After the referendum: equality in Ireland

What’s next for Ireland post-marriage equality?

Written by Oisín McKenna


The referendum on marriage equality was a historical and hugely significant step forward for LGBT people and equality more broadly in Ireland. The significance of this step, given that “homosexual acts” were only decriminalised in Ireland just over 20 years ago, cannot be overstated. We’re now enjoying a level of LGBT visibility that is entirely unprecedented in Irish society.

However, this doesn’t mean that the LGBT people of Ireland are out of the woods yet. Although we’ve inched a few very important steps in the direction of equality, Ireland is not yet anywhere even close to becoming an equal and fair society, for LGBT people or for many other vulnerable groups.

It is important to remember that homophobia and transphobia will not suddenly dissipate when the marriage equality bill is signed into law. As the first same-sex weddings happen, LGBT people in Ireland will still be suffering homophobia and transphobia, and particularly marginalised LGBT people will still be the ones most vulnerable to its effects.

It’s also important to remember that LGBT rights are not by any means the last frontier in the struggle for equality. There are many other groups in society that have a long way to go before they enjoy meaningful equality.

So, we have a long way to go until homophobia, transphobia and heteronormativity are fully and meaningfully dismantled in Ireland and real equality is established in their place. But what are the tangible battles we can win now? Many people got involved in activism for the first time to help get the marriage equality referendum over the line. What’s next and how are you going to stay involved with the struggle for equality?

Gender recognition & transgender equality

What’s the issue?

Often, when people say we’re making progress for LGBT equality, what they actually mean is LGB equality. There are still significant social and cultural barriers in place to full trans* equality, with much work yet to be done on dismantling these.

What can you do?

Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) have been lobbying the issue for years. The ‘Get Involved’ section of their website outlines loads of ways you can get involved and help achieve meaningful recognition for our trans* friends and allies.

If you’re cisgender, it’s also really important to educate yourself on trans* issues and language, so you’re in a better position to support the trans* community. The excellent and thorough list of resources on TENI's website is a good place to start.

Employment equality for LGBT people

What’s the issue?

Long story short, it is totally, 100% legal for an LGBT teacher in most schools in Ireland to be fired for being LGBT.

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act gives the right to organisations with a religious ethos to take “action which is reasonably necessary to prevent an employee or a prospective employee from undermining the religious ethos of the institution.” This, in effect, allows religious run organisations to fire LGBT people, if they deem their sexual orientation to be incompatible with the religious ethos of the organisation. Given that the vast majority of schools and hospitals in Ireland are run by religious organisations, this puts LGBT teachers and medical staff in a very precarious position, in which they cannot talk openly about their sexual orientation at their workplace.

What can you do?

Minister of State for Equality Aódhan O’Riordain has said that the government are proposing to amend this act to provide better protection for LGBT teacher, but it’s not clear yet what shape this will take. Email your TD to let them know the issue is important to you. Ask them what their position is on it and what they are going to do about it.

Anti-Austerity Alliance are also currently proposing an amendment to section 37 to eliminate discrimination against LGBT staff in religious-run organisations. Social and feminist group ROSA are organising a demonstration at the Dail on June 17 in support of this amendment. You can find out more here.

MSM Blood Ban

What’s the issue?

In Ireland, no man who has ever had sex with a man can give blood. It doesn’t matter if they’ve never had unprotected sex or haven’t had sex with a man in a decade. If a man has ever once had sex with a man, he can’t give blood. No exceptions.

Lots of people say this is homophobic and outdated. The health system says men who have sex with men are a higher-risk group for HIV, so the ban is justified. Whichever way you look at it, this is a rule that stigmatises gay men and perpetuates stereotypes. Many countries that have had similar laws in the past have revoked or relaxed them, including the UK.

What can you do?

Leo Varadker commented saying that he favours relaxing the ban but there hasn’t been much movement on this issue in years. There isn’t much of an organised campaign against the MSM blood ban but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be one. If you feel strongly about it, make it into an organised campaign. Talk to your TD, organise and mobilise.

Direct Provision

What’s the issue?

Since 2002, asylum seekers who come to Ireland, have had to live under a system called direct provision while they wait for refugee status. While direct provision was designed initially as a temporary living arrangement, in reality it is far from it, with many residents living 7 or more years in direct provision. Conditions in direct provision have been criticised as totally inadequate and inhumane, with a lack of privacy, insufficient healthcare for residents, and restrictive rules. Many of these residents, who are in the care of the state, live in poverty or at risk of poverty, with profoundly negative impacts on their physical and mental health.

What can you do?

NASC, the Irish Immigrant Support Service, outline several different ways to campaign against direct provision on their website. The Irish Refugee Councicl are another group campaigning against Direct Provision – find out how to get involved here.

Clearly, Ireland could by no means be considered an equal society. There are so many more issues that aren’t easy to comprehensively talk about here. The government’s ongoing programme of austerity measures are drastically increasing the income gap between rich and poor in Ireland and conditions for workers are continuing to disimprove. Keep an eye on these issues and use the momentum from the referendum to contribute however you can.

The ‘Yes’ vote has proved that by mass mobilisation of young people, meaningful change can actually be affected. Recognise these possibilities, and take advantage of your power to affect change.

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