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The Gay Community Response to the Emergence of AIDS in Ireland: Activism, Covert Policy, and the Significance of an “Invisible Minority”

  • Ann Nolan (a1)
Abstract:

The first response to AIDS in Ireland emerged from within a radical, socialist, and predominantly nationalist wing of the gay rights movement in 1985. At a time when homosexual acts were criminalized, the Irish state operated a policy of protracted nonengagement with Gay Health Action, while covertly supporting selected health-promotion activities. As international momentum unified around a response to the AIDS crisis characterized by value-neutral public health principles, the Irish State, and particularly the statutory health sector, was compelled to balance the views of a conservative voting majority at home with the liberal consensus that was defining the response internationally. AIDS was a catalyst for change throughout the world and Gay Health Action was at the forefront of that transformative movement in Ireland. At the outbreak of AIDS, the gay community was an “invisible minority” that by 1990 had pushed the boundaries of sexual health discourse to herald a more liberal age.

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Copyright
Footnotes
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Unless otherwise stated, “Ireland” refers to the twenty-six-county Republic of Ireland and should not be confused with Northern Ireland, which is under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

Footnotes
References
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NOTES

1. The term AIDS is applied throughout this article in recognition that in the mid-to-late 1980s this was the term most commonly used in literature and discourse worldwide. Contemporary audiences will be more familiar with the separation of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

2. Harden, Victoria A., AIDS at 30: A History (Dulles, Va., 2012), 12.

3. Berridge, Virginia, AIDS in the UK: The Making of Policy, 1981–1994 (Oxford, 1996), 145.

4. Porter, Roy, Editorial, “History Says No to the Policeman’s Response to AIDS,” British Medical Journal 293 (1986): 1589–90.

5. Census of Population of Ireland, vol. 5 (Dublin, 1981), 8.

6. Whyte, John, Church and State in Modern Ireland (Dublin, 1980).

7. Tom Fahey, “Religion and Sexual Culture in Ireland,” in National Histories: Sexual Cultures in Europe (Manchester, 1999), 56.

8. Whyte, Church and State in Modern Ireland, 36.

9. Weissert, Carol and Weissert, William, Governing Health: The Politics of Health Policy (Baltimore, 2006)

10. Whyte, Church and State in Modern Ireland, 36.

11. Ibid.; Lee, Joseph, Ireland, 1912–1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1990); Barrington, Ruth, Health, Medicine, and Politics in Ireland, 1900–1970 (Dublin, 1989).

12. Whyte, Church and State in Modern Ireland, 337–43.

13. Nolan, Ann and Walsh, John, “‘In what orbit we shall find ourselves, no one could predict’: Institutional Reform, the University Merger, and Ecclesiastical Influence on Irish Higher Education in the 1960s,” Irish Historical Studies 41, no. 159 (July 2017): 7796. Doi:10.1017/his.2017.7.

14. Butler, Shane and Mayock, Paula, “‘An Irish solution to an Irish problem’: Harm Reduction and Ambiguity in the Drug Policy of the Republic of Ireland,” International Journal of Drug Policy 16, no. 6 (2005): 415–22; Hug, Chrystel, The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland (Dublin, 1999), 114; Denis Walsh, The Land of Humbug, Wink and Nod, Irish Times (1921–Current File); 21 February 1985; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Irish Times (1859–2011) and The Weekly Irish Times (1876–1958), 21 February 1985.

15. Freedman, Derek, AIDS: The Problem in Ireland (Dublin, 1987).

16. Hug, The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland, 8.

17. Berridge, AIDS in the UK, 15.

18. Hug, The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland, 208.

19. Toibín, Colm, “A Brush with the Law, in Dublin Review 2007,” in Ferriter, Diarmuid, Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland (London, 2009), 497.

20. Ibid., 495.

21. David Norris, “Homosexual People and the Christian Churches in Ireland: A Minority and Its Oppressors,” The Crane Bag Book of Studies 5, no. 1, “Minorities in Ireland” (1981): 31–37.

22. Brian Merriman, “Address by Brian Merriman, Head of Communications and Legal Services at the EGPA Conference in European Gay Police Association Conference (Dublin Castle, 29 June 2012), http://g-force.ie/files/8313/4255/5528/brian_merriman_speech.pdf.

23. Author interview with Barry Desmond, 14 February 2011. The “Troubles” refers to the thirty-year conflict in Northern Ireland between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists in the six northeastern counties of Ireland that formed part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

24. Author interview with Mick Quinlan, 6 April 2011.

25. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, Funding a Community-Based AIDS Prevention Programme, no date, no author (c. 1987).

26. Ibid.

27. Madden, Ed, “Queering Ireland, In the Archives,” Irish University Review 43, no. 1 (2013): 184221.

28. Connolly, Linda and O’Toole, Tina, Documenting Irish Feminisms: The Second Wave (Dublin, 2005), 9; Madden, “Queering Ireland, In the Archives,” 184–221.

29. Rose, Kieran, Diverse Communities: The Evolution of Lesbian and Gay Politics in Ireland (Cork, 1994), 22.

30. Kevin Moore, “Quinn in AIDS Leaflet Rumpus,” Sunday Independent, 25 August 1985.

31. David Nowlan, “Gay Group Sees Prejudice in AIDS Response,” Irish Times, 25 June 1986. The Irish pound was the currency in circulation in Ireland up to 2002, when it was replaced by the Euro with a fixed conversion factor of €1 = IR£0.787564.

32. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, AIDS Action Alliance Newsletter (November–December 1987; Rose, Diverse Communities, 22.

33. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, Letter from Donal Sheehan, for GHA, to Michael D. Higgins, T.D., 6 November 1987.

34. Dáil Éireann Debates, “Ceisteanna, Questions. Oral Answers,” AIDS Campaign 383 (2 November 1988).

35. Ibid.

36. Chris Robson, AIDS Education, The Irish Times (1921–Current File), 30 November 1988.

37. Ibid.

38. Oliver, Thomas, “The Politics of Public Health Policy,” Annual Review of Public Health 27 (2006): 201.

39. Author interview with Barry Desmond, 14 February 2011, and author interview with Ruby Morrow, 7 February 2011.

40. Author interview with Don Lydon, 2 March 2011.

41. Private Video Collection of Dr. Derek Freedman, “Today tonight hosted by current affairs presenter, Brian Farrell” (April 1987), broadcast date unknown.

42. Ibid.

43. Barry Desmond, Finally and in Conclusion (Dublin, 2000), 294.

44. Hug, The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland, 1.

45. Author interview with Mick Quinlan, 6 April 2011.

46. Ibid.

47. Derek Freedman, “Sexually Transmitted Diseases: The Irish Problem,” paper delivered at the Federated Dublin Voluntary Hospitals and St. James’s Hospital Annual Conference, 15 February 1984.

48. Venereal disease.

49. David Nowlan, “Experts Reject Dublin VD Statistic,” Irish Times (1921–Current File), http://search.proquest.com/docview/529491330?accountid=14404; Freedman, Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

50. Telephone conversation with Dr. James Walsh, 23 July 2013.

51. Debate, Seanad Éireann, “Information and Education Programme on AIDS,” Motion 118, no. 14 (25 February 1988).

52. Owen Bowcott, “Thatcher Tried to Block “Bad Taste” Public Health Warnings about AIDS,” The Guardian, 30 December 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/30/thatcher-tried-to-block-bad-taste-public-health-warnings-about-aids.

53. Ibid.

54. Berridge, AIDS in the UK, 81.

55. Author interview with Dr. James Walsh, 3 February 2011.

56. Ibid.

57. Author interview with Barry Desmond, 14 February 2011.

58. Dublin AIDS Alliance (DAA) Ltd Archive, uncatalogued, “Gay Health Action,” AIDS leaflet 1, May 1985.

59. David Nowlan, “Campaign to Focus on Drug Abuse,” Irish Times, 9 June 1986.

60. Ibid.

61. Ibid.

62. Moore, “Quinn in AIDS Leaflet Rumpus,” Sunday Independent, 25 August 1985.

63. Ibid.

64. Ibid.

65. Author interview with Barry Desmond, 14 February 2011.

66. Ibid.

67. John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd ed. (New York, 2003), 38.

68. Debates, Dáil Éireann, “Ceisteanna, Questions: Oral Answers,” Health Education Bureau 357, no. 2 (21 March 1985).

69. Health Boards were created by the Health Act of 1970 with responsibility for delivering statutory provision of health care in eight districts or regions.

70. Author interview with Dr. James Walsh, 3 February 2011; John Armstrong, “AIDS Details Cut from Health Booklet,” Irish Times, 14 August 1986.

71. Private Video Collection of Dr. Derek Freedman, RTE News, “Interview between Richard Crowley, RTE Broadcaster, and Dr James Walsh, National AIDS Coordinator” (1986), broadcast date unknown.

72. Ibid.

73. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “AIDS News Action: Newsletter of GHA” (February–March 1988).

74. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “Letter from Chris Robson, Gay Health Action to Minister for Health, Barry Desmond,” dated 16 May 1985.

75. Ibid.

76. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “Letter from Private Secretary to Minister of Health, Barry Desmond, to Chris Robson, Gay Health Action,” dated 6 June 1985.

77. Ibid.

78. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “Letter from Chris Robson, Gay Health Action, to Minister for Health, Barry Desmond,” dated 6 October 1985.

79. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “Letter from Chris Robson, Gay Health Action, to Minister for Health, Barry Desmond,” dated 14 February 1986.

80. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “Letter from Alan Smith, Private Secretary to Barry Desmond, Minister of Health, to Chris Robson, GHA,” dated 20 February 1986.

81. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “Letters from Chris Robson, GHA, to John Collins, Department of Health, or the Minister,” 1985–87.

82. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “AIDS Action Alliance Newsletter,” October 1987.

83. David Nowlan, “GHA Report Prejudice in AIDS Response,” Irish Times, 25 June 1986.

84. Author interview with Dr. James Walsh, 3 February 2011.

85. Ferriter, Occasions of Sin, 495.

86. Desmond, Finally and in Conclusion, 295.

87. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, “AIDS Action Alliance Newsletter,” November–December 1987.

88. McNamara, Archbishop Kevin, “Curriculum and Values in Education,” in Is the School Around the Corner Just the Same? ed. McCarroll, Joe (Dublin, 1987), 81.

89. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Editor. Given at Rome, 1 October 1986, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html: Vatican; “Vatican Issues Sexual Guidelines,” Irish Times (1921–Current File); 2 December 1983.

90. The Second Vatican Council was appointed by Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 to consider the position of the Roman Catholic Church in the modern world. The process was concluded by Pope Paul VI on 8 December 1965 and set in motion a number of important changes.

91. Bishop B. C. Butler, Who Was Who at Vatican II: Papal Voices in Vatican II—Voice of the Church, http://vatican2voice.org/4basics/papal.htm.

92. Oliver, The Politics of Public Health Policy, 218; author interview with Fr. Paul Lavelle, Co-ordinator of the National Bishops’ Task Force on AIDS (1987–88), 27 January 2011.

93. Author interview with Fr. Paul Lavelle, 27 January 2011.

94. Kingdon, John W., Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd ed. (New York, 2003), 53.

95. Hug, The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland, 219.

96. Dublin AIDS Alliance Archive, uncatalogued, Catholic Press and Information Office, A Commission of the Irish Bishop’s Conference, 169 Booterstown Avenue, Co Dublin, PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT, AIDS: Cardinal O’Fiaich interviewed by Shane Kenny on RTE Radio’s “This Week,” 21 December 1986.

97. Freedman, AIDS, 97.

98. Ibid.

99. Altman, Dennis, “Political Sexualities: Meanings and Identities in the Time of AIDS,” in Conceiving Sexuality: Approaches to Sex Research in a Postmodern World, ed. Parker, R. and Gagnon, J. (New York, 1995).

100. Ferriter, Diarmaid, The Transformation of Ireland: 1900–2000 (London, 2004), 89; Hug, introduction, The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland.

101. Author interview with Mary Jackson, 30 April 2011.

102. Samuel Beckett, Murphy (London, 2003).

103. Author interview with Deirdre Seery, 13 June 2011.

104. Author interview with Maeve Foreman, 15 March 2011.

Unless otherwise stated, “Ireland” refers to the twenty-six-county Republic of Ireland and should not be confused with Northern Ireland, which is under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

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Journal of Policy History
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