■ Brendan Howlin, TD, launching the
Labour Party's Bill on Civil Unions for gay couples last December.
photo: Irish Labour Party.
The Irish Dail will
this week debate the second stage of a Labour Party Private Members Bill
designed to give full legal recognition to same sex unions. The Labour Party
Spokesperson on Justice, Deputy Brendan Howlin, writes that the Bill
represented a very significant step towards the provision of full equality
for gay and lesbian citizens and particular for those in same sex
In many respects the tabling of
this Bill marks a significant watershed in our legislative and social
This week will mark the first time
that the Dail has been given the opportunity to consider legislation
providing for the recognition and registration of civil unions entered into
between persons of the same sex.
The Labour Party has a long and
proud record of driving the equality agenda in this country. The Labour
Party provided the impetus for the legislative changes in 1993 that
decriminalised homosexual activities between consenting adults.
Myself and Barry Desmond, during
our respective terms of office as Minister for Health, introduced
legislation that provided for the easy availability of contraceptives.
It was Mervyn Taylor who
successfully piloted the constitutional amendment that allowed for the
introduction of divorce during the term of the Rainbow Government. The
Civil Unions Bill is entirely consistent with that equality agenda.
I believe that in approaching the
issue of legal recognition for same sex relationships we should learn from
the experience of the divorce referendum. In that case the Dail legislated
initially for judicial separation that provided, in effect, for the full
dissolution or marriage withholding only the right to remarry.
When the system of judicial
separation was well established and working well, it then became possible to
show a majority of people that providing full divorce, including the right
to remarry, was a humane and reasonable way to deal with the problem of
One of the reasons the Labour Party
has tabled this Bill is because the government has shown no commitment to
the introduction of such legislation.
The government has been dancing
around this issue for some time. There have been sympathetic noises from
both the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste, but no indication of a willingness to
Despite the publication, in
November last, of the Report of the Working Group on Domestic Relationships,
the government has refused to give any commitment on the introduction of
legislation to allow for civil partnerships.
I believe that the time for
consultation is over and the time for decision making is approaching. I am
also confident that Irish society has matured and attitudes changed
sufficiently to the point where the majority of Irish people would now have
no problem with legislation that would provide same-sex couples with same
rights and duties that are generally available to married couples.
I hope that the government will not
vote this Bill down at the end of Second Stage and that instead they will
allow it to proceed to Committee where Labour will certainly be glad to
consider any amendments that will improve the Bill in any way.
■ Anyone wishing to attend the Dáil
debate on either Tuesday or Wednesday should contact either Cathy or Kirsi
at the Labour Party HQ in Dublin – Tel: +353 1 678 4715 or 1 678 4700.
■ The debate can be seen world-wide
on the Houses of the Oireachtas website. Go to the
Oireachtas pilot live webcasts page and select
either the telecast or audio only for “OBU1 Dáil Éireann”
The Bill can be read
Posted: 18 February 2007 at
19:30 (UK time)