Discord within Fianna Fáil on civil unions Bill

 

ATTEMPTS ARE being made to resolve differences within Fianna Fáil on the Civil Partnership Bill, which is due to be debated in the Dáil before the end of the year.

The Bill published in June will convey civil status on the registered partnerships of cohabiting heterosexual and same-sex couples.

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen), the Catholic think-tank the Iona Institute and a Church of Ireland speaker were invited to address a meeting of Fianna Fail TDs and Senators in Leinster House this week.

The event was organised by Wexford TD Seán Connick, who is chairman of Fianna Fáil’s justice policy committee.

The entire parliamentary party was invited to Wednesday’s meeting and about 25 attended, he said. “Fianna Fáil is a broad church. Obviously there are concerns amongst the parliamentary party in relation to some aspects of this. We’re trying to address them if we can and have an open debate within the party,” Mr Connick said.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern is understood to have attended the meeting briefly and may address members on the issue at a future meeting.

Also among those in attendance were Senator Jim Walsh, who has previously voiced concern about the Bill.

“I acknowledge there’s a need to address specific issues which adversely affect other relationships, that would include cohabiting couples and gay relationships and also siblings and other inter-dependent relationships,” Mr Walsh said.

“Obviously the unique position of marriage, which is recognised in our Constitution, must also be protected, and freedom of conscience for people must be recognised and allowed for.”

Dublin South East deputy Chris Andrews, who also attended, said he hoped the Bill would be passed without amendments.

“I think it’s a very progressive piece of legislation. If people have an issue in relation to conscience, there’s other legislation they can use to address those concerns,” he said.

At the meeting, the Iona Institute’s director David Quinn suggested an amendment to the Bill to allow people to opt out of “facilitating” same-sex civil unions on conscience grounds.

He claimed photographers and parish halls, for example, could be open to legal action if they declined to be involved in ceremonies or receptions.

“This Bill could force Christians and other people who believe in traditional marriage to act against their conscience by forcing them to facilitate same-sex unions,” Mr Quinn told The Irish Times.

“These cases have happened overseas. This interpretation isn’t some kind of phantasm.”

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said: “Under the Equal Status Act, 2000, you cannot discriminate against someone on the grounds of their sexual orientation.”

A Glen delegation addressed the meeting separately. Kieran Rose of Glen described the meeting as “positive, open and friendly”.

He added: “All of the debate was totally reasonable.”

Sam Harper, chairman of the Church of Ireland’s sub-committee on politics and legislation, also addressed the meeting and said he supported the amendment proposed by Mr Quinn.

Mr Harper is the honorary secretary of the general synod but stressed he was not at the Fianna Fáil meeting in that capacity.

The new Programme for Government committed the coalition to introducing the Bill before the end of this year.