Check Against Delivery

28th June 2012

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here this morning opening what is really a landmark event in Ireland. We now live in a truly inclusive society, where openness and respect prevail, and this is reflected in our hosting of this event today.

As a country we have developed much in the way of equality legislation over the past number of years. In fact our equality legislation pre-dates that at EU level. Embedded in this legislation is the recognition of sexual orientation as a ground on which a case of discrimination may be advanced. Our Civil Partnership legislation enacted in 2010 provides for the civil union of same-sex couples and confers on them most of the rights and obligations of civil marriage. It did not address issues relating to the children of civil partners and I hope, in the not too distant future, to publish legislation addressing this omission. In addition to the strong body of legislation, we have statutory bodies which advise and represent those who believe they are victims of discrimination and determine cases involving allegations of discrimination - the Equality Authority and the Equality Tribunal.

Traditionally, police services have a reputation for being male-dominated and conservative organisations, yet this trend is very much shifting. As well as a general change in public attitude, support groups such as G-Force here in Ireland’s police force now exist to provide advice and a social network, while retaining confidentiality if the individual so desires.

I have great respect for those of you who provide support to individuals who regard their circumstances as stressful, or who may feel uncomfortable in being open about their sexuality in the workplace, or who are simply in need of some moral support. G-Force is still in its infancy, having been established less than three years ago. I know they looked to European and international best practice and expertise to inform their policies. I hope that their experiences, as well as those of other established groups represented here today, will similarly benefit those people and organisations who are still at an early stage of development.

I think you will all agree that your conference programme will be interesting and thought-provoking. Indeed, when it was decided that this event was to take place in Ireland, an innovative and important study was commissioned and carried out by Dublin City University, the results of which will be put before you today. The researchers, Dr Sheridan and Dr Duffy, have explored the experiences of LGB members in the Garda Síochána. As they detail, the experiences of LGB members of our police force are both positive and negative. In the area of mutual respect and understanding in the workplace of individuals sexual orientation, it is clear that there have been positive developments but more needs to be done. As not only the Minister for Justice but also the Minister for Equality, I believe it is important that any remnants of homophobic culture and language be addressed. It should never be acceptable for any member of An Garda Síochána to treat any colleague differently because of their sexual orientation, nor should an individual’s sexual orientation impact on or be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as impacting on their promotional prospects. Diversity is what enriches us as a community and enriches both State and private organisations and businesses. It should not merely be accepted but should be celebrated.

Our pride in the professionalism and operational capability of our police force must be mirrored by our pride in all members of the Force and the manner in which each member treats and interacts with their colleagues in the Force. I hope Dr Sheridan’s and Dr Duffy’s research into the Irish experience will help develop a greater understanding of, and prevent discrimination or any perception of, discrimination in the workplace both here in Ireland and in other countries represented at this conference. I know this will be an uphill battle for some of you where your country may not recognise and accept Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender employees. I hope that these few days will give you some inspiration and tools and indeed the confidence to make real changes on your return.

I believe that an inclusive society, accepting of difference, benefits not only individuals but also the general community. Benefits in productivity can accrue from positive and open working environments, where all people are accepted and united as a single team, working together with a common purpose. After all, the happiness and self confidence of those at work is intrinsic to the success of our organisations. The importance of support services cannot be underestimated and, since 2009 when we saw the setting up of G-Force, our police service has come on leaps and bounds. This was recognised in 2010 when An Garda Síochána was awarded ‘Employer of the Year’ by the National Gay and Lesbian Federation. This is in no small way due to the excellent work of G-Force, and the support of the Garda Associations as well as the essential buy-in from senior management. Commitments to support LGB employees are embedded in An Garda Síochána’s Diversity Strategy, and supported at the highest levels of the organisation. I have no doubt that An Garda Síochána will continue to invest in our people, the most important asset of the Force, and prioritise these very important issues.

I wish you well in your discussions, and it is for me a great honour to open this momentous event. These few days, as well as producing many interesting topics for discussion, will allow like-minded individuals and groups to network and share their experiences.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.