In a rousing speech, Mr. Cooney elaborated on the current work being undertaken by his organisation in respect of lesbian and gay rights. Since the ICCL's last Annual General Meeting in May this year, the organisation has established a Working Party with a specific brief to produce a policy document on lesbian and gay rights. This Working Party, Mr. Cooney said, is expected to complete its task by the end of November and will produce a report which ICCL hopes to promote as widely as possible. The Report is expected to include detailed recommendations for reform in the form of a model Civil Rights (Anti-Discrimination) Bill.
Kieran Rose, a long-time trade unionist, outlined to the seminar during its afternoon session the work currently being done in labour legislation reform, workers' rights and a host of allied issues.
Mr. Rose also dwelt on the significance of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Guidelines on Lesbian and Gay Rights in the Workplace, which was published by the ICTU last year. He also had much praise for the Department of Finance, which to date remains the only Government Department to have included "sexual orientation" in its own anti-discrimination guidelines.
Although many activists present at the seminar were familiar with the fundamentals of law reform, the weekend meeting provided a timely opportunity to assess work already done and bring a new generation of lesbian and gay activists directly into the fight for law reform.
At the end of the day the seminar managed to:
1. Clearly identify the type of reform desirable in the Criminal Law;
2. The level of legislative protection required to ensure the protection against discrimination of the lesbian and gay minority;
3. Establish the current status of work being done within and without the gay movement in the areas of 1 and 2 above.
The seminar, entitled "Unite for Change", was organised by representatives from all the Dublin lesbian and gay groups as a means of preparing an effective response to the forthcoming verdict in the Norris Constitutional Action at Strasbourg. A decision on the Strasbourg case is due before the end of October and although many gay organisations have been working steadily on specific aspects of law reform it had been recognised for some time among activists that a comprehensive, high-profile public campaign was required which would set out the reform proposals deemed necessary by the lesbian and gay movement.
Around 40 activists, 20% of them women, attended the seminar. There were representatives from almost every lesbian and gay organisation -Reach, Lesbian Discussion Group, Tel-A-Friend (Gay Switchboard), Women's World, Gay Health Action, National Gay Federation, Lesbian Health Action and Lesbian Line.
Senator David Norris, the plaintiff in the Strasbourg case against the Irish Government addressed the seminar, outlining the precise status of his case at the European Court of Human Rights.
The seminar was also addressed by Tom Cooney, Chairperson of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL). Mr. Cooney said that lesbian and gay men face a wide range of discrimination without any form of legal redress. Moreoever, the Irish legal system lacked antidiscrimination legislation guaranteeing lesbians and gays equal protection in respect of domestic partnership, parental rights, employment, housing, succession and the various other sectors of workaday life.
The seminar also agreed that the Ad-Hoc group which has been set up to produce a report of the seminar and monitor/initiate action on law reform would take into consideration the past experience and difficulties which some lesbian activists and groups have encountered in working within the broader gay movement.
Attention would also be paid to ensuring the participation of individuals and reps from groups outside Dublin although the logistical difficulties of networking were acknowledged.
The report of the seminar will help considerably in the efforts of the Ad-Hoc group to open up debate within our community on law reform issues.