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Plans to pardon gay Northern Ireland men a step closer

By Cate McCurry

Published 09/11/2016

Justice Minister Claire Sugden
Justice Minister Claire Sugden

A councillor who fought to legalise homosexuality has described plans to pardon men in Northern Ireland with convictions for now-abolished same-sex offences as a "step forward for fairness and justice".

The Executive has now backed legislation already introduced in England and Wales last month.

Veteran gay rights activist Jeffrey Dudgeon welcomed yesterday's announcement which comes weeks after he called on the Department of Justice to pardon men convicted under the now defunct laws.

Justice Minister Claire Sugden secured the approval of fellow Executive ministers in the DUP/Sinn Fein-led administration to extend to Northern Ireland the provision for pardons in the Government's Policing and Crime Bill.

Under the legislation, posthumous pardons will be granted to all those convicted of relevant offences who have since died. Those still alive can make individual applications for similar pardons.

The motion for legislative consent will now go forward for consideration by the Assembly.

Mr Dudgeon, an Ulster Unionist, said: "The announcement is a step forward for fairness and justice.

"It's good to see the Department of Justice living up to its name, delivering justice for those who were previously convicted for no more than being in consensual same sex relationships.

"It is now up to the Northern Ireland Assembly to deliver fairness for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community."

Speaking about the legislation, Ms Sugden said: "Pardon arrangements should be brought to Northern Ireland as soon as possible to ensure that there is equal treatment for gay and bisexual men here as for their counterparts in England and Wales.

"This is an opportunity for the criminal justice system to try and right the wrongs of the past and one which will allow for much earlier resolution than that presented by way of an Assembly Bill."

Northern Ireland-based LGBT organisation the Rainbow Project welcomed the news.

Rainbow Project director John O'Doherty, said: "This is the first time that the Northern Ireland Assembly has made positive moves in respect of LGBT legislation and we are hopeful that with cross-party support the pardons will be applicable to convictions made against gay men living in Northern Ireland.

"It was only in 1982 that the criminalisation of gay and bisexual men in Northern Ireland was ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights and we are pleased to see these homophobic and discriminatory convictions quashed, especially as they ruined the lives of so many men in Northern Ireland at the time."

Alliance leader Naomi Long also welcomed the announcement.

The East Belfast MLA said: "They were convicted of a crime which should never have been an offence in the first place.

"I believe as well as a pardon, an apology from the Government should also be given to those who did nothing other than form consenting relationships with other adult males.

"The hurt caused by these convictions may never be eradicated, but a pardon and apology could go a long way to making amends."

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