Civil Unions Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Howlin on Tuesday, 20 February 2007:
That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"That Dáil Éireann:
affirms that any legislative reform in this area must be fully consistent with the provisions of the Constitution and in particular the State's constitutional duty to protect with special care the institution of marriage; and
accepts the need for legislative reform for the recognition of civil partnerships to enable persons who are cohabiting in relationships of mutual dependency to make fair and reasonable provision for each other and for other persons dependent on them and in their dealings with other persons; and
notes that the terms of the Civil Unions Bill 2006 are confined to conjugal relationships between persons of the same sex;
welcomes the Reports of the Working Group on Domestic Partnership chaired by Anne Colley and the Law Reform Commission Report on Rights and Duties of Cohabitants as valuable studies of the options for legislative reform in this area; and
agrees with the Government's stated position that a proposal to amend the Constitution so as to qualify that duty at this time would be unnecessarily divisive and counter-productive; and
notes that the terms of the Civil Unions Bill 2006 as presented appear to be inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution; and
regards it as prudent to await the determination by the Supreme Court of an appeal now pending before that Court in relation to the issue of recognition by the State of same-sex marriages contracted in foreign jurisdictions before legislating in this area; and
mindful of the desirability of legislating in this area in such a manner as to attract the greatest degree of social consensus; and
accepting that the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform is currently considering an approach based on a comprehensive legislative response to the foregoing issues,
postpones the Second Reading of the Civil Unions Bill 2006 for 6 months.".
—(Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform).

Deputy Howlin raised two issues with me concerning the amendment moved by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to Second Stage of the Bill. I can confirm that if the amendment is passed tonight, the Bill will be automatically deemed to have passed Second Stage in six months time, when the Bill would appear on the next Order Paper at order for Committee Stage. On the dissolution of the Dáil, all Bills before the House will lapse. Needless to mention, the Chair is not required to consider the impact of the dissolution of the Dáil when ruling on an amendment.

As for the second issue in respect of the ruling cited by the Deputy——

For clarity——

The Deputy should allow me to continue. The second issue is in respect of the ruling cited by the Deputy, namely, that it is not for the Chair or the House to decide whether a Bill is in conflict with the Constitution. That is correct and is the case. Only the courts may determine such matters, as stated in other relevant rulings. However, of itself this does not require the Chair to rule on the Government amendment on Second Stage. The amendment puts forward reasons and opinion as to why the Bill should be postponed. There is no procedural reason to oblige the Chair to rule on the amendment. It would be inappropriate for the Chair to so do.

I accept fully the Ceann Comhairle's ruling in respect of the first issue. Am I to understand the import of the amendment is simply to defeat the Bill? Is that what the Chair is telling Members?

It is not for the Chair to interpret.

However, that is the truth.

That is a matter for the House to decide. On the Bill, I call Deputy Andrews.

I propose to share my time with Deputies Fiona O'Malley and O'Connor.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I greatly welcome the opportunity to debate this issue. I have been interested in the subject for a long time, as has the Fianna Fáil Party which has had major discussions on the issue. In recent years the Taoiseach has taken a major interest in it, particularly during the lifetime of the Government. However, Members must be honest with themselves in respect of progress made on the issue during the past five years. It is a pity that the Government has not introduced legislation on the issue of civil union or civil registration of partnerships of same-sex couples.

The Minister noted yesterday that the Bill was very short. I have not had the opportunity to pick through it forensically. However, the point he made about the comparison with the United Kingdom Bill was compelling. At its core is a bundle of rights that the vast majority accept should be enjoyed by same-sex couples. These rights are basic and heterosexual couples might take them for granted or may not even be aware of them. They certainly do not recall when such rights were granted to them. I refer to pension rights, inheritance rights and tax entitlements, all of which we take for granted. Consequently, it is unfortunate that three years after publication of the Law Reform Commission report on the rights and duties of cohabitees, there is still no legislation in this respect. The commission reported extensively on the issue of same-sex couples and the rights they should enjoy.

On a personal level, I know many gay couples and they have the same capacity for love and affection as do heterosexual couples. While it may seem beside the point to mention such a matter, it would be remiss of me not to make this clear. Moreover, I personally consider that it is unfortunate, five years after the formation of the Government, that there is nothing on the Statute Book to recognise such basic rights. It would not be unreasonable for a person to infer that this constituted a judgment on gay and lesbian couples and that the failure to legislate implies their relationships are in some way inferior to those of heterosexual couples. Perhaps it implies that somehow they cannot integrate fully into society. It implies they cannot aspire fully to the human dignity afforded to heterosexual couples, which is highly unfortunate.

This is not a debate on marriage. The All-Party Committee on the Constitution discussed that element and the Minister's comment was correct, that is, its members agreed collectively that a referendum on the constitutional element would be defeated. I wish to make a couple of remarks in respect of the Minister's speech. I am a member of that committee and it spent a good deal of 2004 and 2005 considering the family provisions of the Constitution. As I noted, its members decided not to proceed because they considered that a change on the issue of marriage would be defeated. This is not to state its members did not think such marriage-based rights should be afforded to same-sex couples. Instead, the committee recommended this type of legislation in 2005. Two years have passed and other legislation has come before the House much more promptly. I accept that we owe more to couples who deserve to have the basic rights to which I referred.

The Minister suggested the Bill would not survive a constitutional challenge. The All-Party Committee on the Constitution took specific legal advice on this point during its hearings and received no such advice. There was no suggestion that legislation on the bundle of rights would be unconstitutional.

I thank the Deputy for putting that on the record.

Members must also consider the Zappone judgment, to which the Minister referred as a reason to delay. While this may be simplistic, there will always be court cases that touch on issues of the day or issues of major importance.

Hear, hear.

Members should bear in mind that if Dr. Gilligan and Dr. Zappone lose their case, legislation will be required. However, if they win, it will be needed all the more.

I do not believe the failure to consider cohabitees is of any relevance either. If one takes the United Kingdom legislation as an example, it has no relevance to cohabitees. One reason with which I agree is that cohabitees who wish to avail of the bundle of rights to which I referred may so do by way of marriage, whereas same-sex couples have no such option.

I consider myself to be liberal and want to live in a society in which people are trusted to behave and act in their own best interest. It is important that no message is sent from this Parliament that suggests to young men and women that there is either intolerance at worst, or indifference. Too many young men and women in their teens who struggle to come to terms with homosexuality in a sometimes intolerant society see only one tragic way out of their dilemma. Consequently, great caution must be exercised by all speakers on this issue to avoid a single breath of a word that might be interpreted as intolerance or indifference.

I will make some international comparisons. As Belgium, Sweden, Finland and others in the European Union have already granted these rights to same-sex unions, Ireland is a little behind in this respect. The Dutch have gone even further on the issue of marriage. Seven Canadian jurisdictions have recognised same sex unions, which has given rise to the Gilligan case. In addition, one or two states in America have also done so. I understand the New York state pension scheme has also indicated it will recognise such unions.

These are all important developments and Members should recognise that the Government has passed significant legislation that puts down a marker of its intentions. The Minister referred to them in last night's debate in which he was heckled unfairly. He did not have an opportunity to put his case as fairly as he was entitled. Although he had important things to say, he was barracked. It diminishes a proper debate on an issue of such importance to individuals when it turns into a pantomime.

He was completely offside.

Deputy Quinn should allow Deputy Andrews to speak without interruption.

Deputy Quinn will not justify himself retrospectively by heckling even more. He will accept the Minister had relevant things to say and that he was barracked unfairly.

I will conclude by noting that the Taoiseach opened the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network office in April 2006. I hope that is an indicator of his absolute and total commitment to this issue.

The Labour Party is to be commended for introducing this Bill because it has brought the issue into sharp focus. As Deputy Andrews stated, the Government is responsible for being a little tardy in dealing with this issue. It puts it up to us as to whether we are prepared to legislate to grant equality to all citizens.

I have difficulties with the motion before us this evening. My instinct is to accord every citizen equality. That equality is denied to people in same-sex unions in the face of the Constitution. It made me reflect on whether the Constitution serves us well any more. While it contains a reference to the protection and particular status of the family, I am of the mind that the Constitution does not serve us well. It is meant to be a living document of our times. However, it focuses on an era long since gone.

Contributors said last night that we have a duty. People's opinions on what is required and the circumstances of people's lives are not always accommodated within legislation. I have no doubt our duty as the current incumbents in this House is to provide legislation to grant equality to people in same-sex unions. As a result, I have difficulties which I expressed to the Minister yesterday. One wants to be generous and do what is right for people denied the capacity within our legal framework to be treated equally. In this sense, the Labour Party's Bill provides an opportunity to deal with this obvious inequality in our Constitution and the laws as they stand. I was minded to support it.

As we opened the debate, the Ceann Comhairle addressed the issue of whether the Bill is being killed and it is a moot point. I would find it more comfortable if the Government brought forward legislation which dealt with this issue. When I spoke to the Minister last night, he made the point that the Bill is not broad enough in terms of all that needs to be accommodated. Deputy Andrews also referred to this aspect. I accept the argument that a little bit is better than no progress at all.

Three quarters of a loaf is a big meal.

I cannot deny I have difficulties with it. However, in another sense, if we are to consider this legislation we must do so in an extremely comprehensive way. Work is under way in the Department and I do not accept the Minister has done nothing. He has done a lot as has the Taoiseach in — I do not want to use the word but — embracing the gay and lesbian communities. They made an important statement on the centrality of people of a particular sexual orientation whose needs are not met by current legislation.

This situation must be properly and comprehensively addressed. This is why I was, and am, prepared to accept the Minister's intention to bring forward complex legislation. Deputy Andrews mentioned the extent and capacity of the UK Act. Many people may not appreciate it but if we are to serve people well, we must address this in an extremely comprehensive manner.

The comforting thought is that no matter what the result is of the election, the issue of the status of same-sex unions will be addressed. The commitment is there on an all-party basis. I do not underestimate the disappointment and I share some of Deputy Howlin's attitude about the lack of cowardice on the part of the Government.

There is no lack of cowardice.

It is in abundance.

My attitude when sitting here last night listening to the debate was to question why we have not brought forward such legislation already. As the Minister pointed out, complications exist. When one is in Government and receives advice from the Attorney General, it must be heeded. It is correct to provide for comprehensive legislation in this area. Raising this matter on Private Members' business and bringing forward this Bill copperfastens and commits every political party as we go into a general election to legislate in this area. It is important we do so if we are to view ourselves as a pluralist republic. It is the duty of our times to provide for equality on this matter. It is incumbent on us all, particularly the Minister, to bring forward comprehensive legislation as speedily as he can.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. It is traditional on these occasions to compliment the mover of the Bill and I do so sincerely. If Deputy Howlin does not mind, I will compliment him on his efforts in this regard.

I often made the point that it is always good to see people in the Visitors Gallery and I am pleased so many are here tonight. It is a pity the Polish gentleman who visited the Ceann Comhairle on Monday was not here last night and is not here tonight but chose Dublin Castle as the venue to make the statements he made yesterday. It would be good if he heard the debate last night and tonight. I hope what happened yesterday will be corrected.

It is right that Dáil Éireann gets an opportunity to discuss equality for same-sex couples. I welcome this historic opportunity as a public representative and legislator who deals on a regular basis with the problems of my constituents who are prevented from marrying in this State.

I support the Government amendment a little reluctantly because same-sex couples have an urgent need and right to have their relationships placed on a sound legal footing. However, the manner proposed by the Labour Party is not the best way to tackle it. I trust the track record of the Government in moving towards a more equal society for all its citizens. I hope colleagues on all sides of the House will consider the situation in this way.

I agree that same-sex couples have waited too long for the legal recognition they are entitled to as citizens of this Republic. However, I am reminded that Fianna Fáil, and the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, proposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality when in government with the Labour Party.

That is the important bit.

The then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, effectively moved the equality agenda forward by presenting to the House the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 which put Ireland to the forefront in protecting individuals, including gay people, from discrimination.

We have delivered and will do so again. It is because of this track record that I support the Government amendment, which I do on trust. I trust, having read the statements made by the Government, that we will honour our commitment to bring forward good legislation to guarantee equality for same-sex couples at the earliest possible moment.

In ten years perhaps.

I have supported the track record of Fianna Fáil in improving the status of gay people. Gay and lesbian people are members of our families. They are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces. They are our neighbours, constituents and friends. It is not acceptable for them to be treated differently or unfairly. The Government is committed to addressing their needs in a fair and positiveway.

Just not tonight.

There is a major caring crisis facing us. People are having fewer children, while adults have less time for caring duties, both child care and elder care. The Government responds positively to these challenges. A society that encourages more committed family units is a better one. Family units have moved beyond the traditional and reflect modern life. This includes same-sex family units.

We must overcome difficulties which same-sex couples meet in the recognition of their loving relationships. They need to be treated equally in taxation, inheritance, welfare, pension and next of kin matters. There are controversial matters which need to be debated such as adoption. I am not afraid of that debate because we should always remember that children need good parents. Good parents are not ordained by their sexual orientation but are adults who love, care, educate and provide for their children. We should never close off the opportunity of providing that environment for any of our children. Same-sex couples can provide that environment, despite the reluctance of some parties in the House to acknowledge this. I hope this issue is taken on urgently by the Government which should bear the welfare of children of same-sex partnerships in mind in any legislation it proposes. If the natural child of a person in a same-sex partnership loses his or her parent through death, I cannot see the justice in requiring that he or she should also lose the right to be cared for by his or her parent's partner who has also reared him or her. I cannot see how we as legislators would want any child to lose the two people who have loved and raised him or her. Registered same-sex partners should have the right to adopt the natural child of one of the partners, if this is in the best interests of the child.

Does the Deputy want to vote on that issue?

Children have been educated in same sex institutions throughout the history of the State. Many single parents raise their children in loving homes and we should not shy away from providing the children of gay parents the security of stable and loving family relationships. It is for that reason and the reason the Government has proposed the first ever children's rights amendment to the Constitution that we need time to make sure we get this right for the children concerned and the adults who love and care for them. I have heard the view that the Bill does not give us that time.

We have heard Opposition criticism of the Government amendment. I agree the time has come to provide same-sex couples with a proper legal structure and status for their relationships. The many issues facing other cohabiting couples can also be addressed at the same time or separately, but there are differences. Opposite sex cohabiting couples can get married if they are free to do so but same sex couples cannot. This issue needs to be addressed urgently. All cohabiting couples are not the same and same-sex couples are the most disadvantaged, a matter I want to see corrected. It is not right to equate non-sexual relationships such as those between cohabiting family members with loving same-sex relationships.

The time is right to act on this important human rights issue. However, it must be done properly and not rushed just because of a general election. I hope that in supporting the amendment it will be seen as my signal that I am looking to my party to commit to bringing to the House comprehensive legislation which will properly address many of the issues raised in this debate and more. We have fulfilled these promises in the past. We have promised to do so again now and we will deliver.

There is urgency attached to this matter. That is why the Government has done much work already. As a representative of a diverse constituency, I would like to be able to assure my constituents that this is a priority for Fianna Fáil in government and one on which we will deliver in a proper way as soon as we can.

Any day now.

We have received good advice and consulted widely on the issue. We are serious about it.

The amendment allows us to build on the work of various committees and implement their recommendations in the best interests of same-sex couples. In the interests of equality, to which this party has always been committed, we should use the opportunity the amendment and debate give us to commit to bringing forward good legislation. Fianna Fáil can be trusted on this important matter. All the major breakthroughs for gay people have been pioneered by my party.

That is simply not true and the Deputy knows it.

We can be trusted to deliver on this most important and urgent issue of civil and human rights. Fianna Fáil wants to treat all our citizens equally, as it is the republican party.

I am impressed by the consultations and preparations undertaken by the Government during this Dáil. We will get it right for same-sex couples and soon. The issue should not be rushed at the last minute before a general election. We all accept the need for change and the least we owe same-sex couples who have waited so long for this change is to get it right. I am supporting the amendment.

I appreciate the many items of correspondence I have received in the past week, the past few days in particular, from constituents and others around the country. Anybody would be impressed by the points made. I am happy to meet those who wish to contact me and others, be they groups or individuals. I will try to play my part in what is an important discussion. I have made my point but people are entitled to disagree with it. The issue is serious. I welcome the opportunity afforded to me to make a short contribution. I look forward to the vote.

Deputy Finian McGrath is sharing time with Deputies Catherine Murphy, Gregory, Joe Higgins, Cuffe and Ó Snodaigh.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this new legislation, the Civil Unions Bill. I support this progressive legislation and, unlike the Tánaiste, I am standing by the Republic. We must build and develop a republic based on equality and respect for human rights. Those who have the privilege of being elected to the House must show respect to all citizens. It is not just about accommodating difference, but enjoying and celebrating diversity. That is the future of this country and this island.

I thank all the gay and lesbian people who have contacted my office in the past week on the Bill. I will quote from one e-mail which sums up the legislation for me and many others. It reads:

I am with my partner for almost six years. We both work, we pay our taxes, we socialise, we go on holidays, we are normal people living our lives together. To our family and friends we are like any other couple they know, only we are not! Because my partner happens to be the same gender as me we are not represented by the Government like every other couple. By supporting the Civil Unions Bill you will be giving all members of Irish society similar rights. If the Civil Unions Bill is passed my partner and I intend to have our relationship recognised and celebrated and in doing so will be able to secure legal protection for our future, something that if you are gay you don't have the right to!

I thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail and again hope that you will support the Civil Unions Bill tonight in the Dáil. My position is summed up by this e-mail. How can anyone, even the President of Poland, who has the brass neck to lecture people on this matter, argue against it?

Hear, hear.

Deputies should open their minds and hearts and support the Bill. It is concerned with accommodating and enjoying difference, diversity powering success and the gay, lesbian and bisexual people at the heart of Ireland's progress. It is the right thing to do and I urge Deputies to support the legislation.

I welcome the Bill and intend to support it, as it goes a significant way towards recognising, acknowledging and providing for same-sex couples in law. I see the Bill as positive, clear-cut and practical and its enactment would make a significant difference in areas such as parental rights, property rights and even the right to visit a sick partner in hospital.

The Bill's passage to Committee Stage depends on the attitude of Government. Last night, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform minced no words when he rubbished the Bill as being poorly drafted and an exercise in grandstanding. Ironically, he knows better than most how easy it is to remedy such flaws, having had no difficulty last year in introducing a Garda Bill of skeletal proportions, tabling hundreds of amendments in a matter of days and imposing a guillotine to prevent a discussion on the amendments. If he was truly the Minister for equality, he would be actively looking for a way to allow this Bill to commence Committee Stage, but it seems that the Minister is only enthusiastic about introducing laws that restrict rights and row back on civil liberties. He is far from radical and is all but redundant as a Minister for equality.

Hear, hear.

This Bill is concerned with giving legal recognition and equality to a legally invisible, but sizeable portion of our society. It is clear-cut, progressive and long overdue. Increasingly, we are seeing heterosexual couples opting for informal rather than legal relationships and when these relationships fail, the difficulties become apparent with everything from the rights of fathers in non-marital situations to property rights and tax reliefs cropping up just as they do for same-sex couples.

We must find a way to support stable, committed and loving relationships and we must vote in favour of the Bill to ensure that all persons are afforded their right to equality before the law.

Hear, hear.

In the two minutes available to me, I wish to put on record my unequivocal support for the Civil Unions Bill, as it is a matter of civil and human rights. The Bill is a simple measure that, if accepted, would advance equality by providing for the recognition and legal registration of civil unions.

It is the first time such a Bill has been debated in the Dáil, but it follows on the initiative of that great and courageous campaigner, Senator Norris, who introduced his own Bill in the Seanad to advance the issue. This Bill provides that parties to a civil union are responsible for supporting each other to the same extent and in the same way as is provided by law for married persons. Put simply, the Bill would apply the detail of existing family law to civil union relationships.

The Bill is concerned with respect for individual choice, which is surely the essence of equality. The vast majority of citizens would be ready to support this measure, but, regrettably, the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government does not have the courage to allow it to progress.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

It would bring to an end the second class citizenship experienced by many of our people and would ensure that all citizens stand equal in the eyes of the law. Tá mé ag tabhairt tacaíochta iomlána don Bhille suntasach seo. Beidh mé ag vótáil ar thaobh an Bhille um Chumainn Shibhialta 2006 anseo anocht.

Hear, hear.

I call Deputy Cuffe.

Deputy Joe Higgins is next.

The Ceann Comhairle almost did it again.

You cannot keep a good man down.

Tá an-áthas orm teacht isteach anseo. San am gairid atá agam, tabharfaidh mé tacaíocht don Bhille agus don bhfeachtas seo. I strongly support the proposal before the Dáil and the campaign for the ratification of civil unions as a recognised institution.

Judging by the letters, e-mails and telephone calls received by Deputies in recent days from gay and lesbian people when news emerged that this Bill was being tabled, there is no question of whether there is a sizable demand for it. Gay and lesbian people have needed to fight every inch of the way for the democratic rights they have won, such as they are. They must now fight again. Due to a demand from the community, I am supporting the Bill. When implemented in the not-too-distant future, I hope it will open a new era for gay, lesbian and bisexual people in our society, which can well be the case.

I want to refer to what Mr. Lech Kaczynski, the President of Poland, stated at yesterday's meeting of the National Forum on Europe when I challenged him about his suppression of the democratic rights of gay people in Warsaw when he was mayor of that city a number of years ago. I asked whether he had changed his view on the rights of gay people to express themselves freely through parading democratically in their society. His attitude and response, which comprised disgraceful comments, was a measure of how far we in Europe must go. In one sense, the comments can be put aside as the ravings of a right wing reactionary, but of more concern is that suggestions such as his could be taken seriously by other elements in society who would then inflict their bigotry in a physical and violent manner on gay people in this State, Poland or elsewhere. We must combat that strongly.

The entire community, Irish people and their representatives in Dáil Éireann should criticise and condemn unremittingly the attitude of the Polish Government, which harks back to the Ireland of the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s. In contrast to that, we look to a society where human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation, views or gender, are allowed to live in an era of freedom, democracy and self-expression according to their feelings.

On a cold December day 50 years ago, Rosa Louise Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. She was arrested and put on trial for that act of civil disobedience. She stood up for equality and human and civil rights. I wish the Government had the same courage to support the Labour Party Bill.

The Green Party commends the Labour Party for introducing the Civil Unions Bill to the Dáil. As Deputy Howlin stated last night, this is a seminal equality issue. The Green Party is strongly committed to providing full equality for all gay and lesbian citizens of the State. It is very telling to an Opposition party such as ours that the Government has dithered on this matter for well over a year. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has had the options paper from the working group on domestic partnerships, as well as the Law Reform Commission report to inform him. Still he has no indication on what he will do in the matter. Last night he claimed the Government was unequivocally in favour of treating gay and lesbian people as full equal citizens in our society. These are hollow words indeed from the other side of the House.

Added to the criticisms in last night's debate were the comments yesterday of Polish President Lech Kaczynski about the gay community at the National Forum on Europe. His homophobic pronouncement that gay culture posed a threat to the survival of the human race was nothing short of disgraceful. In fact, he is a threat to the survival of human rights on the Continent.

Last autumn the Green party launched its policy, Value in Families — a Policy on Marriage and Partnership Rights, which places enormous value on the vital role marriage plays in our society, but it also recognises that many aspects of this institution have changed since the Constitution was adopted in 1937. It is vitally important to update legislation to provide for the contemporary times in which we live. Same-sex couples should have the opportunity to avail of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, not just civil unions. We would go further and give the right to marry to all same-sex couples.

Marriage is a human right and is recognised as such by many treaties, as well as by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and so many other international agreements. Same-sex couples are permitted to marry in Holland, Belgium, Spain and Canada, in the state of Massachusetts and the Republic of South Africa. To relegate same-sex couples to some marriage-like institution is to deny them their human rights, dignity and rights as citizens of the State. We would like to introduce legislation that would go further and permit the removal of all gender specific terms from current legislation and regulations governing the granting of marriages. This would allow same sex couples to enjoy the equivalent rights and responsibilities of marriage afforded to heterosexual couples, should they so choose.

We have a Constitution that is stuck in the sleepy backwaters of the 1940s. We have a Constitution that does not recognise families other than those based on marriage. We have legislation that does not recognise same-sex relationships. Tax laws and inheritance rights are blind to the reality of modern Ireland. They are blind to the fact that one third of the children born in Ireland today are born outside marriage. It is time to drag the Constitution and legislation kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It is clearly a matter of human and civil rights and equality. Just like Sr. Rosa Parks 50 years ago, this Legislature needs to take a brave step forward. For that reason the Green Party supports the Labour Party's proposals.

Tugaim fáilte roimh an deis chun labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo, agus tacaíonn Sinn Féin go hiomlán leis an mBille. Feicimid níos faide, áfach, ach glacaimid leis agus tacaímid go hiomlán le cearta a bheith ag cúpla den ghnéas céanna pósadh agus clann a bhunadh. Ar ndóigh tacaímid chomh maith le cearta siúd nach bhfuil pósta, nó cúpla nach bhfuil den ghnéas céanna a bheith páirteach le chéile mar atá leagtha amach ins an mBille seo.

I recall when were discussing the Civil Registration Bill in 2003 that Sinn Féin tried to provide for equal recognition of same-sex marriage. In our amendment we did not get the support of the Government or some of the Opposition parties, regretfully. However, we continued and tried again in the Equality Bill in 2004 to allow for a more inclusive definition of the term "marital status" to recognise same-sex partnerships. Again, the initiative was shot down by the Government. We made a submission to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution calling for the definition of the family to be extended to include same-sex couples. Once again we did not get the support of the Government parties.

When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and other Government members lecture the Labour Party and those who are supporting the Bill about how great they are and how far they have gone, I need only remind them of those examples. That has been the experience of my party. Other parties have been represented in the House a good deal longer and put in much more work on this issue than we have managed to do. I call on the Government to withdraw its amendment, even at this late stage, and allow the Bill to pass on Second Stage. There is an urgent necessity for rights to be included for civil partnerships such as inheritance, adoption, visitation and residency. Therefore, we support their implementation, even though it is our belief that it does not amount to full equality.

We recognise, too, that some couples, both heterosexual and same sex, do not wish to marry and only want civil partnership status. Therefore, we are supporting the Bill. However, ultimately, full equality for gay men and lesbians will only be achieved by allowing those who wish to marry to do so. The Government's delaying tactics are a disgrace and we will oppose its obstruction of the Bill at the end of this Second Stage debate. I remind it that it has obligations to introduce equality protections for these communities under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement's equivalence provisions. Britain's Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Civil Partnership Act 2004 mean that lesbian and gay couples in the Six Counties now have broadly equivalent rights to those enjoyed by married couples. Both the Equality Authority and the NESF have called for the State to level up its equality legislation by introducing similar provisions. The report, endorsed by the Equality Authority in the State and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, entitled Equivalence in Promoting Equality, launched in December 2005, states that the reforms:

. . .need not precisely replicate UK legislation. However, legislation is required to protect and give effect to equal treatment of transsexual people and lesbian and gay couples under the equivalence requirement [of the Good Friday Agreement].

There is an obligation to which the Government has not lived up. Many times the Minister has lectured republicans on our obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. It is time he lived up to his obligations and those of the Government on this issue and in the light of the Good Friday Agreement. I hope, even at this late stage, the Government will get sense and withdraw its amendment.

I wish to share time with Deputies McManus, Quinn and Michael D. Higgins.

I am proud, as a member of the Labour Party, to speak in support of the Bill on civil unions and join in congratulating my colleague, Deputy Howlin, for his work on it and for its introduction. This is an issue of human rights and equality. It is about freedom for gay and lesbian people to enjoy the same rights, as couples, enjoyed by heterosexuals. I am certain that some day the Dáil will legislate to give full legal status to same-sex unions, but why cannot it be today? Why are we waiting? Why does the Government insist on deferring this important legislation for six months?

I was saddened by the contribution last night of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and leader of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy McDowell. I was saddened because he proposed one of the most dishonest amendments I have ever seen in the House which pretended to be sympathetic to gay and lesbian people but which in reality was scuppering the legislation because the six month delay he proposes will cause the Bill to fall with the dissolution of the Dáil.

I was also saddened that the Minister, Deputy McDowell, in his contribution last night volunteered his party for further redundancy which he has so often wished to avoid. I remember in 1993 when the Progressive Democrats from the Opposition benches supported the then Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, when she introduced legislation to decriminalise homosexuality while she was being stabbed in the back in her own back yard by some of her party colleagues.

Last night the Minister, Deputy McDowell, declared:

From the dark days of prejudice, a new tolerance has emerged, based on our appreciation of the fact that homosexual people are in every respect entitled to be equally valued as members of society and not to be relegated to an inferior status. That is what republicanism is all about.

In these two eloquent sentences the Minister makes the case for the Labour Party Bill but what will he and his party do about it in this Chamber in under an hour's time? What is the republicanism of which he speaks? Will they stand by the Republic and vote for this Bill or will they stand behind their Government partners, for some of whom at least republicanism is now merely a subtitle, and sink the hopes of many same-sex couples throughout the country?

I ask in particular my colleague, Deputy Fiona O'Malley, with whom I share a constituency, where she will stand. Will she stand with the people of Dún Laoghaire who sent her, Deputy Andrews and me here, who share our liberal outlook and who value the concepts of personal freedoms that we came here to represent? Will she support this Bill proposed by the Labour Party or will she support the pathetic amendment to its Second Stage, the politics of which are given away in one clause of it which states "Mindful of the desirability of legislating in this area in such a manner as to attract the greatest degree of social consensus"?

There was all the guff in the Minister, Deputy McDowell's speech yesterday about the Constitution, and I thank Deputy Andrews for recording that it was guff and that there is no constitutional impediment to this Bill. All the talk from the Minister, Deputy McDowell, yesterday about the desirability of legislating for civil unions may be Progressive Democrats window-dressing but the so-called desirability of social consensus is pure undiluted Fianna Fáil. What it means is that we are approaching a general election, this is a tricky social issue and Fianna Fáil wants to be able to face both ways at the same time. It wants to be able to tell those who support civil unions that they did not really oppose this Bill and vote against it — they only postponed it for six months. At the same time, they want to be able to tell those who opposed legislating for civil unions that they did not support the Labour Party Bill.

I have come to expect nothing more than that from Fianna Fáil and I feel sorry for my constituency colleague, Deputy Andrews, who is nobbled to support that position. However, this is a defining moment for the Progressive Democrats because they are a separate party and they can tell their partners in Government that they are not having it in the same way as they told them on a number of economic issues during the past ten years that they were not having it. If they stand for the liberal values they have professed here so often, if they stand for the concept of personal freedom, which I thought I shared with them, and if they stand, as they have said here previously, by the Republic, they will come into this House and vote with the Labour Party on this Bill tonight.

Shortly after I was elected to this House, the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, introduced a Bill decriminalising homosexuality. I remember at the time being enormously impressed by her practical outlook and also by her bravery. She was one of the very few women in this House. She stepped outside the traditional mindset of her party to do something important for many of our people and also for our society. It was refreshing to see. It is dispiriting to listen to the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who has stepped back into that murkiness of a traditional mindset. People are quite shocked and dismayed to find that he cannot do even the simple things that would be required of him in this day and age.

I congratulate Deputy Howlin on introducing this Bill. I, like other Deputies, am proud to be a member of the Labour Party tonight, but regrettably this Bill should be a matter of pride for all parties in this House. Everybody should be celebrating the passing of this Bill to ensure that people attain rights to which they are entitled. It is unbelievable that something so simple, obvious and important is being blocked in a way that is demeaning to people outside this House and people in the Gallery who are waiting to see what will happen to this Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide same-sex couples with the same basic rights and duties that are available to married couples. In our society we celebrate marriage. We celebrate the idea of a stable, loving relationship that a couple set out to have in married union. Why can we not celebrate a stable, loving relationship engaged in by a same-sex couple? Is that not valid and important — two people looking after each other, two people ensuring that there is love in that relationship and that there is official recognition for that love? I know of a case where a person ended up in a psychiatric hospital and the person's long-standing partner was not treated as a married person would have been treated. The partner was excluded from providing the normal support a couple expect from each other. This also applies where a partner of a same-sex couple is dying in hospital; God knows there is enough indignity without heaping it on.

The approach in the Bill is practical and compassionate but it is also rigorous in terms of respect. Single sex couples have an entitlement to respect. When I heard the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, speak last night it struck me forcefully that a pygmy is in charge of the Progressive Democrats. If the previous leader of the Progressive Democrats was still in her old position, I do not believe she would have let this go. Others have asked the party to stand up and stand by the Republic. I do not believe they have any conviction left in terms of their belief of what the Republic stands for and what republican values are all about. I regret that because this could have been a fine moment.

It could have been a good moment in Irish political history, as was the moment when the then Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, came into this House and introduced the legislation to which I referred. She had to do that in much more difficult circumstances but she did it, and I paid tribute her for doing it at the time. We now have a Bill presented by Deputy Howlin which is robust and stands up to the tests that legal minds have applied to it. All that is failing is the political leadership that is so lacking among people who do not have the will or the commitment to support what this Republic stands for. I regret that greatly.

This House, with the consent of all the parties, will pass all Stages of emergency legislation in a few hours to close a loophole in respect of the operation of health insurance. When we are united, we can act very quickly and when we are united on a particular course of action, we can move with speed. Deputy O'Connor said we should not rush into things, we should take our time, this is a complex issue. However, his party leader wants us to change our Constitution in eight different ways virtually tomorrow without any reflection or comprehension of the implications of what we are trying to do in relation to the protection of children.

Let us be clear. The time is over. It is time to act. We acted ten years ago, not because Máire Geoghegan-Quinn had courage but because the Labour Party had given her backbone. We had negotiated in the programme for Government — and I am proud to sit beside a colleague who helped me to do it — that it would be an essential condition of Labour's participation in government that this would not become an aspiration but would become law.

I detect a mood right across this country, from Ballinasloe to Ballybrack, from Cahirciveen to Cavan and from Donegal to Dundalk. There is a cry arising from a large section of our people which is quite simple — we want to be free. We want to be free to exercise the same rights as citizens that our brothers, sisters, cousins and mothers and fathers have exercised without any constraint or restraint. This is about freedom — freedom to be equal, freedom not only to step out of the closet, a right they got ten years ago, but to step into the sunshine of liberation which this Bill could give to them. Yet the Progressive Democrats — God love them — say "Yes, but not today". What the hell are they doing? What is the relevance of the Progressive Democrats Party if it cannot do this? What does it matter if the Bill gets through Second Stage? We all know it is a declaration of liberation. There are 18 sitting days left, so we cannot get through the detail between now and Easter and we will be on the hustings after that.

What will Progressive Democrat representatives say to the people of Ballybrack or Booterstown or Blackrock? Will they say they are in favour of liberty, but not today? What will my constituency colleague do? This is the man who guaranteed that he would be either radical or redundant. He had better start looking for his P45.

This is a good Bill. It is a clever Bill. I am proud to be a member of a party that has in its membership probably the best parliamentary draftsman available to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I have worked with him before and my friend and colleague Deputy Brendan Howlin has worked very cleverly to push the limit of liberation up to the very limits of the Constitution as it exists. We are veterans of the struggle for the liberalisation of this Republic. Let it not be forgotten that we lost the first referendum on divorce. Let it be remembered that less than 0.5% of the vote carried the constitutional amendment in 1996. However, the most recent opinion poll stated that 75% of the population had no problem with the legalisation of divorce. Family life has not collapsed. Children are still loved and told stories while being put to bed. If we enact the Civil Unions Bill 2006 — we cannot do it now but a Labour Government will certainly do it — then we will create the aura of confidence that will enable us to put into the Constitution the very rights we want to give effect with this Bill.

I implore Deputy Fiona O'Malley and my colleague in the Dublin South-East constituency to stand up for the rights they guaranteed to give people and for vote for this Bill on Second Stage. I implore her to do what her father did and stand by the Republic.

I join others in paying tribute to my colleague, Deputy Howlin, for introducing this Bill. In the short time available to me, I wish to make a few points that are fundamental.

This is a fundamental equality issue. Having sat through the debate last night, I am appalled at some suggestions that we can evolve easily and comfortably towards an adjustment on this issue. That is an appalling distortion of history. Everything that has been gained for gay and lesbian couples and others has been gained through suffering and through struggle. For example, it took five years for our Oireachtas to address the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Norris case. I am glad that Senator Norris is here listening to our debate. It took 17 years from the time he initiated his case to achieve the adjustment of it in law in the Oireachtas.

What are those people who will vote against this Bill tonight actually saying? They are saying something fundamentally dishonest but also something very deep. They are saying to gay and lesbian people that they can wait again. I think of all those people who were driven out of this country because of their sexual orientation. I look forward to the day, not when we will have a cavalcade following a bigoted Polish President through the streets of Dublin, but when couples will be able to walk hand in hand, unmolested and enjoying the full freedom of participation in society.

Hear, hear.

Equality is the equality to participate fully and not to adjust oneself over generations to concessions made by people who have not the courage to realise that a great wrong is being perpetrated. The time has come to let the light shine on the full yard that is human rights. This is a human right. People are being asked this evening to accept the principle or to reject it. If they accept it, which is what Second Stage legislation is all about, then let them enhance it and bring in legislation for parallel areas on Committee Stage. If they vote tonight against Second Stage, they are voting against the principles that all of us have been enunciating.

Dishonest arguments are being made. Last night, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made reference to the Zappone-Gilligan case. He was asked to speak about the acceptance of what marriage is now, not what it should be or may be. It is an insult to you, Sir, and to me and to all of the others in the House to suggest that the Oireachtas, as the legislative arm, must wait until a Supreme Court decision is given.

Hear, hear.

The Oireachtas is a separate arm, but in any case Article 26 of the Constitution gives a further right to the President if we pass something about which there is constitutional doubt to send it to the Supreme Court. The Minister was advocating something cowardly and something quite incremental. The choice in Deputy Howlin's Bill is not a false choice between incrementalism that is deceitful or a confrontation with the Constitution on the definition of marriage. It is about civil union. If we have civil union in place, then we move on to all of the other areas.

I welcome every advance that is made of an incremental kind, but I also note the reverses. Regarding free fuel, for example, if one is not a spouse one can be left cold. The cold times should be over in Ireland and we should not evolve towards anything. We should be leaping into a new era of rights where this is the first fundamental step.

I reiterate the Government's approach to enhancing the rights of same-sex couples and cohabitants in general. The Government wants to deliver a framework in which non-married couples, including gay couples, can live in a supportive and a secure legal environment. The Labour Party's Civil Unions Bill 2006 only partly addresses this issue. However, I pay tribute to the Labour Party, especially Deputy Howlin, for bringing forward this Bill tonight. I suspect that many people do not fully appreciate or understand the difficulties that same-sex couples experience in their daily lives. The Tánaiste said last night that it would not be appropriate to address such problems, which are being exacerbated by the current legal uncertainty, in a piecemeal fashion. He argued that it was inadequate to attempt to provide a direct equivalent to marriage for same-sex couples without taking into account the wide range of cohabitation and family models which deserved the protection of the law. The terms of the Bill, as presented, appear to be inconsistent with the terms of the Constitution.

To what part of the Constitution does the Minister of State refer?

The manner in which the Bill is drafted makes it unlikely to withstand a constitutional challenge.

There is no basis for that remark.

The advice made available to the Government is that a law which equates non-marital relationships to marriage for all purposes could not survive a constitutional challenge.

The Government should sack the lawyer who said that.

The Bill does not represent a suitable means of legislating for the registration and recognition of civil unions.

Where is the Government's Bill?

There is not much separating what the Labour Party is trying to do and what I would like to see. I commend it on the efforts it has made.

The Minister of State will vote against it anyway.

I will, but for good reasons. My record shows that I am as supportive of what Deputy Howlin is trying to do as any of the Deputies sitting behind him.

The Minister of State will vote against the Bill.

I will. I am not an expert in any area, certainly not in the legal area. It would be foolish of me not to accept the Attorney General's advice.

He was asked the wrong question.

It would be prudent to await the Supreme Court's determination on an appeal pending in a case relating to the recognition by the State of a same-sex marriage contracted in a foreign jurisdiction. This legislation is premature in view of the appeal to the Supreme Court. Section 5 of the Bill which provides for legal recognition in the State of foreign same-sex marriages and civil partnerships pre-empts the ruling of the Supreme Court in this case. The Government is committed to providing greater rights and recognition and higher levels of protection for unmarried cohabiting couples. In particular, it recognises the justified claims of the gay and lesbian community to recognition and protection for their relationships. The limited legal protections available to gay and lesbian couples in discrete areas of the law were put in place by the Government. Deputy McManus mentioned the former Minister for Justice, Mrs. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who introduced legislation in the House not that long ago to decriminalise homosexuality. If my memory serves me correctly, a big queue did not form in the House to support the measure she was introducing.

Some of her colleagues did not support her.

The lack of support was most evident on the Fianna Fáil benches.

I was the only backbencher from my party who spoke in support of what she was introducing.

That is true.

I know how uncomfortable many members of my party were when the measure was being considered. I am very supportive of what the Labour Party is trying to do. Given that Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to the comments made yesterday by the President of Poland, it would not be correct if I did not comment on them. It was not fitting, in the modern world in which we live, for a president to make such disgraceful remarks

Hear, hear.

Fair play.

While the view of those of us on this side of the House is that the Second Reading of this Bill should be postponed for six months, we are very supportive of the spirit of the Bill. The Tánaiste suggested during Private Members' Business last night that such a postponement would allow a more comprehensive approach to the question of civil partnerships to be adopted. Those who doubt the commitment of this side of the House in that regard will not have to wait very long until they see how serious we are about what we are saying. The Government intends to build on a number of recent developments, including the Law Reform Commission's report of December 2006 and the options paper on domestic partnerships, published in November of that year. I compliment the Labour Party on tabling the Bill before the House. We have waited far too long to give these issues the priority they deserve. While I am not in a position to vote in favour of the legislation on this occasion, I support the spirit of what is being proposed.

I join my colleagues in thanking Deputy Howlin for authoring the Civil Unions Bill 2006 and bringing it to the House tonight. This is a moment of some historic importance, as legislation of this nature has never before been presented in this Chamber. I thank my colleagues who have contributed for the passion and conviction they have displayed in addressing the central precepts of the legislation. I thank the other Deputies on the Opposition side of the House who have given the legislation their support, which I acknowledge.

I was at a meeting in my office when this evening's debate started. Some of the participants in the meeting mistook the background noises we could hear for support for the legislation on the part of the Government Deputies addressing the House. I could hear the Deputies making supportive noises, but when I turned up the sound to hear the debate more clearly I listened to Deputies Andrews and Fiona O'Malley squirming and wriggling as they explained that the Bill did not go far enough for them to support it. Deputy O'Malley said "the Bill is not broad enough" to earn her support. My constituency colleague, Deputy O'Connor, started his contribution by thanking Deputy Howlin for producing the Bill, the people in the Visitors Gallery for attending the debate, the Ceann Comhairle for togging out and the stenographers for doing their job. He was just short of thanking the parish priest for the use of the Chamber. He then tried to get to grips with a script, to which he was clearly a stranger, which stated he was against the legislation.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Séan Power, whose remarks I take as being absolutely genuinely intended. I accept that the Bill may cause discomfort to some Members of the House. I acknowledge that their feelings constitute a fair reflection of how certain segments of our population continue to feel. I cannot give any such benefit of the doubt to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, however. Members of the House are accustomed to Ministers' knee-jerk opposition to our legislative proposals. The Minister, Deputy McDowell, prides himself on his reputation as an intellectual with a fine legal brain and a deep familiarity with the Constitution. His descent last night into the depths of shallow humbug, bluster and guff was an embarrassment to his party, its founders and some of its current members, as well as most of his colleagues in the Law Library and all of us who take our politics seriously.

Hear, hear.

The Minister's performance last night was a shameful, shallow, rowdy, incoherent, arrogant and bombastic farce. As we have to accept he is not a stupid man, we can only be driven to the conclusion — if parliamentary decorum permits us to arrive at the logical conclusion — that his performance last night was deliberately deceitful and calculated to mislead the House, the visitors in the Visitors Gallery with a special interest in the issue and the wider general public. He masked his refusal to accept the Bill, even in terms of its broad general principles, by reference to the Constitution and the law. On nearly every point he made, he was entirely wrong. I repeat that I do not believe his inaccuracies were due to ignorance. There is something more malevolent at work. There is a patronising attempt at empathy and mock concern. At the heart of it, there is a refusal to address this issue and that refusal is based on reasons which are manufactured for the purpose and have no basis in reality.

The Minister made three specific points to which there are three specific and complete rebuttals. First, he claimed that the Bill attempted to pre-empt the Supreme Court decision in the appeal in the Zappone case, to which my colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, has made reference. For those who do not know, that case is about whether the Constitution and the law, as they stand, require the recognition in the State of a same-sex marriage celebrated a few years ago in Canada. The Minister states: "If the Supreme Court is to uphold the High Court and rule that it would be unconstitutional to recognise foreign marriages in this way, section 5 of this Bill would fall flat on its face." However, the High Court did not rule that it would be unconstitutional to give any form of recognition or status in our law to foreign same-sex marriages. There was no argument in the Zappone case about whether the Constitution prohibited recognition of foreign same-sex marriages. The only argument which was predictably lost was whether the Constitution already required such recognition before any law was passed on the issue.

The Labour Party Bill is concerned with what the law would be after it was passed; it would have no impact whatsoever on the issues to be decided in the Zappone case. Every first year law student knows this. The Minister must know it also, but when he cannot win an argument on logic and the facts, he resorts to under-hand tactics.

Second, the Minister criticises the Bill for what it does not do. He says it does not address the position of cohabitants. When it was pointed out to him that this was a separate issue, he replied:

It is not a separate issue. It is the same issue. It is the same issue, namely, there are people in our society who are not in a position to enter into a marriage, for one reason or another, but who want to have legal recognition for the attributes of mutual dependency which arise out of their relationship.

He further stated: "The Government wants to deliver a framework in which all non-married couples, including gay couples, can live in a supportive and a secure legal environment." That statement betrays the Minister's complete unawareness of the issues involved. Cohabitation relationships between heterosexual couples involve people who could marry but choose not to do so. What is at issue is the status of people who want to do more than cohabit but who are prevented from marrying. If the Minister cannot yet see and appreciate that point, he has been talking and listening to no one. His approach is to bundle together same-sex couples who are not married because they cannot marry with those couples for whom cohabitation is a matter of lifestyle choice. His approach is ignorant, patronising and blinkered. That he fully understands the point I am making but is seeking to obscure and confuse it is best exemplified by a passage from a speech he delivered at the conference on the legal status of cohabitants and same-sex couples held on 26 May 2006:

Heterosexual couples have the option of marriage open to them. If we are to offer them something with all the rights and entitlements of a valid marriage, it should also have the same duties attaching to it. Indeed the rights of one partner are often the duties of the other. In effect it is marriage, albeit by another name. It is doubtful whether there are any advantages to providing in the law for an institution for opposite sex couples which mirrors marriage.

The situation, of course, is different for same-sex couples for whom marriage is prohibited. I want to take this opportunity to put it on the public record that the Government are unequivocally in favour of treating gay people as full, equal citizens in our society.

This is from the man's own mouth. However, that was then when generalised blandishments would suffice but this is now when a decision directly confronts him and his colleagues in government; hence the undignified retreat and the furious and noisy attempts to hide his back-tracking.

Third, the Minister's amendment notes that the Bill "appears" to be unconstitutional. It does not state why and the Minister in his speech did not provide much detail. He did suggest that it might breach the State's obligation to guard with special care the institution of marriage on which the family is founded and to protect it against attack. Presumably, he is not arguing that those of a homosexual orientation should reconcile themselves to the married state or that offering civil union for same-sex couples would lure heterosexuals away from marriage. If he is not saying that, on what conceivable basis is he arguing that making specific provision for same-sex couples would have any effect whatsoever on an institution that is at present confined to opposite-sex couples?

Absurdly, the Bill is mocked for being too short. According to this big, swinging Minister, we are trying to achieve in ten sections something that required 264 sections in the United Kingdom. The argument is absurd because it ignores the fact that precisely the same outcome was achieved in a Vermont statute with seven sections and a Canadian statute which had 15. Last year the Minister himself introduced a Bill with just 38 sections but such is his unhealthy fascination with statute size that by the time he was finished with it he had added 159.

The purpose of a Second Stage debate is to elucidate the general principles of a Bill. The Bill before the House contains within it one single over-riding principle, the principle of equality. The principle of equality is at once simple and unsettling, often unwelcomed, yet ultimately unquenchable and undeniable. The principle of equality is founded on the bond of our common humanity. It is based on our recognition in each other of an essential shared human experience. Our shared humanity is far greater than any difference in how we look, how we pray, what our capabilities are, or how we choose a partner in life. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, has written that every ethical system put forward for the organisation of society contains within it a notion of equality. It could not be otherwise. To deny equality is to look another in the eye and proclaim him or her to be a lesser person. It is to deny the bond of our common humanity.

The Civil Unions Bill 2007, introduced by Deputy Howlin, is about equality. It would offer same-sex couples the greatest measure of equality possible under the Constitution. It would afford same-sex couples access to a status relationship similar to marriage in every practical way. It would provide thousands of our fellow citizens with a vital legal protection and bring to an end countless forms of discrimination that they encounter in their daily lives. The Bill would give this Legislature the opportunity to fulfil its constitutional role which is to legislate. Too often in the past, this body has dodged difficult decisions. Too often we have left issues unaddressed or left the courts too pick up after our undone work. Too often it has been left to courageous individuals such as Senator Norris to ask the courts for justice which ought to have been afforded them by this body. Tonight we have an opportunity to do the work that the people sent us here to do. The Government wants to postpone; it wants to put off; it wants to defer. There is no requirement for delay. There is nothing that the House can do in six months time that it cannot do in the next six weeks, or in whatever number of days remains to this Dáil. The Government has the opportunity to amend the Bill if it wants to. There is plenty of time for constructive engagement on Committee Stage and ample time to pass all Stages before the House falls.

Members should not smile and pretend they are deeply concerned about equality. They should not believe photo-opportunities and expressions of concern are a substitute for how they vote on the Bill. They should not pretend, as the Minister does, that the Bill is somehow flawed. It is not. They should vote for the Bill and afford it the priority it deserves.

As Dr. Martin Luther King said on that famous day when he proclaimed his dream of equality, he had come to remind us of "the fierce urgency of now." He said: "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilising drug of gradualism." This is not a matter than can be lightly deferred. It is a matter of justice and equality that affects the daily lives of thousands of people — people who live in committed relationships but are denied the simple rights that married couples take for granted. To delay is not to compromise. To delay is to add to, not subtract from, the inequality in society. To delay is to look our fellow citizens in the eye and dismiss the common bond of humanity. Tonight all those who say they support the Bill have the opportunity to walk into the voting lobby and support it in the name of equality.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 59.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá: Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl: Deputies Stagg and Kehoe.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided by electronic means.

Given the importance of the issue and the Government's shabby, disgraceful, shameful and cowardly treatment of it, as a teller, under Standing Order 69, I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means.

As Deputy Stagg is a Whip, under Standing Order 69, he is entitled to call a vote through the lobby.

Question again put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 60.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.