Tonight the Irish trade union movement raises the rainbow flag in solidarity as we launch our campaign for civil marriage equality.  

The trade union campaign will be co-ordinated by our group, Trade Unionists for Civil Marriage Equality.  As a member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Executive Council, I am proud that the Executive has decided to support the campaign. Many individual unions will also be working hard to secure a Yes vote in May.

President of Congress, I thank you for your support and indeed your leadership on this issue.

Minister Ó Ríordáin we are grateful to you for your attendance. You spoke tonight of Bread and Roses.  Sean O'Casey, who smiles upon us in this foyer, described Jim Larkin as “a man who would put a flower in a vase on a table as well as a loaf of bread on a plate”.  Trade union support for civil marriage equality is consistent with our work in defending the low paid, fighting for better pay and seeking to improve the lives of those we represent. In the honoured tradition of Jim Larkin, trade unions fight to win both bread and roses for working people and that is the struggle that resonates here tonight.

Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender trade unionists played a pioneering role in the campaign for gay rights in Ireland: leading the campaign for the decriminalisation of homosexuality; fighting discrimination in the workplace and helping to secure the Civil Partnership Act.  The Civil Partnership Act grants same sex couples legal recognition but it does not confer the rights or status of civil marriage.   

Last year, my own union SIPTU launched our LGBTQ Network in this venue and I know many of you were present on that occasion.  We celebrated that event with a screening of the film by Edmund Lynch “Did They Notice Us at All”.  Anyone who watches it could not but be proud of the contribution made by trade union members – and by trade unions at every level of our movement – among our union braches, in our trades councils, on our executives and at Congress.  

The publication in 1982 of “Lesbian and Gay Rights in the Workplace, Guidelines for Negotiators” is rightly regarded as one of the most important developments for LGTB workers. It is not difficult to imagine the powerful symbolism of that campaign at a time when homosexuality was still a crime and when ignorance of AIDS fuelled prejudice and fear.  

Tonight we thought it fitting to mark the launch of our Civil Marriage Equality campaign with another film. Pride is a celebration of the collaboration between young gay activists and the National Union of Mineworkers in Britain and it gives me great pleasure to send congratulations to the writer Stephen Beresford, producer David Livingstone and to all involved on winning a BAFTA award this week.

It is appropriate and it is uplifting to celebrate our past achievements. But comrades, sisters and brothers, we now have a moment, a rare opportunity, perhaps a once in a lifetime chance to make history and make this a better fairer society. But, we will only succeed in our task if we work together as trade unionists, working with our families, our friends, our comrades and our colleagues in the LBGT community.

I want to take this opportunity to welcome our sisters and brothers from the LGBT community who are here tonight to demonstrate their solidarity with us.  On behalf of Trade Unionists for Civil Marriage Equality, I want to commend you on your bravery, on your fortitude and on your dedication to the campaign to get us to this point.  I know that for some of you this is a campaign that started many years ago.  Your commitment to the cause of winning fundamental civil rights is inspiring.  

Within the trade union movement we want to start a conversation.  We want union members to talk to union members about civil marriage equality – on the shop floor, on building sites, in factories, in offices, in staff rooms, in homes. We want every union member to encourage their colleagues, neighbours, families to come out and vote.  We must not be complacent. Every yes vote will count in May. 

We recognise that some voters, including trade union members, will have legitimate questions about the referendum.  We shall endeavour to answer those questions and to address fears played upon by those who have consistently opposed social change in Ireland.  But what we shall not do is let a small reactionary minority rob us, the majority, of the better fairer way. 

Let us be clear.  This referendum is not about asking anyone to surrender their rights. This referendum is not about challenging the right of any person to their religious beliefs.  This referendum is not about diminishing family values. What this referendum is about is valuing families in all their diversity and complexity.  

Comrades, this is not a gay or straight issue. This is an issue of civil rights.  As the largest actor in civil society, our trade union movement is uniquely placed to carry that message across the Republic. 

On behalf of all of us Trade Unionists for Civil Marriage Equality, I want to thank you for being here tonight.  I want to thank you for your support. La Lucha Continua. Onwards to our victory!