Finance (No. 3) Bill 2011: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

Mar a dúirt cainteoirí eile, sílim go bhfaighfidh an Bille seo tacaíocht trasphairtí. Ba mhaith liom an Rialtas a mholadh ina thaobh. Ní ró-mhinic a dhéanaim é sin.

Abair i mBéarla é freisin, le do thoil.

Déarfaidh mé arís é i mBéarla níos déanaí. Tabharfaimid príomhacht don Ghaeilge i gcónaí. Tá sé níos tábhachtaí má tá sé ráite i nGaeilge. Molaim an Rialtas fá choinne an Bille seo a thabhairt chun tosaigh chomh sciobtha. Mar is eol don Aire, bhí amhras orm nuair nach raibh na sonraí atá sa Bhille seo mar pháirt don Bhille Airgeadais (Uimh. 2) 2011. Shíl mé go raibh moill á chur ar an Bhille seo, ach ní mar sin a tharla. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuilimid uilig thar a bheith sásta go bhfuil an Bille os comhair na Dála inniu. Tá súil agam go bhfaighfidh sé tacaíocht traspháirtí.

Leathnaíonn an reachtaíocht na cearta atá bainte amach ag an ngrúpa seo. Cuireann sé i bhfeidhm rudaí teicniúla faoi cháin a leanann an tAcht um Páirtnéireacht Shibhialta agus um Chearta agus Oibleagáidí Áirithe de chuid Comhchónaitheoirí 2010. Ghlac mé páirt i ndíospóireacht breá bríomhar ar an reachtaíocht sin sa Seanad an bhliain seo caite. Bhí an Bille á phlé againn ar feadh cúpla lá. Nuair a tháinig dhá bhean go dtí mo oifig i nGaoth Dobhair roinnt seachtainí ina dhiadh sin, chuir sé áthas agus gliondar chroí orm a chloisint go rabhadar tar éis aitheantas a fháil faoin reachtaíocht sin cúpla seachtain roimhe. Bhí an páirtnéireacht eatarthu cláraithe acu. An cheist a bhí á phlé acu ná go raibh bean amháin, nárbh as Éirinn di, ag iarraidh dul tríd an naturalisation process. Bhí iarratas curtha isteach aici le fada fá choinne é sin a chur i bhfeidhm, ach tarraingíodh siar an t-iarratas agus bhí uirthi é a dhéanamh arís.

Mar an cainteoir deireanach, cuirim fáilte roimh an méid atá ráite ag an Aire, an Teachta Shatter, go bhfuil sé chun leasuithe a thabhairt chun tosaigh ionas go dtabharfar aitheantas faoi leith sa naturalisation process dóibh siúd a bhfuil civil partnership acu. Beidh sé sin mar bhuntáiste ní hamháin don bheirt bhan a bhí istigh liom ach do go leor daoine eile freisin. Níl i gceist ach síneadh ar na cearta atá ar fáil do gach éinne eile.

Sinn Féin has long advocated full legislative equality for lesbians and gay men. Although we believed the civil partnership Bill did not go far enough, we were pleased to support it as an important step on the road to equality, irrespective of one's sexual orientation. Although not amounting to full equality, civil partnership legislation provides for important rights, including inheritance, adoption, visitation and residency rights. Sinn Féin also recognises that some couples, including heterosexual and same sex couples, have no wish to marry and seek only civil partnership status.

During the closing stages of the debate in the Seanad last July I stated it was an emotional day for those who had campaigned long and hard and that it was a great day on which to rejoice. There was an overwhelming public response to the first gay civil partnership ceremonies that took place this year. This made me realise the great value of being a legislator. It was one of those moments when one realises the power vested in the Oireachtas which, if used correctly, can materially improve the quality of people's lives. Today we are dealing with the outstanding issues arising from the civil partnership Act.

The Finance (No. 3) Bill seeks to remove anomalies from the tax code in order to ensure civil partners are treated in the same manner as married opposite sex couples. I commend the Government on bringing forward the Bill quickly. The Minister can be assured of Sinn Féin's full support in the matter. Enacting the Bill is vitally important both for those couples who have become civil partners and for those considering that course of action. It provides them with legal certainty and security which, given the current economic climate, is more important than ever.

The Bill is also important in another respect in that it ensures the children of civil partners will be treated the same for tax purposes as children of married opposite sex couples. The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network has singled this out as being especially important, providing financial protections for the "growing numbers of children being parented by same-sex couples". I hope the Bill will have the unanimous support of both Houses of the Oireachtas in order to send a clear signal to all that Dáil Éireann is serious about equality and treating all citizens and residents of the State with the dignity they deserve.

The passing of the Bill will be another important step in a broader discussion taking place in our society, the aim of which is to secure equal recognition of same sex parents and families. Sinn Féin fully supports the right of same sex couples to marry and form a family, including by adoption. Ours was the first party to seek to enshrine this right in legislation when Deputy Seán Crowe tabled an amendment to the Civil Registration Bill 2003 to provide for equal recognition of same sex marriage. There must be further action to remove all the barriers and inequalities that prevent same sex couples from enjoying the same rights as opposite sex partners.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party gave a clear commitment in the programme for Government to explore the possibility of constitutional reform to enable same sex marriage. I urge the Government to press ahead with this commitment in order that full equality in this matter will be afforded to all citizens and residents of the State. The programme for Government states:

Equality is at the heart of what it means to be a citizen in our democracy. This Government believes that everyone has the right to be free from discrimination and that we all benefit from living in a more equal society.

I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments. However, the test of any Government's commitment to equality is not in its political rhetoric but its legislative and policy action. The passage of this Bill is a good first step. However, there is much more work to be done and I look forward to seeing the Government further advance the rights of lesbian and gay individuals, couples and families. If it does so, it will have Sinn Féin's full and enthusiastic support.

This is a good day for equality in Ireland and I hope there are many more such days to come. On 21 January 1921, as Dáil Éireann adopted its democratic programme, the assembled Deputies stated:

We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for all, which alone can secure permanence of Government in the willing adhesion of the people.

Ninety years later this aspiration remains as valid as it was in the heady days of the birth of the State. Progress has been made, but we do not yet live in a country ruled fully in accordance with the principles of liberty, equality and justice for all. Until we do, this House will not have the support of all the people of the nation. I support the Bill and urge all Members of the House to do likewise. I commend the Government on bringing it forward in a timely manner.

I propose to share time with Deputy Catherine Murphy.

The Finance (No. 3) Bill 2011 provides for changes to existing legislation in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. The Bill seeks to amend and extend the terms of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999, the Capital Acquisitions Tax Consolidation Act 2003 and the Value-Added Tax Consolidation Act 2010 in respect of the taxation of civil partners and cohabitants. It will allow registered civil partners to receive the same tax treatment as married couples in regard to income tax, stamp duty, capital acquisitions tax, capital gains tax and VAT. In addition, it extends the taxation consequences of the redress scheme to opposite sex and same sex cohabiting couples as provided for in the 2010 Act.

In the last Dáil it was the Fianna Fáil Party, of which I was a member at the time, in the person of the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern, which brought forward these proposals and I commend the former Minister for progressing the legislation as far as he could. The previous Government committed to introducing changes to tax legislation in order to implement the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, but it was not possible to do so during its term of office. I compliment the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, on bringing it forward today.

The Bill was published separately from the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011, as it will implement changes that go right through the tax system and require detailed consideration. I was lobbied extensively at the time these provisions were proposed, as many of us were, particularly by members of farming organisations who had major concerns about the financial implications of the measures proposed. There was a concern about farmers and farming families being open to maintenance and property claims arising from the break-up of civil partnerships. This is of particular concern to farming organisations in terms of the ownership of land and the incomes deriving from it. Concerns remain regarding legal liabilities and the consequences for the 120,000 cohabiting couples who will find themselves in a legal web. None of us wants to see another gravy train for the legal profession to exploit, imposing huge costs in an environment of diminishing resources. We must ensure that does not happen.

The Bill also provides that a child whose parent is in a civil partnership will be treated the same for tax purposes as the child of a married couple. This means, for example, that children of civil partners and those of married parents will receive the same treatment in respect of inheritance tax. It is important to give proper recognition and status to children in these situations, not only in terms of legal obligations and rights but also in terms of protecting their social well-being. The Bill was strongly welcomed by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network as a "critically important development for civil partners". On enactment, it will provide certainty and security for the many same sex couples who have registered or are planning to register their civil partnerships.

I compliment the Minister on bringing the legislation forward. I ask that he allow time for us to examine and explore all angles thoroughly in order that it will not fall into the sieve or black hole when legislative provisions become tied up legally and issues must be resolved at various levels of court proceedings. It should not become a punitive regime for the couples and families involved and, more importantly, the taxpayer. We have seen the delays in court proceedings in other matters and the sheer madness of associated costs, with little scope for the Taxing Master or anybody else to deal with the enormous bills incurred. Any couple is bound to receive differing advice from different law firms. I am not simply being boldly critical of law firms. They are needed and there are many good practices. However, I believe their prices to be exorbitant and no one is challenging that. I certainly do not wish to see the provisions of this Bill falling victim to nice remuneration for those institutions again.

I welcome this Bill, which obviously follows on from the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act. Ireland is a changing place when a Bill such as this receives support from all parties. That its passage through the Oireachtas is hardly noticed is greatly to be welcomed. However, its passage is noticed strongly by those whom it affects, that is, the people who have experienced deep inequality because of the manner in which they have been treated as citizens. Consequently, from their perspective, this Bill will have a real and important impact because of the financial benefits, but just as importantly because of the issue of equality. During the passage of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act, there was some criticism that it was not accompanied by the financial provisions that would deliver on the practical and financial changes. It therefore is important that this Bill proceeds as quickly as possible and is completed fully by the end of this Dáil session.

Clearly, the Bill is aimed at those who have entered registered civil partnerships, irrespective of whether that partnership is between a same-sex or opposite-sex couple. While many will continue to opt for an informal relationship, that is a choice for them to make, rather than being a result of a legal restriction preventing them from making such a choice. This Bill confers new rights and with rights come responsibilities. Therefore, the Bill properly contains provisions to deal with the tax consequences for qualifying cohabitants where the relationship ends and any maintenance obligations that subsequently arise. The shorter time afforded to recognition in cases involving a child or children is therefore welcome.

While the main focus of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act was on same-sex couples, it clearly had a much wider application and I am aware of opposite-sex couples who have availed of it in recent months. According to the background information provided by the Oireachtas Library, there were 2,090 same-sex cohabiting couples recorded in the 2006 census, compared with 1,300 in 2002. While the 2011 census will provide more up-to-date information, even at this point it may be worth considering the kind of questions to be included in the next census. It is only at times like this that it strikes one that these are questions that might be teased out or to consider what questions might be asked in future because the information one gets on the population's profile and on patterns of family formation are important in the context of framing policy responses in the future. Just as Ireland is changing, so are other countries and table 2 in the very useful digest provided by the Oireachtas Library outlines the parts of the world for which foreign registered relationships are recognised. For example eight of the 50 states in the United States are included on this list but what will happen when more states need to be added? How will this be handled? Will further legislation be required or are other possible mechanisms in place?

The protection in the Bill concerning children is welcome, in that equivalent tax treatment is provided for. The key issue for children, which always is much more than a financial matter, is they should be raised in a loving environment, irrespective of the legal status or sexual orientation of their parents. It is helpful that a child who was born before the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act came into force will be recognised and obviously this is provided for in this Bill. This removes a potential point of discrimination for the parent but just as importantly, children feel discrimination when such matters are discussed around them. I was a member of the Commission on the Family that was established on foot of the passage of the divorce legislation. At the time, there was considerable debate on how to define the family but that was rightly resisted by the commission. Instead, it opted to describe what the family should provide, which is a safe, nurturing relationship between its members. Obviously, healthy relationships for children lead to good outcomes for those children as adults and this always is what one should strive for when attempting to build a good society.

Many informal relationships are informal for financial reasons, some of which arise from the social welfare code rather than the tax code and I acknowledge that the programme for Government includes proposals to address some of them. The important point is that when a relationship exists and in particular when children are involved, such a relationship should not be covert. Society should be ordered to ensure there is a solid relationship that should not be interrupted or interfered with by virtue of how our tax and social welfare systems are organised. A newspaper article and the budgetary provisions and impacts outlined in the Oireachtas Library digest indicate there is a potential cost to the State of €100 million arising from the enactment of this legislation. This underpins clearly the argument of those who sought these changes over many years that a sizeable financial penalty existed that comprised obvious discrimination. Consequently, Members should perceive this as a positive development.

For many years, we feared the consequences of legally recognising relationships such as those between same-sex couples. It was only after a pattern began to emerge whereby society was well ahead of the political establishment that attention was drawn to the inequalities when a sufficient number of couples began to cohabit rather than to marry in the case of opposite-sex couples and because of the lack of a legal option for same-sex couples. It became an issue to be recognised in law because people were able to draw attention to the real and practical difficulties they were experiencing. It was almost a reactive rather than a proactive response on the part of the political establishment and I recall some of the arguments that were made around the time of the passage through the Dáil of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act. The House had two bites at the issue because when I was a Deputy between 2005 and 2007, a Private Members' Bill was introduced by the Labour Party that I supported. However, the arguments that I considered to have the greatest impact were those concerning the real and practical difficulties. I obviously refer to those arguments made from a financial perspective and acknowledge the issue of equity is another question of great importance. However, those practical arguments were forceful and powerful because people could understand the difficulties being experienced. One might ask the question in 2011 as to what was all the fuss about, because a great deal of fuss was made on the subject over the years. However, my ability to make that point indicates just how accepted civil partnerships have become even within a short space of time.

I dtús báire, molaim an Bille seo agus glacaim mo bhuíochas agus mo comhghairdeas don Rialtas as an mBille seo a chur ar Chlár na Dála. Today is an important day as the Bill under discussion is important. It represents the culmination of many years of advocacy and campaigning and at the outset, I acknowledge and welcome the members of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, who are in the Visitors Gallery and who have been pioneers in the elimination of discrimination in our society. I thank each man and woman in GLEN for the work he or she has done. Last year the Houses of the Oireachtas passed the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights of Cohabitants Act 2010. It heralded a new beginning and new era for our nation and its citizens. It proclaimed an Ireland that was proud and ambitious for the nation and for the people. As Deputy Doherty said, it was very good to be a legislator and, in no small way, it showed the importance of being a Member of this august House. No longer can we nor should we ignore the relationships of so many citizens, be they gay or heterosexual. We can never stigmatise or allow a stigma to be attached to any member of our society. The passing of this Bill and last year's Bill will portray a genuinely inclusive Ireland, a country where all its political parties signed up to and voted for the Bill. I hope there will not be a division on this Bill.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was correct in his presentation of this Bill as stand-alone legislation. It is too important to be an attachment or an addendum to other legislation. I welcome the fact the Bill will be retrospective in its treatment of people who registered in April for civil partnerships. As Deputy Catherine Murphy noted, did we ever think it would be thus in 2011 with the human outpouring of joy, pride and love, not just in the celebration of civil unions but in the ending of discrimination and the ending of the treatment of people as second class citizens? This was a joy to behold.

I had the pleasure of attending a civil partnership ceremony. It was memorable and personal, human and joyful. That day, a person congratulated me and my fellow politicians on passing the Bill. This demonstrated to me the power of politics to change lives. As politicians we can change lives and we can make a difference in order that people are treated better. I congratulate and wish all those in civil unions the very best.

This Bill underlines the theme of equal or same treatment. When passed and signed into law, this Bill will bestow equal treatment for and will effect change in the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens. That change will not be at the periphery of life but at its heart and at the core of human relationships. This equality will not be a distant image or aspiration but will be a bright and shining star in the lives of couples, be they same sex or opposite sex, and it will make an immeasurable difference to their lives.

This Bill is important. It proposes to regularise the tax system and it is enabling legislation to change existing tax legislation. However, it is all of this and also so much more. It is a declaration of progression and a statement of intent. The press statement from GLEN states: "It provides important certainty and security for the many same-sex couples who have registered or are planning to register their civil partnerships."

This Bill will give real and practical effect to the civil partnership legislation. I welcome the swift passage and publication of the Bill. It is not just a technical Bill, nor is it a complex financial Bill but one which allows civil partners to receive the same tax treatment as married couples. Neither is it just about the important elements of income tax, capital acquisitions tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax. This Bill is about the lives of people and about the way people are treated by the State, be they men or women, gay or straight. It is about the advancement of all our citizens, men, women and children. The passing of this Bill will properly and correctly give effect to the taxation aspects of the civil partnership Act of 2010. It is a statement that this Government is continuing the work of the previous Government. Deputy Kelleher might note I have given the previous Government some elements of praise.

They have been few and far between.

They are few and far between indeed.

We warrant a lot more praise.

It is important that all politicians are united in a desire to treat all our citizens equally.

We are privileged to walk into this Chamber and, as we do, we pass the Proclamation of the Irish Republic which states in clear, bold language:

The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally...

These are not light words and nor were they written in a hurry, rather they were written with intent. Today we are putting those words into practical reality and this is to be welcomed.

In a modern interpretation, that alien government referred to in the Proclamation could be taken as referring to decisions and actions of this State and to the church and other bodies which have inhibited religious and civil liberty, failed to ensure equal rights and neglected to cherish all the children of the nation equally. This Bill is a welcome step to ensuring we continue our slow progression towards the equality that was eloquently set out in the Proclamation of Independence 95 years ago. Today we commence the legislative process to give real and practical effect to the newly introduced civil partnerships. We commence the process to allow registered same sex couples the same tax treatment as married couples. This is another step along the road towards equality.

Last year when a Member of the Seanad I raised the issue of the church in society. For many years the church has dominated church-State relationships and on many occasions the State deferred to the church, not only on social and moral questions but also on many other issues, including educational issues. We have seen the legacy of this abdication of responsibility by the State, and society is trying to rectify some of the damage caused. However, not all aspects of the involvement of religion in Irish society have had a negative impact. The close-knit social fabric which we enjoy is often founded and based on the idea of the parish. Our health system has developed from the initial ground-breaking efforts of religious orders. Much of our education system was founded by the religious. There has been much good work. In recent years, society has led both church and State on progressive social issues. The policies and structures of both church and State have lagged behind the realities of life for many people. Today, the State is saying it is willing to play catch-up.

I echo the comments made recently by Bishop Paul Colton the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, when speaking at the Church of Ireland diocesan synod. He was addressing the alienation and marginalisation of gay people from their church. He said that clergy regularly visited the homes of parishioners, both gay and straight, during their parochial rounds and he hoped that pastoral support was being offered by way of prayer and blessing. He asked the question as to what now is to be the response of the church, pastorally and liturgically, in this new civil partnership scenario. This question should not be confined to the diocesan synod but rather needs to be considered by all churches, all religious groups and every sector of society. True Christianity should neither alienate nor marginalise people who are gay. Like the rest of society, gay people also share the same spiritual and religious beliefs. They should not have to suffer pain by the very same Christian community which espouses that the reign of God will be a kingdom of love, peace, and justice.

Unfortunately, we have seen in recent years the many failures of this State to cherish all its children equally. Today we are ensuring another group of children will begin to receive equal treatment. For the purposes of tax, a child of civil partners will be treated in the same way as a child of a married couple. We are recognising the realities of family life for many children and those children brought up within caring and committed relationships by two caring and committed parents will be treated in the same way regardless of whether their parents are a married couple or civil partners. That is important. Children of State recognised unions will receive the same treatment for inheritance tax, gift tax and stamp duty. Today the State is recognising that parenting is not just done by married couples, single people or widowed parents, it is also done by same-sex couples. We are saying to those that choose to become civil partners and raise children within their relationships that society understands, values and appreciates their parental commitment.

Equality for children of parents in a civil partnership should not be limited to equal treatment for tax purposes. The State must examine the options available to it to go even further towards cherishing these children equally. It should examine the available mechanisms for formally recognising the parental role of a non-biological parent. As Deputy Murphy said regarding the previous census, we have seen that the number of same sex or cohabiting couples in the 2006 census increased from 1,200 to 2,090. I am sure the 2011 census will show a similar increase. It is open to all of the couples concerned to avail of the changes we are debating here today. GLEN has estimated that approximately 1,000 couples will avail of civil partnerships within the first year. That unveiling of joy, happiness, support and solidarity is what we bring to the House.

I refer to the imagery of the front page ofThe Irish Times on Monday of an 18-year-old girl or young man who was beaten up. Our horror and shock would be rightly placed if such a person was heterosexual. In our society today there is still a homophobic attitude that needs to be changed. Last week a young man visited my office. He was chased from an establishment in a certain part of the country. He was caught and beaten up because he was in a gay pub and was gay. That is wrong and sends the wrong signal. I compliment Educate Together, INTO and GLEN for their primary school teacher course on homophobic bullying which will take place in July this year.

We must live in a society where we are all free and equal and will be cherished by all organs of society. There can be no place for ambiguity or intolerance. The achievement of bringing this Bill to the House has taken many years of campaigning by the brave men and women of GLEN who are in the Visitors' Gallery, previous and current Governments, politicians and advocacy groups. Groups and individuals have led society. They have educated it to the point that in this House last year, as Deputy Calleary said, there was unanimity. A minority voted against it in the Seanad.

Our attitudes, I hope, have changed. The transformation in our outlook and attitude must be met, as Deputy Doherty said, not just with political rhetoric but with action. The action is contained in the Bill and the Minister's statement today which allows for retrospection. We must spare a thought for the many people today who are not here and would be proud that our Legislature joined together in passing the Bill.

We can never allow discrimination to continue in our society and the purpose of theBill is to provide the necessary change, as the Minister said, to the tax legislation. It is much more than that. It is about the gnáth duine, the ordinary person. We live in a new Ireland where the ignominious stigma of being gay is being removed today.

It is imperative that we continue the advancement and together portray an Ireland which is ambitious, outward looking and, as Deputy Calleary said, will benefit internationally from the passing of the Bill, in the context of foreign direct investment which will make it easier for companies relocate here and attract people to the country. The Oireachtas has sent a strong signal that we are becoming a forward-looking diverse society. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the broad political support, as outlined by previous speakers, the Minister and debates in the other House, for the inclusion of the Bill on the statute books. It is timely and welcome. It could be argued that it should have happened some time ago. However, unfortunately it takes some time to bring some elements of society with us. It means that we have to coherently put forward the views necessary to bring more people with us.

By conferring fundamental rights on a person or couple or group of people we do not undermine the rights and entitlements of other individuals or groups of people. We have to get away from the idea that if we confer a right on a person by extension somebody else will suffer or have his or her entitlements and rights undermined. In this case, it could not be further from the truth. The Bill is welcome in the context of changes to the tax codes to assist cohabitating couples and those in civil partnerships and to provide them with equal treatment and rights.

I remember the debate in 1993 in the Seanad on the decriminalisation of homosexuality. It was quite contentious in certain quarters at the time and there was a great deal of opposition to it. I compliment previous Ministers who piloted the legislation through the Dáil and Seanad. It was a fractious debate at times, in particular in political parties, but also on the floor of the Dáil and Seanad.

We have moved a long way since then. We are now a pluralist Christian society which reaches out to every citizen regardless of creed, colour or sexual orientation. That is something I, as an Irish person, am proud to say. There was some resistance to moving such a long distance from where we began. We are a more mature and understanding society which wants to confer equal rights on all our citizens, and that is something the Bill does.

The complexities of the tax code are quite amazing and only understood by a number of accountants. The Bills digest provides a summary of it. I refer to the broader terms of what we as a country and society can benefit from in terms of making sure that cohabitating couples and those in civil partnerships have the same entitlements and rights as married and unmarried couples. The principle that has been established is very positive. Speakers referred to Ireland being an outward-looking society, which was the case in recent times. We have come a long way in developing a pluralist Christian society which is outward-looking and can tolerate different religious and political traditions. This happened in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. It evolved and maturity was required in the Republic and in the North to understand that different traditions and viewpoints can be accommodated in harmony and that does not mean undermining the rights of another tradition. That principle allowed people of different persuasions to move a step further. Legislation such as this Bill also confers equal rights on citizens.

This sends out a very positive signal internationally that Ireland is a tolerant, understanding and caring society which wants to cherish all its children and people equally and fairly. That has broader implications because people look to tolerant societies to work, live and rear families in. It is something from which we can benefit, in terms of bringing in people who have expertise and competencies and who may want to invest in the country, in terms of the provision of education, medicine and financial services. In every facet of industry and the services sector, people will then see Ireland as a place where they can live and enjoy the rights conferred on them. That in itself is a welcome aspect of this legislation.

The information provided by GLEN shows that quite a sizeable number of people have, until recently, been discriminated against by the Republic's laws or the lack of measures such as the Bill now before us. This Bill is not something to try and show that we are liberal, it is a momentous step to ensure that groups and individuals have full entitlements conferred upon them by right.

Deputy Buttimer referred to the role of churches in society and their attitudes towards various minority groups. In some cases those attitudes have been negative, but in others they have been positive. Very often, religious groups interact with immigrant communities. The churches also provide support and services for vulnerable people who may feel alienated from mainstream society. While we may talk about being a pluralist Christian society, it is equally important to acknowledge that much work is being, and has been, done by voluntary organisations as well as Christian and other religious groups. On a daily basis, they interact with and assist vulnerable people who may feel they are not receiving their rights and entitlements.

In the context of discussing historical issues, we should acknowledge that many positives things have happened also. Nonetheless, that does not obviate the need to ensure that proper investigating and reporting systems are in place when an institution is involved in abuse of any form. It must not be covered up and the State must have the full facts in order to deal with it. The law must be brought to bear on those who refuse to co-operate or assist with such investigations. Meanwhile, the State must investigate such matters and protect all its citizens. For many years, there have been concerns in that area with regard to the Catholic Church and the Catholic hierarchy. There have been many investigations into appalling cases of institutionalised abuse of our youth and other vulnerable people.

If we are to give people full rights and entitlements, the State must also do its utmost to protect citizens, particularly those who are vulnerable and alienated. In recent years, the State has acknowledged as much through Government apologies and, more importantly, via practical investigations and criminal prosecutions where necessary. For all those reasons, while discussing the church's positive and negative roles, we must bring balance to this debate.

GLEN has welcomed this Bill. Along with other organisations, it has been campaigning for a long time to have such a measure on the Statute Book. It was meant to be part of the main Finance Bill last year, but the general election got in the way. One could say the election got in the way of many things.

We are glad the Deputy is over there.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate all those who campaigned for many years for what they saw as their basic rights. We are not conferring anything on them other than their basic human rights, so they can be seen as equals in the eyes of the law and of society as well. I am proud of the part my party has played in advancing that agenda over a number of years. I spoke on this issue in 1993, during the debate on decriminalising homosexuality. We allowed society to open up, engage with, understand and respect every individual in this country. I am proud of the role Fianna Fáil has played right up to the passage of this Bill, which will be on the Statute Book shortly. It will grant full entitlements and rights in areas such as taxation and inheritance.

Equally, the legislation will protect children by conferring rights on them. The Bill covers sons, daughters and step-children. It also covers children adopted under adoption orders within the meaning of section 3(1) of the Adoption Act 2010, or children who are the subject of an inter-country adoption effected outside the State and recognised under the Act. The Bill confers rights on children, thus giving them protection as well as formalising relationships. It allows people to get on with their lives unhindered so they can participate in and contribute to society in a meaningful and dignified way. It will also give people an opportunity to express themselves in whatever way they wish without interference or fear.

The vast majority of people in society are open and tolerant, but there is still an undercurrent or racism and homophobia in our country. We must continually be watchful against such attitudes. When the Celtic tiger was running around this island, there was an open attitude to everybody coming to our shores to work and assist the economy. However, when there is a downturn that attitude can change, becoming insidious and causing nasty undercurrents. It is sometimes used politically, without being stated directly. I find that deeply offensive to the views I hold and cherish. We are a tolerant nation and should welcome all peoples to our shores if they want to make a meaningful contribution to our society. All political parties have a duty to ensure that undercurrent is not exploited, as it is sometimes by individuals who may want to advance themselves by playing to the lowest common denominator, stirring up deep, inner human fears. At times we must suppress such fears in order to promote a more tolerant view of all those who live on this island, including immigrants.

As we have seen from rioting in Belfast over the last two nights, there is concern that intolerant attitudes can spill over. It has also happened in this jurisdiction where people have been attacked or even killed because they are not Irish, look different to the majority or come from other countries. We must be careful and conscious of such matters, while continuing to nurture our tolerant society. The country must be encouraged to move in that direction, thus ensuring that all traditions, views, orientations and nationalities sharing this island will feel safe. They should be confident to express themselves as they wish, provided they comply with the laws of the land.

I commend the strong sentiments of support by everybody in the House for this Bill. There is also broad political support for this measure in the Seanad. It deserves nothing less than such support as it basically ensures that every individual is respected equally in the eyes of the law.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Bearing in mind that it is teatime, I thought it appropriate to share time with Deputies Tom Barry and John Lyons.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Last year the Oireachtas introduced legislation that recognises same sex partnerships. I was delighted to speak in the debate on that legislation in the Seanad and I was also delighted with the support it received across all parties. This Bill builds on that legislation and again there is overwhelming support for it.

In the period following the introduction of the civil partnership legislation, a number of couples entered into civil partnership arrangements. The first was Mr. Barry Dignam and Mr. Hugh Walsh a few months ago. By the end of this month almost 300 people will have entered into civil partnerships, many of whom would have been waiting quite a long time to have their relationships recognised by the State. This Bill gives them equality in regard to financial affairs and, perhaps more importantly, it extends tax rights to children of same sex partnerships. This is the first time the State recognised a same sex family unit. Interestingly, throughout consideration of this legislation my office has not received one e-mail or telephone call with a complaint about it. It shows that Ireland as a nation has moved on significantly in recent decades. The children of civil partners will be given the same tax treatment as the children of a married couple and that includes step-children, adopted children and, in some cases, foster children. They should not be made to feel any different just because they grow up in a same sex partnership unit. This is good news and it marks the grounds for better rights for children across Irish society.

The legislation is also a great step forward for young LGBT people. Last week I spoke at an information night in County Clare at which there were many people from across the community. There were young lesbians and young gay men there. The message from them was that they wanted to make sure that there was equality in society and that they got great strength from the steps and strides that have been taken in legislation in recent years. This legislation shows them that they no longer have to feel isolated and that they are being treated the same as anybody else. The legislation will help to change social attitudes across the country.

This is not the end of the road as far as gay rights goes. We got a commitment in the programme for Government to bring the issue of same sex marriage before a constitutional convention and I look forward to doing that in the coming months. I hope that will happen within the lifetime of this Government. That question will ultimately be up to the people to decide but I welcome this legislation. It is great news. I compliment not only the current Government but the previous Government on their commitment to this measure and for the strides they took during the term of the previous Dáil to ensure that this legislation would see the light of day.

I welcome the Bill and, more to the point, the spirit of it. We would all like to believe that Ireland is now a pluralist society, one that is outward looking and that respects the rights, the basic rights of every person within it. It gives rights which should have been enshrined already to same sex couples and cohabiting people. There is no marginalisation of the gay community. It also confers protection on children, which is good and must be welcomed.

I would like to discuss the cohabitation element of the Bill. I have a minor concern about it, especially with regard to the redress scheme for cohabiting couples. The legislation is vague in the sense that it requires that couples must have lived together for two years if they have no children or for five years if there are children involved. Where there are no children involved, how can anybody prove when the relationship started? Then we move into the delicate area of an intimate and committed relationship. It appears this is the first time that the lawyers will have to get a peek under the sheets because otherwise how does one prove that a relationship is intimate and committed? The farming communities have discussed the spy in the sky but now we have the spy in the bedroom. This aspect needs a little more attention.

There are concerns among the farming community about this aspect. While farmers earn a living off an asset, it is an asset that is to be transferred to the next generation; it is not normally to be sold because once it is sold, there is no future in farming for the family concerned. However, cohabitants will have access to the redress scheme and rulings will be made on dividing properties, pensions and pensions from a deceased's estate. If a relationship has ended two years previously, it will not be taken into account . We must consider this element in a sensible fashion. We do not want such provision to result in the collapse of rural employment and family farms in such circumstances. Obviously there is divorce here and break-up happens. It is the uncertainty with regard to cohabiting couples in this respect that is a cause of concern among the farming community. The IFA has said that it would like the redress scheme to be an opt in rather than opt out agreement.

We discussed the fair deal scheme last week, to which thankfully everyone concerned once again has access Five percent of the value of a person's dwelling house is taken for three years and that person enjoys the benefits of the fair deal scheme. In the context of farming, it is not only the dwelling house but the complete assets of the property that are taken into account, which can be very significant and down the line it can end up in a debt being owed to the tax-man which the farm will not be able to sustain. The inequity in the fair deal scheme exists between the farming community and the non-farming community and it will need to be sorted out at some stage because one section of the community should not pay more or be marginalised simply because they are engaged in farming as against some other job.

To avoid this situation occurring in agriculture, older couples are handing over their property to their son or daughter and they are doing it in good time. The five year rule will not apply if it has been handed over in good time. However, under this rule, if a farmer hands over his farm to his son or daughter, who has been in a relationship for five years or more and that relationship does not work for all the reasons relationships do not work out at times, there is a potential for a significant claim on that property. The young couple concerned would not have entered into a relationship for it to break down and the older couple involved would not have dreamt of passing on the farm to put their retirement in jeopardy, but it is a possibility. This provision sends out all the wrong signals. This brings us back to my initial point of how do we prove when a relationship started. Young people meet, they may go out for a while, then break for a while and then get back together. It is not an exact science and, thankfully, it never has been. A young couple may say they met in 2005, it did not work out and they got back together in 2006. They may say they are five years in a relationship and the legislation contains a five year provision. If we are to be specific, we will have to specify if a relationship began when a couple initially met or when they met again after breaking up, or how will it be defined? Then comes the interesting part, who will say: "Yes, we were very intimate and committed"?

One person might say yes and the other might say no. "Intimate and committed" may mean different things to different people. If people were asked 20 years ago whether they were intimate, they might have said yes, but we might consider they were casual friends. It has become a little too complicated for my liking. No doubt, there are lawyers who are licking their lips and relishing the prospect that the Celtic tiger might restart.

We are off again, just as the Moriarty and other tribunals are finishing.

This issue must be recognised as a potential weakness in what is essentially a good Bill. The position is terrible. Obviously, we are all anxious to ensure our people are regarded as equals and that they can continue to live in Ireland, regardless of their sexual orientation. It is welcome that civil partners will receive the same tax treatment that has been availed of by married couples for many years in respect of income tax, stamp duty, capital acquisitions tax, capital gains tax and VAT. This is commendable. However, introducing this element of uncertainty will see older couples, for example, becoming afraid to enter the fair deal scheme or hand over property. This might not just apply to farming; it might also affect small businesses, of which there are approximately 200,000. We are always encouraging such businesses to hire someone extra because if each of them employed just one more person, we would halve the numbers in the dole queues, which would be fabulous. However, we must recognise that small businesses are fragile. If we include something in the Bill that could put one quarter of them in jeopardy by making them split their assets, employers of two, three, four or ten people might stop doing business. As such, those affected will include not just older couples but also the innocent families working for the particular farms or small businesses. They may find themselves in the dole queues through no fault of their own. At a time when every job is precious, we must be careful not to introduce a measure that could create even the slightest doubt about the possibility of businesses failing.

Imagine a young couple who have been going out with each other for a year. They have no commitments to each other and are probably afraid to ask each other to commit. They are seeing how things will go. If the woman arrives at the other person's home believing they are going to dinner but he asks her to sign something in order to opt out, she will look at him and say he must be codding her. That would be the end of their relationship. That would have happened in my day.

The farming community has highlighted a serious matter. A farmer might have large assets while still making progressive losses. Farming was the only industry that suffered negative benchmarking in recent years.

The Deputy's time is nearly up.

I have nearly made my point. In case I land myself in hot soup over intimate and committed relationships which I was about to explain——

Including the Deputy's own.

I will pass.

I will be brief, but my points will be succinct and important. I have only chosen to contribute to this debate because I am one of two openly gay Deputies — I thank theSun and so on — and could be criticised either way, that is, I could be criticised if I do not say anything or even if I do. The progress made in respect of civil partnership reflects the profound social changes in our society. In 1993 or 1994 people like me technically could have been locked up for being gay. It is brilliant that we have moved on. Many outside the House feel the same way.

I welcome the discussion on the Bill, particularly during pride week, which is about celebrating and being proud of who one is as a person. Tomorrow I will open a pride event, an open air gig in the Reco, the local youth facility in Ballymun. In 2011 it is great that a Deputy has been asked to attend a pride event, in this case an open air concert, organised by a young people's institution. This says something about how society is advancing in many corners, which is to be welcomed.

I am not advertising what I am doing this week, but I will be on the Labour Party bus in Saturday's pride parade. Everyone I will meet at tomorrow's pride gig in Ballymun and on Saturday will be pleased when I relay the heartening words spoken in the Chamber about the Bill. The cross-party support received is also heartening and I hope it will continue in dealing with further issues relating to same sex couples.

The Bill and the civil partnership Act 2010 are part of a process of addressing an issue of inequality that, having manifested itself in society in many ways, is being consigned to history. The changes in legislation and to the tax code are official recognition of the great change our society has undergone in recent years. It is official recognition of the many years of work of a host of people who have sought a more equitable and inclusive society.

The Bill is important in that it will ensure civil partners will receive the same treatment as married couples in tax matters. It provides for tax relief for the children of civil partners, including on inheritances, gifts and stamp duty. Perhaps more importantly, it contains measures, whereby a child whose parents are in a civil partnership will be treated the same for tax purposes as a child of a married couple. The tax changes, coupled with the recognition given in the civil partnership Act, will give couples in loving relationships certainty and security by recognising their commitment to each other. This is a progressive society and we all benefit from greater equality. The Bill and the progress it recognises make a statement about our values and how we recognise diversity in society.

I will conclude on a point I found helpful. Just after being elected and following mainly positive stories run by a couple of newspapers concerning me and a fellow Deputy, I received nothing but positive responses. One written response came from a middle-aged gentleman in Kimmage or Crumlin whom I did not know. I did not realise the impact of the two articles until I started to receive letters in response. One of the gentleman's comments was that, because of me, many around the country were walking taller that day. The Bill allows many people to walk taller, to feel equal and valued as first class citizens. I look forward to other developments in this regard.

I join previous speakers in welcoming the Finance Bill before us. I congratulate the various groups and individuals who have for many years campaigned for equal treatment and rights for gay and lesbian people living in this State.

It is clear, having listened to the debate thus far, that no Member will vote against this legislation. It will have the approval of all sides of the House, which in itself sends out an important message. Deputy Buttimer mentioned that there remains within our society people who are homophobic. That all 166 Members of this House support this legislation sends out a powerful message, one which must be strongly portrayed. There is no place in Irish society for homophobia. It is our responsibility to challenge and educate anyone who holds such views.

Sinn Féin has always supported socially progressive legislation and will support this Bill. We would like to see further legislation on issues such as civil marriage and transgender recognition brought before the House. These issues need to be progressed at the earliest possible opportunity. This is in keeping with the spirit, ideology and practice of Republicanism in terms of promoting equality among all citizens.

I commend a number of provisions in the Bill which will progress the rights of civil partners, giving them the same rights as married opposite sex couples in terms of taxation. Like most enlightened and progressive legislation, it is to be welcomed but it is not before its time. People have been waiting a long time for this legislation. Finally, it is before us, which is a reflection on society in general. We are maturing, which is good. This Bill provides that people in civil partnerships can now be jointly assessed for income tax and will not be liable for inheritance tax and so on. The security and certainty many of us have taken for granted are now being extended to civil partners. Same sex couples who have registered or are planning to register their civil partnerships will also be covered by this legislation.

We need to address the issue of citizenship applications for civil partnerships. An applicant involved in a relationship with an Irish citizen should be recognised on the same basis as an applicant who is married to an Irish citizen. This issue requires further debate. To that end, I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to follow through on his promise to amend the legislation in that regard. Also, I hope he will ensure that the proposed immigration legislation will introduce parity between same sex couples and married couples.

A much needed and welcome aspect of the Bill is that which relates to the children of civil partners, as mentioned by the previous speaker. This Bill puts them on the same footing as children of a married couple from a taxation point of view. Up to now children of same sex couples did not qualify for the same inheritance rights as did children of a married couple. This compounded the loss, with serious financial implications. I welcome this provision. The inclusion of children of civil partners in this Bill was brought about by the increasing number of children being parented by same sex couples, which in itself highlights the need to begin the process which will eventually lead to same sex couples being allowed to adopt children. We should actively work towards that. Sinn Féin believes that decisions regarding adoption must always be made on the basis of love, care and environment. They are the standards by which we should judge any adoption. A decision should never be based on whether a couple wishing to adopt is of the same sex.

If we are truly to live up to the Republican ideals which many people in this House from all sides have down through the years claimed to aspire to, then we need to ensure there is equity in all aspects of society and adoption is one such aspect. Sinn Féin has actively supported all legislation based on regularising the legal framework for same sex couples, including the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 and the rights of cohabiting couples and will continue to do so. Our only difficulty is that we have not progressed as much as we need to in terms of civil marriage and same sex adoptions.

I welcome the Bill. It is not often that a finance Bill receives unanimous support in this House, which in itself sends out a message. There is a certain irony in that it has taken an issue such as this to bring us all together to support a finance Bill. It will be a long time before another finance Bill receives the unanimous support of this House. I look forward to progressing to next step of this journey.

I welcome this legislation and I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on it. This legislation records progress in this area in recent years, including in discussion inside and outside this House and in terms of the evolution of our society. It also shows a commitment to fairness. The programme for Government commits to fairer government, which is important at this time and for future generations. We must be seen to legislate in a manner that is fair to all in so far as is possible.

There may be people throughout the country who have concerns or have expressed concern about the contents of this Bill and the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. However, we must accept that society moves on. Whatever happens in society, we need to be able to put in place legislation to provide for, assist and guide when necessary, which is what is being done in this Bill. As Deputy Barry stated this is a hugely complicated issue in terms of inheritances, dissolution of partnerships and so on, which should provide happy hunting ground for our friends in the legal profession who will no doubt view this as fertile ground for future discussion. However, we will deal with that then.

We have all been approached by constituents involved in a relationship for a long time, be it with a same sex or opposite sex partner, who have contributed to society, the taxation system and complied with the laws in all ways but who could not obtain the same tax allowances or concessions as a married couple. Marriage is a sacred institution. It is important for everybody and is something which society needs to hold on to, cherish and support. However, society changes. We cannot, nor should we, as legislators attempt to force society to go in a particular direction. Up to now people in partnership arrangements could not obtain the same tax relief as others. That, in turn, became a disincentive to the formation of a proper partnership and commitment, which was the most serious element, and the law was virtually an encouragement to one or other partner to go their own separate direction and to plead, rightly, that he or she was not being treated equally within the laws of the State. The Constitution goes to considerable pains to set out the need to cherish the children of the nation equally, and I am one of those who believes this means all of the people. It is a point of which we need to be always cognisant.

Deputy Barry gave an interesting dissertation in regard to the definition of a partnership, whether it be a same-sex or opposite-sex partnership. A definition can be difficult to find, which may lead to some interesting cases being fought out in the courts. It will lead to situations where lawyers will have to be paid handsomely in order to determine, having due regard to the Constitution, the interpretation the law should take in the future.

While I understand there are proposals in this regard, I hope some means can be found to bring the costs in such situations within the means of the individuals, whether they be wealthy or not so wealthy. Everybody is entitled to the same treatment under the Constitution. It should not be something that is available to some person or group because that person or group can afford it. These changes in our laws must be available to everybody and must be within their rights. We must not have the nonsense of recent years, whereby a person who qualifies gets what they seek but a person who does not qualify does not get what they seek, which is to treat people differently under the Constitution. We cannot have that kind of nonsense.

Deputy Barry made interesting references to business and to farming. To consider a different issue, let us consider the question of entitlement to a local authority house. To be fair to the local authorities they have over recent years accepted the existence of partnerships and cohabiting, although it took a while for them to do so. However, problems can arise in certain circumstances, particularly, for example, when the establishment of the partnership or cohabiting relationship clashes with the Department of Social Protection's interpretation of partnership or cohabiting.

I am sure many Members of the House have experience of the following situation. Two people apply to the local authority and are deemed to be accepted for re-housing despite living in separate houses, perhaps with their parents, relatives or otherwise. They have made the application jointly, as they are entitled to do under the law, because, otherwise, they would never be able to move forward and would have to stay at home forever, unless they are in a position to rent privately first. While I do not blame them, there is now a tendency for officials of the local authorities and the Department of Social Protection to interpret such a couple as cohabiting, and thereby to determine their entitlements to social welfare. This is a problem that must be dealt with. If we are serious about what we are doing, we must accept the right of the couple at some stage, when they obtain a local authority house, to achieve what they see as the ultimate.

Although it does not apply to this legislation, there is a current tendency for well-meaning people to say "We cannot afford that". While there are many things we can no longer afford, the lack of money and resources should not be a means of reducing people's rights and entitlements. If they are entitled to something, they are entitled to it, and there is no good saying we do not have the money for it. The amount of money can be reduced to ensure there is enough. As we know, this was done by the previous Government and the current Government, and will have to be done by subsequent Governments in the coming years. While there is a tendency to say "We cannot afford that", the law must be observed. If we are a fair society and treat people equally, we must observe the law and ensure this Bill is applied equally and fairly, and that it does not create pitfalls, obstructions, loopholes or poverty traps further down the road.

The changes in the whole area of tax credits and allowances must be welcomed. We all know of cases where people could not claim, for want of a better description, family tax credits because of the situation in recent years. Thankfully, this has been addressed and, hopefully, the future position will be satisfactory.

We must remember other important issues. Legislators will always be judged on the way they respond to the needs rather than the demands of society. There is a huge difference between demands and needs, and between what is required and what is purely and simply something people might like to have. As we become more conscious of these issues, it is very important in the event of there being loopholes, obstacles and difficulties — I know case law will establish certain points — that amending legislation will deal with those issues as they arise, not ten or 15 years down the road.

There is a tendency to spend ten or 15 years talking and thinking about these issues, and turning them over in our minds. While I accept a certain amount of time is desirable in order to allow debate, we should not allow a situation to prevail whereby the law treats people unfairly or the legislation fails to acknowledge the existence of certain needs when they arise. There will be many more such needs in the future and it is hoped we can provide for them.

Schedule 1 contains the technical amendments to the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 required as a consequence of the passing of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. This material is in a table showing the legislative reference, the current text of the legislation and the replacement text. It is a complicated area, as Members will readily recognise. We hope the examination has been thorough and that the indexing has been effective and adequately linked to ensure no aspect is omitted or ignored. The normal procedure is that the Minister would list any such omissions at a later stage in the House, if necessary.

Stamp duty is also dealt with. Section 2 and Schedule 2 give effect to the changes necessary to the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999 to introduce the tax changes required as a consequence of the passing of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. I hope that this issue will be adequately and thoroughly indexed to ensure no unexpected pitfalls face the people affected.

It is important that we, as legislators, legislate for the needs of our society in good time and in such a way as to ensure we do not become divorced or separated from society or unrepresentative of society, because that would be very sad. Democracy is important and, in a democracy, everyone has rights and entitlements. The first right is the right to vote and elect those we wish to have represent us. It is the duty of the representatives to reflect the views of the people in so far as that can be done. They must balance one against the other, not exclude one at the expense of the other, and thereby achieve and attain a fairer and a just society.

I would like to contribute on behalf of people who contacted me during the election campaign and since I became a Deputy for Kerry South. I welcome the Bill. It is remarkable that there is such cross-party support for a Finance Bill but it is a significant step in the right direction for our society. It is a good day for the country. The legislation's provisions relating to children of civil partnership couples are also important. I acknowledge the work of the previous Administration on this legislation. I hope we can continue in the right direction. We have come a long way over the past 20 years as a society and I hope we can achieve further equality and positivity in future legislation.

This Bill provides for amendments to the taxation Acts that are necessary as a consequence of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, commonly referred to as the civil partnership Act. The legislation provides for the taxation treatment of persons covered by the civil partnership Act and is the fulfilment of a promise in the programme for Government. It can be seen, therefore, as helping to implement the underlying thrust of the civil partnership Act.

The Act established a scheme of registration of civil partnerships for same sex couples together with a range of rights and duties consequent on registration, including in regard to maintenance, shared home, succession and pensions. A civil partnership ends only on the death of a partner or on dissolution of the partnership by a court. The Act also provides that the Minister for Justice and Equality may give legal recognition to civil partnerships which have been registered in other jurisdictions and which are similar in nature to Irish civil partnership registrations.

The Act also created a cohabitant's redress scheme for same sex and opposite sex cohabiting couples, giving protection to an economically dependent party at the end of a long-term cohabiting relationship where the couple has not chosen to marry or to register in a civil partnership. In addition, the Act gave legal recognition to cohabitant agreements enabling same sex and opposite sex cohabitants to regulate their joint financial affairs. The legislation was extensively debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas. It received all-party support and was enacted in July 2010. The necessary amendments to social welfare legislation arising from the civil partnership Act were provided for in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2010.

This Bill will change the way people in registered civil partnerships are treated for tax purposes. Registered civil partners throughout the country will look to exercise their new taxation entitlements. I assure the House that work has commenced in preparing Revenue local offices to deal with requests and queries from civil partners. The Revenue Commissioners have developed a network of officers nationwide who have been trained on the implications of the new legislation and who are on hand to ensure issues can be dealt with promptly in the Revenue's local offices.

Providing clear and correct information to the public about the impact of new legislation is another important undertaking. It is essential that people are correctly informed of their rights and obligations arising from new legislation. To this end, Revenue has worked closely with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network to ensure the dissemination of information and clarification and to provide a focal point for addressing issues of concerns and answering queries. It behoves every Deputy, all tax practitioners and the media to give the correct information about this Bill to the public and to ensure people are not misled. In general, the changes in this Bill will be effective for the year of assessment, 2011, and subsequent years. Inheritance, gift tax and stamp duty reliefs will apply from 1 January 2011.

I pay tribute to the Revenue Commissioners and the Office of the Attorney General, which worked together to draft the Bill. It was no small task to analyse the entire tax code and to draft a Bill to amend the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999, the Capital Acquisitions Tax Consolidation Act 2003, the Value-Added Tax Consolidation Act 2010 and other taxation legislation that requires amendment arising from the enactment of the civil partnership Bill. They have also taken a proactive approach with various lobby groups to help people with the new arrangements.

I am aware that articles appeared in certain newspapers in recent weeks claiming that this Bill would ensure that cohabiting couples would receive the same income tax treatment as married couples or registered civil partners. These articles also estimated enormous costs to the Exchequer as a result of this treatment. They were not correct and they may have confused some people. The newspapers involved were contacted by my Department and the journalists in question were informed of the correct position. The articles were based on the misconception that the taxation changes would give cohabiting couples similar treatment to married couples or those in a recognised civil partnership.

I thank Deputies Michael McGrath, Kelleher and Calleary for welcoming the Bill. I agree with Deputy McGrath that it is a landmark Bill and demonstrates the changes and growth in society over recent years. I also hope, as Deputy Calleary has suggested, that the passing of this Bill will improve Ireland's reputation throughout the world and also assist in our economic promotion. I thank Deputies Doherty and Mattie McGrath both for their praise of the Government in bringing the Bill before the House in such a short time and their general support for the Bill.

I also thank Deputy Catherine Murphy for her support for the Bill. I would like to clarify for the Deputy that the maximum income tax cost of this legislation will be €3 million per 1,000 couples who register for civil partnership. I am grateful to Deputy Buttimer for his contribution to the debate and for his strong support for the Bill. Deputy Barry generally supported the Bill but also raised issues outside its terms which relate to the civil partnership Act. I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to reply directly to the Deputy on these issues. I acknowledge the support of Deputies Hannigan and Lyons for the Bill.

This is important legislation. It provides for the necessary taxation changes to the tax code as a consequence of the civil partnership Act of 2010. It is effective for this year and it will help registered civil partners to get on with their lives. I thank all those who contributed to this debate. These contributions are always welcome and they enrich the debate. I look forward to a constructive and informed discussion on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.