Good evening everyone.
Firstly, I want to thank you all for the invitation and congratulate your current Chairman, Bill O’Rourke, your founding Chairman, Mark O’Donovan and all the team, past and present, on reaching your tenth anniversary.
I am a proud Bohemians and Spurs fan, which brings me both joy and misery in equal measure so I know how important football is to you all. Bill Shankly said it was more important than life and death and while I wouldn’t go that far, it is very, very important!
ROLE OF LGBT PEOPLE IN SPORT
As Minister for Sport, I want to ensure that everybody is encouraged and given opportunities to participate in sport and to enjoy all the benefits that physical activity can bring. Active participation in sport contributes enormously to the physical and mental well-being of the individual, and by extension, of the whole community.
Dublin Devils FC, being a gay and inclusive club that welcomes anyone who loves football, is a wonderful example of what participation in sport is all about.
The club is built around the idea of breaking down stereotypes and offers a fantastic outlet for gay people to play for their community.
Just in the same way that a footballer would put on their jersey and represent their town or village, the Dublin Devils put on their jersey and represent the gay community. It is this idea of community that has sustained the club so well for the last 10 years.
I know that the main sporting organisations have initiatives in place to ensure that everyone playing, officiating and watching sport does so in a tolerant and respectful manner.
I hope that these initiatives make it easier for clubs like the Dublin Devils to compete.
THE RIGHTS OF LGBT PEOPLE
Last summer, I was very proud to walk with my own Fine Gael party’s LGBT group at Dublin Pride, and I know that the Devils marched as well.
I was there not just with my party colleagues, including the group’s chairperson Jerry Buttimer TD and many of my cabinet colleagues, but also with my own family.
I remember being struck by how LGBT people and their friends expressed not only pride in themselves but also the hope that our country would continue to become a better place for all LGBT citizens to live.
Since 2005, when the Devils were first formed, the LGBT community has made huge advances in our country. Ireland, I believe, is a more welcoming place for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
This has occurred not just because of the bravery of many individuals in coming out and living openly as they wish to, but also because of organisations like the Dublin Devils that give hope and confidence to many gay people.
Just as it is important that gay people get involved in politics, just as it is important that we allow gay teachers the protection of employment law so they do not need equate coming out with risk to their employment, so too is the visible participation in sport by members of the LGBT community a hugely important development.
It is a vital step in making Ireland a fair and equal society and the Dublin Devils should be hugely proud of the role they have played in that.
REFERENDUM ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY
We are, as you know, just five weeks away from the Marriage Equality referendum. It is difficult to understate the importance of how the country casts its vote on May 22nd.
I am hugely impressed at how the Yes side has registered many, many people to vote and how it continues to tell their supporters the importance of turning out on the day.
However, that, on its own, is not enough. We must continue to reach out to No voters, and those who are unsure as to how they will vote.
We need to tell everyone what this referendum is about- it is about respect and the right to marry.
It is, above all, about love and recognition of the fact that as all love is equal, so all love must be treated equally in our constitution.
This referendum is not about the adoption of children – though there are many gay people who are wonderful mothers and fathers raising children who, for the first time, are recognised in law in the Children and Family Relationships Act.
This referendum is not about religious marriage, despite the attempts of the No campaign to muddy the waters.
And this referendum is not about compelling any Church or school to teach anything contrary to their own spiritual outlook, even though we have seen claims to the contrary just this week.
My own Fine Gael party was the first party in the State to publish a comprehensive civil partnership plan back in 2004. It was strongly opposed by many who are now urging a No vote in 2015.
It is particularly galling to hear some people who opposed civil partnership then saying that they support civil partnership now.
It is also galling to see them using the existence of those partnership rights – partnership rights that they opposed tooth and nail- to suggest that loving committed gay and lesbian couples do not need the same Constitutional protection that married people enjoy.
Because what we are talking about in this referendum is simple – equality for everybody. That is the message of this Government from now until May 22nd.
You will, however, be forgiven for concentrating on sport rather than politics tonight.
To conclude, I understand that a highlight of the club’s proud history was the hosting of the IGLFA European Championship in Dublin in 2013 and making it to the final, only to be narrowly beaten by Village Manchester.
I note that the club’s next international outing will be in Hamburg in June. I wish you the very best of luck and hopefully you will go one better this time around.
Ten years ago, the Dublin Devils were formed. Looking to where we will all be in another ten years, I know that, as a society, when it comes to the rights of LGBT people, we are only going in one direction.
That direction is towards full equality, whether it is on the football field or in our Constitution – and groups like the Dublin Devils play a very important role in both.