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Irish town terminates twinning agreement with Poland over 'LGBT-free' zones

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Participants attend a gay pride event in the Polish capital, Warsaw, in June 2018.
Participants attend a gay pride event in the Polish capital, Warsaw, in June 2018.   -   Copyright  FILE - JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP
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An Irish town has become the latest in Europe to suspend twinning ties with Poland over the country's "LGBT-free zones".

The twinning committee in the town of Fermoy, County Cork, has confirmed the decision to officially terminate its links to Nowa Dęba in south-east Poland.

The move was welcomed by the Cork East branch of the Social Democrats party, who issued a statement on social media.

"In Ireland, we have seen real progress on social issues in recent years including marriage equality," said Saoirse Mackin, chair of Social Democrats’ Cork East faction.

"Therefore, as a society, we are empowered to take a firm stance against the discrimination and erasure of the LGBT+ community."

Ian O’Ceallaigh, co-vice chair, added that Fermoy's twinning with Nowa Dęba is "clearly untenable" and said the party was "glad" that Fermoy's twinning committee had terminated the agreement between the two municipalities.

Fermoy had initially pushed to suspend ties with Poland in March, after 14 years of being twinned, but the decision was delayed for several months.

Nowa Dęba was one of 80 municipalities in Poland that declared themselves free of LGBT "ideology" in 2019.

But in a letter to Fermoy Town Council, seen by Euronews, the mayor of Nowa Dęba defended his community and blamed the declaration against the LGBT community on local city councillors.

"For my fourth term as mayor, I have never experienced discrimination against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation or other characteristics," wrote Wiesław Ordon on Tuesday.

"Moreover in our commune, there has been no discrimination on the grounds of belonging to an LGBT group".

"Nowa Dęba is a tolerant and non-discriminatory commune towards minorities".

The Polish mayor also voiced hope that some links would be maintained with the Irish town.

"I am convinced that my attitude will not break my contacts with the city of Fermoy, which for many years has become contacts with people and not institutions," said Ordon.

"That was our common goal [from the start]".

The practice of twinning towns was first conceived after World War II to foster relationships between areas that had fought on opposite sides.

In February, the French community of Saint-Jean-de-Braye also ended official relations with the Polish town of Tuchów over its attitude to LGBT rights.

"France is committed to combating human rights violations based on sexual orientation," the local council said in a statement.

The mayor of Tuchów deplored the decision, suggesting that the move was part of a local election campaign in France and that many in her community did not support anti-LGBT declarations.

Meanwhile, in July, the town council of Nieuwegein in the Netherlands voted almost unanimously to end its friendship with Puławy.

Poland is one of just six European countries to not yet legalise same-sex marriage.

The declaration of "LGBT-free" zones in Poland last year followed a push from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).

Conservative politicians say the declarations protected children and traditional Polish families from a growing gay rights movement.

But in July, the European Union rejected grants under a twinning programme to six Polish cities because of their attitude to the LGBT community.

"EU values and fundamental rights must be respected by member states and public authorities," tweeted EU Equality Commissioner, Helena Dalli.

Poland responded to the EU's decision by announcing that the state would instead fund "LGBT free" towns.

Meanwhile, Polish activists have been nominated for the EU's Sakharov Prize for tracking the growth of "LGBT-free zones" in the country.