Partnership Bill 'a most important piece of legislation'


LEGISLATION to recognise the civil partnership of same-sex couples passed all stages in the Dáil last night. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern described it as “one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation to come before us since independence”.

There was sustained applause from the visitors gallery after the Civil Partnership Bill was passed without a vote. Mr Ahern said that all parties had united behind the Bill and this made it a “clear and powerful statement that gay people will never again have their status or relationships ignored”.

The Minister stressed that “in advancing this Bill we take from no one. We undermine no one. We destroy nothing. We only give: civil rights, protection and recognition of this State.”

Mr Ahern added that the Civil Partnership Bill “will put in place a legal regime that reflects the many forms of relationships in modern Irish society. Our society has changed in recent decades. While marriage is more popular than ever, other forms of relationships have become increasingly common, they create some difficulties in the legal system and require in our law a measure of recognition and of protection.”

Outgoing Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said the legislation “represents a most important step forward for persons in our community who were discriminated against down the years”. The Bill consists of 118 pages with 205 separate sections, and amends up to 130 pieces of legislation to provide protection in law for civil partners of the same sex.

Mr Flanagan said that as the Bill departed the Dáil he wished it a “speedy passage through the Seanad” and he hoped it would be activated at the earliest opportunity.

Labour spokesman Brendan Howlin said the passing of the Bill was an “historic moment”. He said it “brings Ireland a step further along the road to equality”.

He looked forward to a referendum to “put it to the people and give true equality to same-sex couples and not only be analogous to marriage but be actual marriage”.

He said it “gives legal benefits to thousands of Irish citizens who are in committed loving relationships of the same sex”. It was “an acknowledgment of their true citizenship in this Republic and a degree of maturity and a coming of age of our Republic”.

Minister for the Environment John Gormley welcomed it as a “joyous day” for equality. He said: “This is an act of tolerance, an act of equality. It is not the whole picture.”

Former Fianna Fáil TD Mattie McGrath (Tipperary South) said it had “far-reaching consequences for over 120,000 cohabiting couples who will find themselves in a legal web not of their own making”. He claimed the Bill “violates the fundamental principle of consent and is an attack on personal freedoms”.

But the Minister had said earlier that there was a misreading of the provision for maintenance following the splitting up of couples. “It’s only applicable to both heterosexual and same-sex couples living together who show extreme financial difficulty” to allow them to go to court. It aims to “protect people who are left high and dry when there’s a split up”. Mr Ahern told Fine Gael’s Seymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan) that it was not possible to give a freedom of conscience right to registrars not to perform civil unions. Mr Crawford said he had been lobbied by all churches and others about the issue.

But the Minister said that “it was not possible from a policy or practical point of view to allow a civil servant who is mandated by law to then adopt an a la carte approach”.

The Bill now goes to the Seanad.