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Stormont failure over gay pardons 'a disgrace'

By Cate McCurry

Published 28/10/2016

Jeffrey Dudgeon
Jeffrey Dudgeon

A councillor who fought to legalise homosexuality has branded Stormont a "disgrace" over its failure to introduce a law that pardons gay and bisexual men convicted of now-abolished sexual offences in Northern Ireland.

Veteran gay rights activist Jeffrey Dudgeon has called on the Department of Justice (DoJ) to act now and pardon men convicted of consensual same-sex relations before homosexuality was decriminalised here in 1982.

Last week, the UK government said thousands of men would receive posthumous pardons and those who are still alive can apply to have their names cleared. However, the Department of Justice confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that the law does not apply to Northern Ireland as it is a devolved matter.

Justice Minister Claire Sugden said that her department would consider the issue when forming "policy priorities" for the Executive's legislative programme.

Mr Dudgeon, who was arrested and questioned by police officers in 1976 on suspicion of being gay, said these convictions still have a severe impact on men across Northern Ireland.

While the number of men convicted remains unknown, a case in December 1958 involved 19 men from Lurgan who were charged for gross indecency and other charges involving indecency.

Six of those men were jailed for a year and one man faced a three-year sentence.

Mr Dudgeon, a Ulster Unionist councillor in Belfast City Council, said Stormont needs to act quickly.

"It's very important for those who were convicted and for the relatives of the dead because what was a crime then is no longer regarded as one now," he said.

"I have been at this far too long, I have been campaigning at every law change. I have to go through the same process of pleading and demanding and pressing Stormont.

"Despite us now being equal citizens, as gay people we are not treated equally, we are not thought of until the last minute."

He said one of the biggest issues for men with that conviction was seeking employment and having to declare the offences on applications forms.

"Apart from the shame of the court cases, convictions and publicity and the effect on their families, the big one is the employment," he said.

"They have to declare those convictions every time they want to apply for a job and quite often that means their chances are zero, particularly employment in young people or public sector and caring professions.

"It's a disgrace if Stormont doesn't act quickly to bring about a law change, it's unfortunately rather typical that we are left out."

A Department of Justice spokesman said: "The amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill builds on existing legislation already in place in England and Wales for disregarding convictions for old homosexual offences which are no longer unlawful.

"These provisions, which are in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, do not extend to Northern Ireland, therefore the new amendment in the current Bill could not be brought across by legislative consent and implemented here without major amendment.

"The minister will therefore consider this issue when forming policy priorities for the Executive's legislative programme in the current mandate."

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