I will continue from where my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, left off before the sos.
By the nature of the decisions that were taken in the previous Dáil, particularly in the last phase of it, there were not many occasions for celebration in this Chamber or, indeed, in the Gallery around it. However, this time last year when the civil partnership Bill came to Second Stage and proceeded through the House, the Gallery above us was full to the rafters for debates late on Thursday evenings and it showed the importance of the law being discussed and passed here.
In that context, the remarks of the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, who piloted civil partnership through the House, were quite apt when he stated that this law "takes nothing from anyone but what it gives is profound and is positive". The fact that civil partnership passed through this House without division is an extension of those words.
Civil partnership, and the legislation we are discussing today, is a natural extension of legislation such as the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 that decriminalised homosexuality in Ireland, the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2004.
Many outside of this House have campaigned over years for such legislation. It is always easy when we pass legislation and move on to the next piece of business in this House to forget those who have made many great personal sacrifices in the pursuit of such legislation and the pursuit of many campaigns over the years. Organisations such as GLEN have worked long and hard to progress this agenda, mostly without credit. I am sure there are many times when they went a step forward only to find themselves going many steps back subsequently. Those are the people who deserve to celebrate most and the thousands who are benefiting from their work owe them a great debt. As we proceed with this Finance (No. 3) Bill, that should be remembered.
The House will not divide on this Bill tonight, but it is worth making the point that it was my party in Government that introduced the civil partnership Bill and cleared the way for this. Discussions on republicanism on this island tend to focus on the political status of the island and the political arguments surrounding it. However, republicanism is a far broader concept. Republicanism respects the equality and dignity of every member of the human family and this legislation, and the thread with which it continues, is significant in that regard.
The cross-party support evident in this part of the House last year attracted much positive comment. In writing inThe Irish Times, Mr. Noel Whelan commented that “The overwhelming parliamentary support...for the legalisation of same sex civil partnerships arises from the basic decency and generosity of the Irish people”. That summed it up.
I welcome the fact the Government has committed to further progress through the programme for Government and the recent statement by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, that he will amend citizenship legislation to provide for civil partners and also to provide for recognition of same-sex couples in immigration.
Civil partnership delivers many rights. Equally, it delivers many legally enforceable obligations, and this is what we are about here today. The obligations include important duties to look after one another, including financially. This Bill, and the Social Welfare and Pensions Act which we passed in December, provides important supports for couples in undertaking these obligations and commitments. The Bill treats civil partners in the same way as married opposite sex couples in the tax code. The Office of the Revenue Commissioners has provided a detailed document on its website, with a series of questions and answers for those who need to avail of this law. The Bill is a critical advance for civil partners. It will provide certainty and security for many couples who are registered or planning to register their civil partnership.
The Bill provides that a child whose parent is in a civil partnership will be treated the same for tax purposes as a child of a married couple. This means, for example, that children of civil partners will be treated the same for inheritance tax purposes as those of a married couple. The inclusion of children of civil partners is to be welcomed. The Bill provides important new financial protection for the growing numbers of children being parented by same sex couples. Many couples have already entered civil partnerships and held ceremonies — some have been rather high profile — attended by their families, friends, work colleagues and neighbours. Many more couples have given notice of their intention to register and will hold civil partnership ceremonies in the coming months. I call on the Minister to review the position to ensure there will be no unwieldy delays as demand for services increases.
There is, however, a broader agenda, apart from the civil agenda on which we have been focusing, that is, Ireland's attractiveness as a destination for economic investment. There has been considerable debate to date about our corporation tax rate which will continue in the coming days. We should remember that our corporation tax rate is but one element of our attempt to attract inward investment. We have debated the issue in the House as it affects the education system, infrastructure and many other material and solid items one could identify. However, there are other aspects which are not solid related to the attractiveness of the country as a place in which to live, including our employment and equality laws, which are becoming equally as important in the decisions of multinationals to invest here. The majority of the agencies and major employers in the more advanced sectors of the economy are converging on a growing consensus about the links between equality and diversity and economic competitiveness. In particular, diversity and equality are considered to be important in the achievement of many economic goals, including, as I have stated, attracting foreign direct investment; attracting, nurturing and retaining people with key skills; and attracting business visitors, researchers, tourists and those with money to invest in the economy.
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, has been working in partnership with Dublin City Council on a project to better understand these links in the context of the economy in Dublin, its international competitiveness and potential success as a European capital city. This project is being funded by the Equality Authority as part of the EU PROGRESS initiative. Given the agreement on the contribution equality and diversity can make to the achievement of economic goals, our equality infrastructure is increasingly being seen as part of our wider economic support infrastructure.
Many companies in the advanced sectors of the economy, the sectors which are showing the greatest economic growth and leading export renewal, have strong diversity policies in place. These are considered essential not only for recruitment and retention of highly skilled workers but also for creating the conditions in which innovation and research can thrive. Many of our key inward investment firms chose to locate their international headquarters here in the face of substantial and intense international competition. They have stated our multilingual, multicultural and readily available workforce is a key reason for choosing to locate in Ireland. Employers such as IBM, Facebook, Accenture, Microsoft and Mercer have in place strong diversity policies, including policies which promote the inclusion of lesbian and gay employees.
Many economists have noted that on a practical level legal recognition such as that which we are affording today and its inclusion in immigration provisions will make it easier for global companies to attract to Ireland lesbian and gay employees. More broadly, the US economist Dr. Gary Gates has stated the civil partnership legislation in place here offers a strong signal that Ireland welcomes diversity. This boosts our international reputation as being an open, forward looking and diverse society. This tag and its progress can be used by economic development agencies such as IDA Ireland as another positive aspect of what we have to offer in our armoury of supports.
In dealing with technical and financial legislation it is easy to forget the human element of what we are discussing and about the many struggles people have fought to get to this point. It is important that the House continues its commitment on a cross-party, non-divided basis to try to support initiatives in this area. The Minister's contribution and that of Deputy Michael McGrath on the technical and taxation sides highlight their importance. However, there is a broader agenda on the economic and social side of which, perhaps, as we focus on our economic difficulties as a country, we may lose sight. However, as evidence and research have increasingly shown, the work we are doing in the areas of justice and civil law can be equally important in the regeneration and renewal of the economy. That is why my party will support the legislation.