Partnership Bill passes without vote


THE CIVIL Partnership Bill passed second stage without a vote. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said that major issues such as freedom of conscience in relation to registrars, church property and other issues such as the status of children and siblings could be addressed at committee stage.

Mr Ahern said the Bill was one of the most progressive pieces of legislative reform to come before the House. It was significant that it had the support of all parties.

Eugene Regan (FG) said there was a lacuna in the Bill in relation to the children of same-sex partnerships. He did not understand the sensitivity of the Government in its reluctance to put forward proposals in this area.

Jim Walsh (FF) said he was satisfied he was making a balanced and principled objection to the Bill, and he was thankful that the Taoiseach had respected the stand he was taking. In relinquishing the Fianna Fáil whip he regretted any difficulty his stand was causing.

Ivana Bacik (Lab) said that for her party the major problem was that the Bill did not provide for full equality for gay couples because it did not recognise their right to marry. Divorce had been introduced in 1995, but it had not destroyed the institution of marriage, despite the prophesies of the doomsayers.

David Norris (Ind) said there was nothing revolutionary about the legislation. From being among the leaders we were now among the laggards of Europe in regard to civil rights in this area, falling behind not only the Netherlands and all the Scandinavian countries but even Catholic Spain, which had introduced full civil marriage for same-sex couples without society falling apart.

The most important of his reservations was the complete abdication by the drafters of moral responsibility for the welfare of the children. Children could be adopted by gay people. But they could be adopted only singly. “This means quite starkly that if the legally adopting parent dies, the surviving parent who has helped to rear, nourish and parent the child is instantly cut off in the legal sense. But much worse than that, the child himself or herself has no connection with the surviving parent and is cast adrift. What is this except child abuse?”

Even the Catholic Church had abolished limbo, yet the State of Ireland with this legislation had brought it back for a minority of our most vulnerable children.

Rónán Mullen (Ind) said he believed the Bill was cruel and discriminatory.

Niall Ó Brolcháin (Green) said legislation had to do with the law, not matters of conscience.

Alex White (Lab) said a so-called conscience clause issue had been raised. “I have never come across such a contrivance masquerading as a basis for opposing legislation.”

John Hanafin (FF) said there might be a constitutional challenge to the measure on the basis of equality. There should be protection for religious organisations who conscientiously objected to facilitating events that conflicted with their religious ethos.

Feargal Quinn (Ind) said the Bill discriminated against couples who lived together, but not as sexual partners.

Labhrás Ó Murchú (FF) said he had relinquished the whip in order to have freedom of speech. He still hoped that the Minister would find it possible to exclude church property from the Bill.

Eoghan Harris (Ind) said he feared the deranged sexual tone that lay beneath this debate, because it came from a very deranged tradition if it was religion that was driving the private conscience concept.


THREE FIANNA Fáil members, John Hanafin, Jim Walsh and Labhrás Ó Murchú, voted in favour of a motion calling on political parties to allow their members a free vote on the Civil Partnership Bill. The motion, in the names of Independents Rónán Mullen, Shane Ross and Feargal Quinn, was defeated by 45 votes to six.

Mr Mullen said it was no credit to the Dáil that the Bill had gone through without a vote. It was important that the Seanad send a message that the consensus to date was more reflective of Zimbabwe than Holland.

Alex White (Lab) questioned whether the motion was in order “in the sense that is that not a matter exclusively within the remit of political parties? It’s not a matter for the Senate.”