there would be tougher opposition to proposed divorce and abortion law reforms.

The Government was obliged to end the ban by the Strasbourg court's ruling that it breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a forceful defence of the change, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Minister of Justice, asked: 'How can we reconcile criminal sanctions in this area with the fact that there is a whole range of private consenting behaviour between adults which may be regarded as wrong, but in which the criminal law has no part to play?'

She said she was moving the Bill despite intense pressure from moral conservatives in her rural Galway West constituency.

Opposition Progressive Democrats criticised what 'unseemly haste' with which the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill was being pushed through. With all Dail parties backing it, most stages were passed without a vote. Prominent opponents of homosexuality found absence the best escape from Government whips. The former education minister, Noel Davern, was reportedly in Florida.

A leader of the battle for homosexual rights was the independent senator and Joycean scholar David Norris, who praised Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, saying she 'had shamed many of the men in the Dail' with her speech. For President Mary Robinson, signing the Bill into law once it is through the Senate will provide particular satisfaction. As a barrister before her election, she steered Mr Norris's European Convention appeal to its successful conclusion.