Partnership Bill includes five-year cohabitation rule


DÁIL COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE AND EQUALITY:THE CIVIL Partnership Bill has been approved by the Dáil’s Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights and is now expected to go to report stage in mid-June with a view to enactment into law by October at the latest.

The committee finished its deliberations on the Bill yesterday. Once it has passed all stages in the Dáil, the legislation will be debated in the Seanad and, if passed, will go to the President for signature.

The committee approved an amendment from Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern increasing the minimum qualification period for court recognition of  civil partnership cohabitation from three to five years.

“This is not because I think a three-year relationship isn’t significant,” Mr Ahern said.  The purpose was to reduce the scope for “non-meritorious or vexatious claims” in the courts.

Agreeing with the amendment, Fine Gael justice spokesman Charles Flanagan said:  “It’s an application of common sense.”

Labour TD Brendan Howlin said: “Three years is probably too short and five years is more appropriate.”

Mr Ahern said it was not a question of giving statutory rights to a portion of a former partner’s estate, it was simply enabling people to go to court where they would have to convince a judge that they were entitled to redress.

On the question of conscientious objection, the Minister said there was no obligation on any religious organisation to hold a civil partnership ceremony on its premises: “That is a matter for themselves.”

Fianna Fáil TD Noel Treacy said: “There is a perception that this Bill makes it mandatory on people to perform these ceremonies and they can be penalised if they don’t want to.” Mr Ahern said it was “a hundred per cent incorrect” that any person acting on behalf of a religious organisation would be forced to participate in a civil partnership ceremony.

However there was no question of any public servant or registrar being allowed to opt out of performing his or her State duties.

Mr Howlin said it would be amazing to permit any such derogation. “We don’t have nurses refusing to serve breakfasts which contain pork,” he said.

Mr Howlin added that, under the terms of the Equal Status Act, nobody can discriminate against any individual on the basis of sexual orientation.

Mr Ahern said the State would be open to a possible claim for damages if the constitutional rights of an individual to be treated equally were breached.

Mr Flanagan said: “I would see a difficulty if such a State official were in a position to refuse to register a civil partnership.” It would set a precedent whereby laws would unravel, he added.