Little or no evidence of so-called conversion therapy has been found in the Republic of Ireland, an official study has revealed.
The academics behind the report, commissioned by the Irish Government, said they “were unsuccessful in finding any research literature that was published in Ireland” on the issue. Their survey found fewer than one in twelve respondents claimed to have been subject to some form of conversion practice in the last 30 years.
However, the Irish Government claimed it provided “an insight into how conversion therapy practices operate in Ireland” and would “inform legislation”.
LGBT activist groups
The authors, including Dr Brian Keogh, Dr Louise Doyle and Prof Agnes Higgins of Trinity College Dublin, examined 23 academic papers from around the world.
They also issued a survey that ran for six weeks and was promoted by LGBT activist groups, to which 340 people responded.
Groups including LGBT Ireland, Gay Project, and Transgender Equality Network Ireland “provided guidance on the survey design, the interview guide, dissemination of the survey and participant recruitment for the interviews”.
The report adds that a campaign officer for the Ban Conversion Therapy Campaign “created a steering committee which also supported the recruitment of participants and promoted the research”.
Of the 278 valid responses, 24 claimed to have been subject to some form of conversion practice in the last 30 years. Seven were interviewed for the study. Of these, five acknowledged that they chose to seek the help, and two said they were “exposed” to the practices overseas.
Two interviewees claimed the prayer and “spiritual ministry” they had received amounted to ‘conversion therapy’. One was unsure if he supported a “general ban”.
The authors admitted that the survey sample was not statistically representative of the LGBT community and was too small for any meaningful conclusions to be drawn.
Despite devoting a fifth of the report to documenting the views of the participants, they also concluded that the findings from the interviews were “not generalisable”.
No broad ban
In January, Ireland’s Equalities and Integration Minister, Roderic O’Gorman, pledged to bring a Bill to ban ‘conversion therapy’ to the Dáil before the end of the year.
Despite previously acknowledging that ‘conversion therapy’ rarely takes place in Ireland, the Green Party TD heralded the publication of the report as “an important step towards legislating for a ban on conversion practices”.
But The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director Ciarán Kelly said the one conclusion that could be drawn was that lawmakers should “abandon any thoughts of a broad ban”.
“People should be protected from physical and verbal abuse so of course, if any genuine loopholes exist in the current law they should be closed. But this report tells us Ireland should steer clear of the sort of totalitarian ban seen in the Australian state of Victoria that criminalises parents and the ordinary work of churches.”
Fines, jails, re-education
Victoria’s ban came into force in February 2022. It expressly criminalises prayer if it is deemed not to support a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The penalty can be up to ten years in prison and a maximum fine of over £100,000.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) is responsible for enforcing parts of the new ban and has started ‘re-educating’ church ministers on how to comply with the law.
Murray Campbell, a pastor based in Melbourne, told The Christian Institute that attendees at one such event were informed that “no person’s sexuality or gender identity is broken or sinful, and to suggest so contravenes the intent of the new laws”.
VEOHRC guidance says conversion therapy includes: “not affirming someone’s gender identity” and parents “refusing to support” their children receiving puberty blockers. It says encouraging someone to practise celibacy is also unlawful conversion therapy.