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Dia dhíbh a chairde, thank you for your warm welcome this morning and I’d like to thank Derek McDonnell, Programme Manager with LGBT Diversity for his kind invitation on behalf of the Joint Working Group to speak at this your first national Conference - and an important milestone in the story of the full social inclusion of Ireland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens.  The Conference is well titled- Foundations - for your work is doing nothing less than building the foundations of a very different Ireland and a very different life experience for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

That life experience has been, for many, historically characterised by a deep sense of isolation and exclusion, of being misunderstood and being judged - indeed, misjudged by a mile.  The toxic attitudes which were heard in homes, streets, workplaces even in schools and churches caused untold suffering and nothing is surer than the fact that those attitudes can have and will have no place in the Ireland we are building, for they belong in the same toxic waste dump along with sexism, racism, sectarianism and all those other contrary forces which would diminish the innate dignity, freedom and nature of the human person, reduce their life chances and opportunities and consign them to half-lived lives.

The organisations represented here today have been strong and powerful advocates, promoting human rights, insisting on equality, and diligently chipping away at the hardened old mindsets and prejudices built up over centuries and which no longer hold the moral high ground.  As well as offering support to LGBT people and their families and friends, thanks to you, voices which would otherwise have been unheard are now speaking out, raising public awareness, playing a key role in education campaigns and having an input into the formation of public policy.  Thanks to you, Ireland is continuing to make visible progress. 

Just over thirty years ago the first campaign for homosexual law reform began.  We have come a long way since those days when the focus was on decriminalisation.  Recent legislation on civil partnership will substantially change the landscape for same-sex couples.  It had been widely recognised that the absence of any official recognition for same-sex relationships contributed to their invisibility in our society and this much-anticipated development will not only have a direct practical impact for same-sex couples who choose to register a partnership but it will also give families, friends and wider communities an opportunity to publicly celebrate and support gay and lesbian couples who wish to have formal recognition of their relationships. 

We are also filling in gradually the research and information gaps, learning about the grim impact and prevalence of homophobic bullying, the vulnerability to mental ill-health and suicide of young gay people as a result of societal pressures, the need for candid and accessible healthcare information, services, counselling and support.  Our school curriculum is now responding positively, our healthcare systems are more engaged than ever and while there is still a distance to travel, it is important on a day like this that we acknowledge with gratitude the investment you and others have made, through tireless months and years of effort, to raise public awareness of the issue and ring the changes needed to ensure that every person in our society is treated with dignity and respect, and has their human rights fully protected, fully vindicated.

Those whose views on homosexuality continue to feed an unacceptable culture of exclusion that impacts so dreadfully on the safety, security, health and hopes of our LGBT citizens need to be continually challenged and engaged in a civic discourse about our constitutional commitment to the equality and dignity of every human person and the assertion of our Proclamation that we should be a republic that cherishes all the children of the nation equally.  It is good to see that there is now an Advisory Group appointed by the Minister for Social Protection looking at the issue of legal recognition of the acquired gender of transgender persons, for here is a group which faces very particular difficulties and in a context of considerable lack of public awareness and social isolation.

One of the most distressing human experiences we can have is to feel completely alone, to feel like the permanent outsider.  There are still pockets of the country, particularly in rural areas, without support groups and there we can only begin to imagine the aloneness felt by a person who cannot access help.  But help is on the way, for this conference has chosen to focus on capacity building so that the organistions represented here can expand and grow their network of care, mutual support and public advocacy.  There is a rapidly expanding body of knowledge, experience, wisdom and practice which is feeding into this inaugural national conference. 

Your work here will be to share as much of that information and to distil it, so that the next steps of the LGBT Diversity Programme can be surefooted and channeled in exactly the right direction, so that the foundations you lay over the next three years will be fit for purpose.  That purpose is nothing less than creating an Ireland that is a comfortable and happy place to live for all our citizens - gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender alike.  A place where they are free and able to make their fullest contribution to building up our society with their talents and gifts as equal citizens of an egalitarian republic.  It is the only future worthy of us as a people and we need you to help us get there by the shortest and the surest route.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.