Address by Tiernan Brady from GLEN : Friday 26th March

Tiernan Brady from the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network discusses the success and genuine need for the Civil Partnership bill that will hopefully pass through the Dáil and the Senate over the next couple of  months.

I suppose I’m going to do something that’s quite rare for a party political conference, and I suppose as activists and canvassers you would know this as well from local elections and general elections, I have come here to thank you for something that you have done brilliantly.

I am very happy to do that, because I don’t think it should be overlooked, the scale of what you have achieved.  And of the potential of this legislation that we’re hopefully going to pass through the Dáil and the Senate over the next couple of weeks or over the next couple of months.  Because it’s a major leap forward.  It’s the single biggest piece of legislation dealing with family law in a generation.

And it addresses genuine need.  It’s not set in the clouds of philosophy, but rather set in the ground, in our towns and our villages and our communities, the people that we know. Same-sex couples right across the country, who have lived up until now in a situation where their relationship had no legal status at all.  And in the eyes of the law when it came to health provision, pensions, taxation they just simply didn’t exist.

And like we say, it’s not something that’s defined to one large city, it’s not something that happens in one part of the country, it’s in every street and every village, we all know it.  They are our friends ‑‑ I mean in every village, in every community there are couples who up until now have not had this status.

And maybe it’s fair enough in saying thank you and recognising that it’s the great truth of Irish politics that eaten bread is soon forgotten and in a few years time everyone will forget that this was done and everyone will wonder what was the big fuss about, isn’t it great. I was at two civil partnership ceremony this year. I don’t understand what the drama was and think perhaps there was an inevitability about this happening anyway.

But of course that’s not the case.  This only happens because of political courage and political will taken by political parties and politicians.

And I came down here funnily enough on the train today, and I got sitting beside seven girls going to a hen night in Kilkenny, and they were drinking Prosecco in plastic glasses and asked where are you going?  And of course no more than anybody I was dying to avoid telling them I’m going down to talk about gay marriage to the party political conference.  So I told them sheepishly I’m going to a meeting and making a speech.  Oh what’s the speech about?  So I had to explain what the speech was about, and told them I was going to the Green Party conference to thank the Green Party for what they were involved in.

And one of the girls turned around and said you know I never thought that would happen.  A young girl, in her late 20s, perfectly socially progressive as far as anyone would be concerned but was utterly convinced that wouldn’t happen.  Utterly convinced we could never get to a stage where it would happen.

And I think in a few years time when we consider the inevitability of this law and of course it’s here and isn’t it great, we should never lose sight, and you should never lose sight as activists that it wasn’t inevitable.  That this has happened because of political will.  Because of political courage and because of a political party, and two political parties in government in this case, were prepared to spend political capital to make it happen.

And I think it’s churlish perhaps, and maybe it’s right I suppose when it comes to great social progress, that eaten bread is soon forgotten because it’s right we move onto the next thing and think about what’s the next step towards equality?  But we shouldn’t forget the role that we played in it.

And the Green Party shouldn’t forget the role it played because the Green Party of course is the first party that put a desire to have equal access to civil marriage for same sex couples as a policy plan.  And it was the first ‑‑ and it’s in government now and when the heads of the bill came out, we were told it will never happen by pundits and others, and then the heads of bill turned a bill and we were told it will never happen will be some time after the next election will be kicked to touch.  Then the new programme for government came out and we seen that it was prioritised and that it would be dealt with this year and we can see it speed through Leinster House at the minute.

We sat at committee on Wednesday.  To see it go through so quickly and so many people from all sides of the house putting only the most minor of amendments because they recognise this is progress and that this must happen.  And they want to see it happen.  But again we come back to this point, Green Party members and Green Party politicians should never lose sight of.  That was not inevitable.  That was because you put commitment into the issue.

And of course there is more to do.  And of course there is more as we move towards equality, full equality for gay and lesbian people. There is more to do and we heard that from Paul Gogarty and we heard it from Minister Cuffe back in the days when he was a mere backbencher, at the second stage, where he pointed out the children’s rights in the bill would need to be addressed.  And we see that manifest itself in the new Programme for Government, where we see a reference to making sure that the Law Reform Commission on custody and guardianship are taken on board.

And again we know that doesn’t happen by accident, that’s because somebody in negotiations for government asked for that to be put in.  And we recognise that and again it’s wrong not to remark on these things.  It’s wrong not to say thank you and well done for these things.

So we see the next step of progress already forming from this.  And of course it’s not just about civil, full access to civil marriage, it’s about making progress in areas of education so no gay or lesbian child should have to go to school terrified of who they are.  That nobody should have to feel scared of telling their friends who they are for fear of exclusion or harassment or just utter lack of understanding.  And, from schools to our workplace, I notice that Niall [Crowley] mentioned the benefit of diversity in the workplace; that nobody again should have to go to work and feel that one of the most important things about who they are, one of the most defining things about any one of us, our sexual orientation, should be a cause for embarrassment, or a cause for fear at work, because they feel “I can’t say this it may damage my prospects of promotion.  I can’t say this to people I work with may look at me differently and feel about me differently”.
And we are making progress in all those areas.  And again it’s wrong - it’s important we note it - whilst we look for more all the time, whilst we aim towards fully quality all the time, it’s important to take the chance to come down to the people who put their political capital and their political courage into it, to make it happen.

Because whilst we are not there, whilst we haven’t reached perfect, I think President Obama (totally over quoted God love him, every speech fits him in) but in the health debate at the moment in America, I don’t know if you are following it, they passed a very large health bill, and he made the point that he had to compromise on some things along the way that he would have liked to have, what he would have defined as perfect, but as he said himself, good should not be the enemy of perfect.  As we improve things along the way, we should see them rather as springboards to advancing our way to reaching perfect.  And in GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, we firmly believe the government is right about this.  We firmly believe in passing this legislation it will change substantially the way people perceive lesbian and gay couples and we believe that it will address genuine needs right now, couples out there who really need issues in relation to taxation and in relation to pensions and in relation to health addressed immediately.

And furthermore than that, we think that by passing this bill we hasten the day when we’ll reach fully equality, because not alone will it be a stepping stone, but it will be a springboard that will allow us to get there even quicker than if we had not had it.

And all really that we wanted to say today, whilst bringing those other areas of equality in the workplace and children’s rights to your attention, what I really wanted to say today on behalf of GLEN and the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network was ‘thank you’.  And was to remember that you should not ever forget that this piece of legislation will be seen as one of the great milestones in the move towards equality in Ireland.

Not just for gay and lesbian people but for all people.  This legislation will be seen as one of the great milestones and in 20, 30, 40 years time when we are all gone, this will be something that people refer to as a point where a great leap was made.  A great leap forward.  And you were very much part of that.  And you were very much an engine to make that happen in government.  And you should never lose sight of it and you should be very proud of it.  Thank you.

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