Conversion Therapy: Ban

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 22 June 2021.

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Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30, 22 June 2021

T4. Mr McGrath asked the Minister for Communities for an update on the work that she has done to ban conversion therapy. (AQT 1464/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Work is ongoing. Of course, this issue also falls under social strategies in relation to the LGBTQI+ strategy. There have been engagements with that sector. I recently met the Rainbow Project and HERe NI, which represented the Ban Conversion Therapy group. The Christian Institute has also communicated with the Department, and I have responded to it. I want to push ahead. We have started initial discussions with the Bill Office to start to look at the drafting of legislation. However, as I said before, a fundamental piece of work needs to be done to assess how wide-scale the issue is.

From the work being done as part of the LGBTQI+ strategy, it has been recognised that there is a chance that we could re-traumatise people as we start to discuss these issues. It is important that, working together, the Department of Health and I put in place mechanisms to ensure that there are appropriate support services for those who may be re-traumatised. I want to bring forward legislation as soon as possible, and I am working with the sector to do that. Indeed, I will meet representatives again within the next couple of weeks, before the summer recess, to make sure that the legislation is robust and fit for purpose. In other areas, legislation has fallen at the first or second hurdle because the essential work at the start was not done. There is a commitment from me to try to ban this practice as urgently as possible.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her reply. The need for a sexual orientation strategy is in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, and this will be a key part of that. The meetings are important, but action and delivery on the ground are what will make the difference. We discussed the issue a few months ago, and I am not sure that today's answers are very different from those given then. I implore the Minister to take as much action as possible so that we can create equality on this matter across these islands.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Action is important, but it is about making sure that it is robust. There is no point in bringing legislation to the Chamber that does not stand up to scrutiny, allowing people to continue to fall through the net. Those are some of the concerns that are being raised in the engagement and the co-design process for the LGBTQI+ strategy. That is being done to make sure that the legislation is robust and so that, as the debate starts to pick up again, as it did when the Ulster Unionists tabled the motion, we build in supports to make sure that people are not being re-traumatised. As was stated, conversion therapy has rightly been categorised and seen as torture treatment, and people are being re-traumatised.

I have committed to working with the sector as we move ahead to ensure that there is no undue delay and that the sector has a clear timetable for the pathway. The sector is also clear, however, that it wants the legislation to be robust. It does not want me to come here and be popular by putting something in front of Members. The legislation has to bring in the protections and equality duties that you rightly talk about. I am committed to doing that through co-design and working with the community.