Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2009: Committee Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 16

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 23, line 39, after "specify." to insert the following:

"Any recognised religious denomination such as the Unitarian Church which celebrates the marriage of same sex couples may if the incumbent of such of their church buildings is agreeable have it regarded automatically as a proper and appropriate place for the registration of the civil partnership.".

I welcome the Minister back to the House after a late sitting last night. I am sure I speak for all of us when I say we greatly appreciate that he is taking this serious matter himself and is not delegating it to a junior Minister in his Department because that signifies the importance of the debate.

I will not spend a long time pushing amendments because we have discussed most of the substantive issues. This issue relates to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and respect for religious identity. In the United kingdom, the Unitarian Church, in particular, has had its position recognised. The reason I tabled this amendment is that I have been lobbied by prominent members of the Unitarian Church, including Chris Hudson, who was the leading light of the peace train which ran between Dublin and Northern Ireland. He is now the pastor of the Unitarian Church in Belfast, although a Dubliner and a very prominent trade unionist. He believes, and I agree with him, that it would be appropriate for a church, such as the Unitarian Church, which performs religious marriages of same sex-couples, to conduct these marriages. The only such ceremony I attended was the marriage of a very old friend of mine to his partner in that church on St. Stephen's Green. It would seem extraordinary not to recognise the right of a church to conduct these marriages and to be regarded as an appropriate place to do so.

I say this although I believe completely in the separation of church and state. It would be far better if we had the French system where those, like myself, of a religious disposition could receive the blessing of the church in what is regarded as a sacrament but that the church kept its hands clean of officiating at what is, in fact, very largely a distribution of property and assets and the legal arrangements surrounding that.

It is inappropriate for the church to be involved in the registration process but if it happens in one church or in a series of churches, it should happen in all churches and in all circumstances where these institutions are recognised. I look forward with great interest to the Minister's response.

We support this amendment. We had a substantial debate last night on some of the very significant issues in the Bill and on some of the omissions from it, which we believe are important. We do not intend to duplicate any of that debate today. This amendment could be read along with amendment No. 18 which seeks to include the Humanist Association of Ireland in the Civil Registration Act.

I would support that also.

Senator Norris was correct in what he said about the French system. There is much to be said for it. I have always understood the separation of church and state as being about protecting the zones of the state and the church to carry on their business and not to be interfered with. There is much to be said for the French system where there are separate ceremonies for church and state. However, I disagree with Senator Norris's characterisation of the state marriage as being largely about property and such arrangements. The state has an interest in marriage as an institution and it is very much linked with children, encouraging people to bond in lifelong unions and to found families. That is not just about property and so on. It would be wrong to think the only people interested in the common good in that sense are religious and church bodies. The state has a particular view. As an entity, it acts on behalf of the community and represents its shared vision of the importance of marriage. If there was no such thing as church marriage, although marriage originated as a church ceremony before the State put rules around it, there would be a need for the State to have a vision of marriage as being for the good of society.

On the amendment, I am inclined to think it would be better to avoid any possible misunderstanding that there is a furthering of an undue interconnection between church and State in this zone.

It is not inappropriate to refer to a particular church. We did this in the Charities Bill with regard to mass cards, when we provided that those selling them could only do so in conjunction with a recognised religious authority which was identified as a Catholic religious authority. To avoid prosecution, the onus was placed on retailers to show that they had such a connection. Such a reference can be legitimate, although during that debate I received correspondence from people who felt there were dangers for churches in bringing in the State as a regulator of what churches might or might not do. Of course, in the context of the sale of mass cards, the regulation was introduced to avoid a practice that was being abused and facilitating a fraud upon members of the public who thought they were getting a certain thing when, in fact, they were getting something very different. The common good was served by legislation intervening at that point.

I am not sure if the singling out of the Unitarian Church is best practice, from a drafting point of view. I also have concerns about the use of the word "incumbent". Who is an incumbent in this instance? Is it the person who holds tenure or has immediate responsibility for a church building or parish? If this were to be included in the legislation, could some renegade priest within the Catholic Church or the Church of Ireland claim to be the incumbent of a parish and allow the use of his or her church building for same-sex civil partnerships? Might the church then seek to exercise its prerogative to restore thestatus quo ante and the so-called renegade invoke this legislation in support of what he or she was doing?

While the amendment appeals to certain liberal instincts because it recognises the right of people to provide, according to their ideas and values, for the recognition of same-sex partnerships or otherwise, it is, possibly, problematic, for the reasons I have given.

Section 16 inserts a detailed provision relating to the registration of civil partnership in the Civil Registration Act 2004. The inserted section 59E makes provision for places and times for civil partnership registration. Subsection (1) specifies that if the place is not the office of the registrar, it must, save in limited circumstances of an exception on the grounds of ill health, be approved by the HSE by reference to matters which the Minister for Social Protection may specify.

The effect of the amendment would be to give automatic recognition as a place where civil partnership registration may take place to the churches of certain denominations which celebrate the marriages of same-sex couples. Any organisation may, if it so wishes, apply under the inserted section 59E(1) for the approval by the HSE of its venues as places for the registration of civil partnerships.

With respect to the analogous provisions for civil marriage, the Minister for Health and Children published guidelines in 2007 relating to civil marriage. These expressly provide that "the venue must have no recent or continuing connection with any religion, religious practice or religious persuasion which would be incompatible with the use of the venue for the solemnisation of civil marriages". I expect similar guidelines to be made with respect to civil partnership registration venues in order that any venue with a recent or continuing connection with a religion or denomination would be unlikely to be approved.

There is also a major difficulty with the amendment's reference to marriages of same-sex couples. Since same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Ireland, this renders the amendment unworkable.

I would also like to add a clarification. Approval of a place, whether automatically or by the HSE, is separate and distinct from allowing a celebrant of the given denomination to carry out civil partnership registration. The Bill provides that only a registrar may register a civil partnership.

The Minister's response is, as usual, enlightening in its way. He says the use of the word "marriage" invalidates the entire amendment. I had a discussion earlier today with my colleague, Senator O'Toole, who pointed out to me that in amendment No. 15 the word "marriage" was used. I assume that will render that amendment invalid, if the Minister's argument is to be sustained.

With regard to renegade clergy, I am not sure if such loaded language is appropriate, but I leave it to the House to decide. I have been contacted by a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps not one who meets with the entire approval of the established church, but let us put that to one side. He experienced extreme difficulty in having correspondence even acknowledged by the registrar at the time. As a public representative, I had to make an appointment to see the registrar and, more or less, smuggle the bishop into the meeting.

The Unitarian Church is referred to specifically in the amendment because I was so lobbied. We could parse and analyse the amendment to death. I do not expect it to be accepted and anticipated that this would be the Minister's response.

I am interested in hearing the views of those who express themselves as strong devotées of freedom of conscience, free voting and all the rest. It seems there is a conflict. It might cause difficulties if these so-called renegade priests, bishops, incumbents, rectors, vicars or pastors decided to celebrate marriages for people normally pushed firmly outside the fold. If they wished to use their premises, I would have thought that was a classic example of people voting freely, having a conscience and acting on it. Perhaps I take a more expansive view of freedom of conscience and free voting than some of my colleagues.

The problem is with the use of the word — the possessive adjective — "their". Is it their premises? If it was, one would have to take the view that they were entitled to act accordingly. The State, of course, would still have its view on whether it was causing more problems than it was solving. When we come to discuss freedom of conscience in the context of the provision of services, it will be clear that it is the rights of people who have ownership of and responsibility for certain premises which are at stake.

I think I can solve the Senator's grammatical problem. It is governed by the major clause at the beginning of the sentence; therefore, it is the property of the church.

I knew I would receive an informed response.

There would not be an issue for the church in any shape or form. Same-sex couples who are going out to celebrate a very special day would not go to a venue that is hostile to how they want to live their life. I feel we are having a debate around an issue that is never likely to arise. I could not envisage people in a same-sex union ever seeking to use a church or go to Ely Place or wherever else it is held as a sacrament to a certain person. I could not see that happen in my wildest dreams.

Unless the church itself, like the Unitarians, wanted it.

Absolutely, although that is very different. I am amused and amazed at what Senator Mullen is calling a conscience clause. I am elected to Seanad Éireann as a nominee on the Labour Panel.

We are not discussing election to the Seanad; we are discussing amendment No. 14.

We are. The point I want to make is that ICTU, which represents the majority of public workers in this country, is totally supportive of the Bill in its entirety.

That has nothing to do with this amendment, which is specific.

It is for the next amendment.

I am speaking to the amendment. I will come in again on a further amendment Senator Mullen has put forward. However, we are wasting time. The people I know who want to celebrate a special day as same-sex couples would never in their wildest dreams be going to a church hall or anywhere like it.

The amendment is a specific one which endeavours to give an automatic recognition to a place of a particular religion. I made the point in regard to marriages and same-sex couples. As I said previously, section 59E makes clear that this is a positive request from a church to be recognised as such. I made the point earlier that if the guidelines in regard to marriage venues as per the Civil Registration Act 2004 and the regulations made thereunder by the Minister for Health and Children, and now the Minister for Social Protection, are to be replicated and the same terms as relate to marriages are to be replicated in regard to civil partnerships, then the venue must have no recent or continuing connection with any religion, religious practice or religious persuasion which would be incompatible with the use of the venue for the solemnisation of civil marriages. If they are to extend the logic and practice as per those guidelines, it would be unlikely that these churches would be approved as a venue unless it came under the very limited circumstances.

Generally in this regard, there has been some misunderstanding about churches being forced to use their property against their wishes. Section 59 clearly indicates that the only property that can be used other than the registrar's office, if an application is made to the HSE——

Will the Minister direct us to that section of the Bill?

Yes, it is at page 23. Section 59E states: "A civil partnership may be registered only at a place and time chosen by the parties to the civil partnership with the agreement of the registrar and, if the place chosen is not the office of a registrar [the other place] shall be determined by the Executive by reference to the matters that the Minister may specify." I have excluded one of the limited exceptions in reading out that section. In other words, this has to happen on application by the organisation, whether it is a church or otherwise, to have its premises used. Therefore, there is no forcing of any church to have its property used against its wishes.

I would not want to do that.

Similarly, there have been suggestions that celebrants of marriages under religion would be forced to be part of the civil registration process.

That would be intolerable.

No celebrant empowered to conduct a marriage ceremony existing under the Civil Registration Act may register a civil partnership unless he or she is a registrar in the employment of the HSE. There is absolutely no possibility that any celebrant who is not a registrar could be required against his or her wishes to register a civil partnership. I can put it no clearer than that.

Is the amendment being pressed?

I want to make a final comment. I believe the Minister is slightly over-simplifying certain matters but I will leave that aside. Why would it be incompatible and what would the nature of the incompatibility be? If the congregation, the officiating priest and the parties to the marriage were all in agreement, in what sense could it be incompatible? Is there something about the nature of a church, the Unitarian Church in particular or the fact this man was willing in conscience to celebrate the union that makes it incompatible? I see no incompatibility whatever — I just do not understand it.

As I understand it and although I think it regrettable, in a religious service of marriage the partners, having been married, usually retire to the vestry to sign the register, and that is part of the legal confirmation of the existence of the marriage. Therefore, it does exist in that sense and the church, as the building, is held to be perfectly compatible. I do not see any reason that, for example, a Unitarian minister in the St. Stephen's Green church should not apply to be regarded as a registrar for this purpose. The Minister is indicating this would not be granted. I believe that if this did happen, the Unitarian Church would probably take the matter to court. I would certainly support it in this and I believe many people of right mind, as I would say, would also support it, including some quite surprising people.

What Senator Feeney had to say was very interesting. It is an argument I have heard before. It is probably an argument——

We are not discussing what Senator Feeney said. We are dealing with amendment No. 14.

It relates to the next amendment.

We are not discussing the next amendment. The Senator should speak on amendment No. 14.

I seek clarification from the Minister. He has just said, and also said yesterday, that there would be no circumstances in which a church premises would be required by law to conduct a civil partnership ceremony, nor would any religious official. As one who has been thinking closely about this issue and has tabled certain amendments, I would never have made that claim or expressed that concern. Strangely, I do not know of anyone else who has. It would be very useful if the Minister could indicate the sources of the particular claim that the legislation might act in this way. I am sure there are such sources and it would be no harm if they were put on the record. Who exactly has been claiming that for the purposes of a civil partnership registration ceremony, in particular, sacred spaces, so to speak, might be required to be used? I would be interested to know who has been making that claim; it was certainly not myself.

The Senator could read the newspapers or the debates of the House.

We have had written representations from various people in this regard.

Will the Minister put some of those on record? I do not believe they represent any official bodies. Would that be fair to say?

They are letters to the Department, as they always would be. If anyone wants to receive them, they can get them under the FOI Act.

With regard to Senator Norris's point, the change in regard to the venues for registration of civil marriages was done a number of years ago and it was opened up to allow other premises to be used. Those regulations were framed in such a way that there would be a certain aura around the ceremony of civil marriage so that it would not be in the centre circle of a football stadium, for example. It would be on reasonably honourable premises fit for the celebration of a marriage.

If we pass this legislation, civil partnership registrations will become part of this process and the legislation states it must be in the office of the registrar, unless it is under the suggested exception of a place approved by the HSE. It is then up to the HSE to determine what is a suitable venue. It is not my area of responsibility and I will not have to make a decision on it. I expect the executive to replicate the guidelines for civil marriages in the case of civil partnerships, where it is indicated there should be no recent or continuing connection with any religion or religious practice. There may be a different view on the issue. I expect anybody who queries the matter will have the right to appeal the decision to a higher authority.

To answer a question I see forming on the lips of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, I will not be pressing the amendment. I will comment on the idea of the sacred aura surrounding these various places. One always respects the choices of individuals and I may have been misled by newspaper reports but I clearly recall reading that civil marriages have been performed in public houses and fields.

They have been performed on top of Croagh Patrick.

Yes. On one occasion a ceremony took place in a fairy fort in the south of the country. The interpretation is pretty wide and it would be rather a pity if it did not include a willing church that wished to be included. I expect that they will apply. I note the Minister's urbane response to the matter and I will not push the amendment because it is silly to push these amendments to a vote when I already know what will be the outcome.

Senator Norris has opened up an interesting point, although it may be peripheral to the amendment. If same-sex partners want a religious ceremony, I do not see why they should not have it. We have indicated it is a matter for each church. I agree with Senator Norris in making the point on the registration of a ceremony that if it were possible to include somebody in a church who wanted to be part of a ceremony, it could be registered on the day. We should have had more debate on this, although it may be peripheral to the amendment. There is a bigger and broader issue to be considered.

It is wrong to assume people who are entering a gay partnership would not want to go to a church hall. The only issue involved is that it should be a matter for the owners of the hall. I am certain there are some churches and religious bodies who would want to accommodate that particular type of ceremony. It would be wrong to assume that once the legislation is enacted, some people would not want to go down that road. It is a big assumption on our part.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 16 agreed to.
Sections 17 to 21, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 22

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 29, lines 6 to 12, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:

"(b) by inserting the following subsections after subsection (9):

"(9A) A registrar who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to give a civil partnership registration form to one of the parties to an intended civil partnership in respect of which he or she has received a notification under section 59B(1)(a), or a copy of an exemption order under section 59B(2), commits an offence.

(9B) For the purpose of subsections (4), (9), (9A) and (9C) of this section, a registrar shall be deemed to have reasonable cause where—

(a) The registrar’s refusal or failure to act is based on a conscientious objection to the registration of the marriage or civil partnership grounded in a sincerely held religious or ethical belief, and

(b) The objection is not based on any of the discriminatory grounds identified in section 3, subsection (2), paragraphs (a), (c), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i) of the Equal Status Act, 2000, and

(c) The registrar has given notice in writing to his or her Superintendent Registrar of the said objection and its grounds within one week of appointment as registrar or at least 1 month prior to any refusal or failure to act in reliance on the said objection;

Unless the Superintendent Registrar, having taken all reasonable steps in the management, control and administration of the Civil Registration Service to ensure that the registrar's objection is respected and accommodated, concludes that it is necessary in all the circumstances of a given case for the registrar to register a marriage or civil partnership or give a marriage or civil partnership registration form to one of the parties to an intended marriage or civil partnership in order to avoid undue delay in the provision of the said registration services.

(9C) A registrar who, with reasonable cause, fails or refuses to register a marriage or civil partnership or to give a marriage or civil partnership registration form shall not be taken to discriminate against a person for the purposes of the Equal Status Act 2000.".".

We come to an issue that is of major concern to many people of goodwill. This is one of three amendments which I have proposed, the purpose of which is to protect freedom of conscience in various issues. This amendment concerns the role of a civil registrar. The law currently provides that a registrar who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to provide a marriage registration form or conduct a civil marriage commits an offence. We are aware that in Northern Ireland a person who would commit such an offence might lose their job but in this jurisdiction, under the law as it stands, people are subject to the full rigours of the law and prosecution.

Following on from that logic, this legislation seeks to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004 by providing for similar outcomes for a registrar who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to give a civil partnership registration form to one of the parties to an intended civil partnership in respect of which he or she has received a notification under section 59B(1)(a) or a copy of an exemption order under section 59B(2). In such cases, that person commits an offence.

I am starting from the perspective that there is a balance of rights to be struck in this case. The State has the right to implement a model of civil partnership if that is the will of the majority in the Oireachtas, and at the behest of the Government such a model of civil partnership is created and goes through the Oireachtas. I disagree with substantial parts of this legislation, which perpetuates new forms of injustice and discrimination. Even if I am wrong in that, as a democrat I am quite happy to accept the decision of the Oireachtas as to what our laws on marriage, family and same-sex partnership will be, subject to the Constitution.

A completely separate issue arises because in accepting the majority decision on this — at least the majority of the Oireachtas — a separate question arises for people who in good conscience and not just for religious reasons have difficulties with civil partnership for same-sex couples. There are people who have a profound religious objection to public State recognition of same-sex partnerships, and this does not make them homophobic, as has been claimed in some quarters. In many cases they are people with no problem with people's right to a private life and who would have supported the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between men in 1993.

Such people may subscribe to a different moral view and would not like to be implicated in any way in the facilitation of a contrary moral position repugnant to their own. The question is whether the State has a duty or right to impose this view. I will confine my comments to the position of a State official as separate arguments will be made on the discrete amendments proposed regarding religious or community institutions with a different ethos, or individuals involved in the provision of services. Does the State have the right to oblige such an official to do his or her job in all circumstances, regardless of how repugnant to his or her conscience carrying out his or her job might prove to be? If this matter was the subject of an opinion poll — the trouble with such polls is that the outcome always depends on how one frames the question — most people would agree that there were circumstances in which provision should be made for individual conscience, even in the case of those employed by the State. In the context of the fraught issue of abortion, it would be interesting to examine the laws that obtain in other countries in order to consider whether and how people in the employ of the State might be facilitated in some way in circumstances where they were asked to do something that ran contrary to their own deep personal sense of right and wrong, justice, what constituted good conduct, etc. It is important to bear this in mind.

Much of the debate in the past 24 to 36 hours has tended to denigrate the expression of conscience. I was particularly disappointed by the comments made by Senator Harris who seems to be of the opinion that conscientious objection emanates from some form of twisted religious tradition, according to which people do not think for themselves, hold no moral views of their own, are infantilised by a greater religious authority that tells them what to think and do and are not, in their own right, moral agents who possess a well thought out approach to life.

I ask the Senator to confine his comments to the amendment. We have a long list of speakers and many other amendments with which we must deal. I ask all Members to be brief and concise in their contributions in order that we might have a to and fro debate during which we can deal with the substance of the matter. I ask the Senator for his co-operation.

I will return to the issue of the balance that must be struck. The reason I asked the Minister about who had been claiming that religious officials or premises might be required under this legislation for the carrying out of civil partnership ceremonies was that I had not heard that argument being made by any creditable or reputable sources. As far as I am aware, none of the official church bodies which have commented on this matter raised this issue, although I am open to correction in that regard. However, if they did raise it, the comments gained little traction in the public debate. Just as last evening the Minister asked me to clarify my intentions, I have been asking him to clarify for the avoidance of doubt that he is not choosing to answer questions he has not been asked to avoid replying to those questions which have been posed.

The Senator should ask a direct question.

As stated, the issue that arises relates to the balance which must be struck between the State's right to get the job done in the context of implementing a model of civil partnership and the need to recognise that people may sometimes have a conscientious objection in respect of the matter under discussion. The manner in which I have approached this has been to take the existing legislation which makes provision for registrars who, without reasonable cause, fail in certain ways. It is this failure which provides the circumstances in which a registrar may commit an offence. In amendment No. 15 I provide a definition of what constitutes reasonable cause.

In reply to any possible objections from the Minister or others to the effect that there is already in place legislation which caters for the civil registration of marriages and provides that it is an offence for a civil registrar to fail to comply, I am defining reasonable cause in such a way that it may apply not only to a person who has a conscientious objection in the context of a civil partnership but also to those who may harbour such objections in general as a result of their particular beliefs about marriage and its importance to society. The reason I have framed the amendment in this way is it is important to stress that it is not just for religious reasons,per se, that many have strong feelings about the importance of marriage to society and, therefore, concerns about facilitating marriages, in the context of divorce, or relationships, in the context of civil partnership.

It is in the context of a person's intellectually arrived at sense of the common good in many cases that he or she might harbour a conscientious objection. I am reserving my position on whether I would harbour such an objection in that situation. It does not necessarily follow that because a person might be a practising Catholic, Muslim or member of the Church of Ireland he or she would have a problem,per se, with the provisions of the legislation. It is the job of the House to legislate prospectively. Senator Feeney stated gay couples would not want to visit Ely Place and the Minister has stated no representations have been made to him to date by any of the bodies representing public officials.

The building in Ely Place to which Senator Feeney referred is a very fine house. It belonged to my great grandfather's cousin.

I hope Senator Norris is not obliged to pay an admission fee when he visits it. The least those who are responsible for it could do is recognise the Senator's noble antecedents.

Senator Mullen should speak to the amendment.

Our job is to legislate prospectively for what might happen in the future. It is also our job to legislate for the tiny minority who might not dare to express their views to either their trade unions or representative bodies or who might have a difficulty in expressing these views in the light of the overwhelming media consensus on this issue.

What is interesting about liberalism and facilitating freedom of conscience is that, in some ways, the smaller the group involved the greater the care that we must take not to trample on individuals who might possess an alternative point of view.

As exemplified, perhaps, by the Iona Institute.

I would answer that heckle if there was any quality to it.

The Senator should not seek to answer it. We are engaging in a debate on the amendment.

However, as there was no quality to it, I will not be distracted.

The Senator has made the point about a person's objections not necessarily being based on religious grounds on two occasions.

I am glad the Acting Chairman has been listening to my contribution.

I have indulged the Senator who is entitled to make his comments, but he is trying my patience to a degree.

I do not intend to do so.

Good. Shall we proceed with the debate?

However, in the best tradition of the barrister before the court, I will not be diverted from setting out, fully and properly, the background to and context of the amendment——

I have no intention of diverting the Senator.

——even if it takes a good while longer for me to do so. The Acting Chairman has been warned. There is important material with which we must deal.

I accept that. However, I ask the Senator to be brief and concise in his comments.

Brevity is a recipe for legislation that is not well thought out.

The word "concise" is appropriate.

It is sometimes necessary to go into the detail.

I ask the Senator to proceed in a concise manner.

I cannot argue against the need to be concise.

The issue relates to the balance which needs to be struck. The amendment proposes to strike that balance by defining what should constitute reasonable cause. The first requirement is that the refusal or failure to act should be based on a conscientious objection to the registration of the marriage or civil partnership and that such an objection must be grounded in a sincerely held religious or ethical belief. That is the first test they must satisfy.

The second test a registrar must satisfy is that his or her objection cannot be based on any of a range of discriminatory grounds provided for in the Equal Status Act. These grounds include discriminating on grounds of race or membership of the Traveller community. A registrar can harbour a conscientious objection based on grounds relating to marital status or sexual orientation because there are legitimate and fundamental differences between people's viewpoints on these issues. If ours is to be a genuinely pluralist society, we must take account of this fact. The third hurdle the conscientious objector will have to meet is that he or she will have to give "notice in writing to his or her Superintendent Registrar of the said objection and its grounds within one week of [his or her] appointment as registrar or at least 1 month prior to any refusal or failure to act in reliance on the said objection". In addition, such a person cannot avail of the conscientious objection "Unless the Superintendent Registrar, having taken all reasonable steps ... to ensure that the registrar's objection is respected and accommodated, concludes" it is not necessary "in all the circumstances of a given case for the registrar" to carry out the job anyway. In other words, the objector will not be facilitated if that would lead to "undue delay in the provision of the said registration services".

The last part of amendment No. 15 ensures not only that an objector will not be reached by the criminal law under the 2004 Act but also that a person in such circumstances, having been facilitated by the superintendent registrar, will not be reached by the provisions of the Equal Status Act 2000 either. This part of the amendment has been included for the sake of completeness.

This amendment proposes to put in place a set of hurdles. This provision will be confined to circumstances in which the person can be facilitated without causing undue delay, in which the person has flagged his or her objection in due time, in which the objection is based on "a sincerely held religious or ethical belief", and in which that position is not based on any of a range of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

It is important that we make this change. Yesterday, Senator Dan Boyle pooh-poohed the concept of conscience. At the core of this proposal is an understanding of the value to any civilised society of respect for conscience. Senator Boyle quoted from "Hamlet" the line "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all." It has been a long time since I heard in this House a quote so taken out of context. It is taken from Hamlet's soliloquy in which he contemplates taking his own life.

Really. One would never have guessed.

It is the same soliloquy in which Hamlet says: "To sleep, perchance to dream."

We are about to do that.

It continues:

Ay, there's the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.

I hope there is a point to this quotation and that it is relevant.

It continues:

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of.

I like this soliloquy.

It is in that context——

I hope we are coming to the end of the Senator's soliloquy.

Senators

Hear, hear.

I would love to give the Chair some reassurance on that point. It is in the context of that soliloquy that Hamlet says, "Conscience does make cowards of us all." Shakespeare is suggesting that our awareness of the consequences of what we do is what makes "cowards of us all". We become cowards when we realise what the possible outcomes of what we do may be. That is why Senator Boyle's quotation is highly relevant, albeit unintentionally. If we, as a Legislature, fail to make proper provision for people of conscience, who may no longer have the majority view in our society——

On a point of order, it is a convention of the House that Members speak through the Chair.

I was just straightening——

My back muscles were temporarily out of kilter.

The Senator seemed to be speaking to the audience behind him.

Senator Mullen's points have been well made.

It is for people who have a different moral position to assess, in their own hearts and minds, where their truth is. That is why Senator Boyle's quotation was a most unhelpful one. It was also unhelpful of Senator McDonald to say yesterday that a conscience opt-out would be a form of "bigotry".

I said it would be "dressed up bigotry".

I accept that amendment.

It is not an amendment; it is a clarification.

That is what she said.

I have said I will accept her amendment.

It was a memorable phrase.

It does not improve the situation one iota.

I am not amending what I said; I am reminding the Senator that the term I used was "dressed up bigotry".

I accept the Senator's correction.

It stuck in my mind in the context of this debate.

It does not improve her position one iota.

I would be more inclined to worry about Senator Mullen's position.

I assure Senator O'Toole I am happy with my position.

Senator Mullen has laid out his amendment. Perhaps it is time to open out the debate.

No, this is important.

If the Senator says so.

Senator McDonald said that such a provision would be a form of "dressed up bigotry". At the same time she claimed, without any sense of irony or contradiction that "tolerance is about [allowing others] to make choices" with which one might not agree. There has been a lack of refined thinking in this forum about the meaning of conscience and its precise limitations. The Chair will be delighted to hear I am withholding my response to Senator Harris's regrettable comments until the debate on a later amendment. Instead, I will put on the record the contents of a letter I received from two people who——

I will not allow that unless the letter is relevant to amendment No. 15.

It is entirely relevant.

The Senator has been speaking for 20 minutes. No one else has been able to make a contribution.

There is no time limit.

I ask the Chair not to try to——

The Senator must observe relevance to the amendment.

I assure the Chair that this is relevant.

In the Senator's opinion.

The letter in question, which was written by Mr. Patrick Ryan and Mr. David Nelson, states: "We respectfully request that before passing this bill you consider a number of possibly unintended consequences, and accept amendments being proposed to rectify them".

On a point of order, it is a tradition in this House — it may be one of the rules of the House — that people outside the House should not be named because they are not in a position to defend themselves. The Senator has done this most unscrupulously. I would like to know whether he has permission to name these people and to quote from their letter. Even if he has such permission, it is outside the tradition of this House and the rulings of the Chair for people to be named in this fashion.

It is as if butter would not melt in the Senator's mouth. Has he ever broken that rule?

Only with the greatest of refinement.

The Senator is correct to say it is not customary to mention people's names.

I would be grateful if their names were removed from the record. However, I propose to put on the record the contents of their letter, in which their concerns are expressed. That is what I am paid to do as a legislator. The letter continues:

The right of conscientious objection is a matter for each individual in a matter which he considers serious enough to exercise his conscience. An example is a conscientious objection to the killing of animals in blood sports but not to their killing in abattoirs, without any inconsistency to his general moral position. The Minister's contention that a registrar might use such a conscientious objection clause to discriminate on the basis of colour, fat or thin, young or old is insulting to a registrar's sense of moral proportion. This attitude would trivialise same sex unions and regard them as matters of little moral concern.

I am going to ask the Senator to pause there. This letter is not relevant. He can quote letters from five other people who have corresponded with him

Excuse me, a Chathaoirligh Ghníomhach. It is relevant.

I do not see its relevance to the amendment before the House.

The Chair should listen to the next paragraph of the letter.

The Senator should cut it short.

It states:

With regard to the punishment proposed to registrars [How is that not relevant?] for refusing in conscience to carry out same sex unions we consider this to be totally against the right of conscience particularly as same sex unions involve not trivial considerations of conscience but a very serious one.

I think that is relevant. The letter continues:

A specific provision could be included in the bill supporting the right of conscience objection on the part of registrars specifically and only in respect of same sex unions. We would also like to protect the rights of religious organisations.

I will hold off on that because it is not relevant. I have read the relevant part of the letter. I would like to mention something else that is relevant. The Preamble to the UN Declaration of Human Rights states:

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

Article 1 of the declaration states:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 18 states:

Everyone has the right——

On a point of order, how is this relevant to amendment No. 15? The Senator has quoted extensively——

This is just a filibuster.

It is making a mockery of the House.

Many other Members wish to speak concisely on this amendment.

Many of us on both sides of the House feel strongly about this amendment.

If we are to be fair, we should give others a chance to speak on it. Senator Mullen is filibustering now.

I take Senator Bacik's point. Senator Mullen has spoken for in excess——

On a point of order——

Just a moment, please. The Chair is speaking. Senator Mullen has spoken for in excess of 23 minutes. This is a debating forum. I have consistently asked him to try to be concise in his contributions. He rightly said that as there is no time limit on Committee Stage, I cannot curtail his speaking time. I am asking him to have consideration for the other Members of this House, who are equally important as legislators as he is.

I have a higher duty——

Senator Mullen should allow them to contribute.

——to show consideration to people who might be put in prison as a result of this iniquitous provision.

The Senator should respect the Chair.

It is not necessarily in order for the Senator to quote from four or five letters from ten or 20 people. That gives those people direct access to the debate in this Chamber.

There are people elected to this Chamber who have higher authority to be here. I ask the Senator to have consideration.

That is a very dangerous and elitist position to adopt, on which I ask the Acting Chairman to reflect. It does not reflect the spirit of this institution that Members in this Chamber somehow have higher privilege than those they represent.

People elected to this Chamber have authority to speak and be heard.

If Senator Mullen does not understand that, he should resign and give back——

I will not argue with Senator Mullen.

People elected to this Chamber have a right of audience.

Senator Ó Murchú wishes to raise a point of order.

On a point of order, I would like the Acting Chairman to help us in this regard because it is evident the debate will continue for some hours and the issue she mentions will impact on the remainder of the debate. As I understand it, Senator Mullen's main point relates to conscience. Everything I have heard from him so far is related; in fairness, he is doing the House a service by providing us with the information.

By quoting Hamlet.

If I am wrong about this, the Acting Chairman might tell me because it will impact on the remainder of the debate.

One could speak all day on the issue of conscience. Senator Mullen may talk and, as Senator Bacik said, he may filibuster, if he so chooses——

That is not what I choose to do.

What is more, I resent the fact that the Acting Chairman is taking the side of Senator Bacik by going to the heart of my motivation——

Senator, please. I am speaking——

——and accusing me of filibustering. In my honest——

Senator Mullen has no respect for the Chair.

I have every respect for the Chair. I just wish it was——

This is a debating chamber. Senator Mullen, you finally went through the amendment, which is what a Member is asked to do. I now ask you to desist, out of consideration for other Members. This is not the only opportunity you will have to speak on the amendment. It is in the interests of everybody that the opinions of others are heard also. Our responsibility is to allow debate, which means we should hear more than one voice. I ask you to wrap up and give the next speaker, Senator Doherty, an opportunity to make his contribution.

I am sorry. What the Acting Chairman said would make sense if there was a time limit. I am prepared to hear in full everybody's opinion. What is at issue is the willingness of the Acting Chairman and certain other Members to hear in full my opinions. This is a serious issue. We are talking about people going to jail. Let us not be so mindless as to pretend that we can dispose of these issues neatly——

We need to bring everything else into the debate. We can speak on the subject concisely.

——to allow politicians to return home to their constituencies by 5 p.m.

Senator, I ask you to continue with the debate on the amendment.

However, that is not my concern. Senators can take a coffee break if they wish and read the blacks later, but I will state what is important and I am not——

Senator, you are not being relevant.

I find this extraordinarily patronising and insulting. It is not appropriate to the House.

I am not filibustering.

Senator Mullen, you are being a bully in this Chamber.

You are outrageous.

I am not seeking to filbuster.

Senator Mullen, please resume your contribution and make it concise and relevant.

This is all about a majority oppressing a minority. How appropriate.

You said on RTE that you would delay proceedings and that is exactly what you are doing.

Parties which would not even allow their members a free vote are now seeking to gang up on one Member

Senator Mullen, I have asked you to be relevant.

——who has a mandate to go to the heart of the issue.

What my party does with its members is of no relevance to you, a non-party Member.

Senator Feeney should speak through the Chair, please.

Whether Senator Feeney likes it, I am sticking by Standing Orders. As I said, Article 18 correctly provides that everybody has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This includes freedom to change religion and belief, either alone or in community with others, and, in public and private, to manifest his or her religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. In other words, a person does not only exercise conscience in the buildings of whatever religious organisation he or she happens to be a member; he or she may wish to exercise it without being a member of any religious tradition. Conscience is——

The Senator is repeating himself.

Conscience is about standing up for what one believes in. The Chair will be glad to hear that I will conclude shortly, but before I do I will mention why it is so necessary for us to discuss this issue in detail. The reason is that there have been problems in other jurisdictions. I will not mention New Jersey, but in the United Kingdom, for example, Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close because they would not accept same-sex couples as prospective adoptive parents. The diocese of San Francisco was forced to alter its pension scheme to recognise the partners of employees.

There is another problem in that the Minister has sought to claim there would be many undesirable and unintended consequences if one were to make the slightest provision for the conscience of a State official. I have been critical of him because he has not been willing to meet critics of the Bill outside this forum. We could have ironed out this problem by showing just how possible it was to write narrow amendments that would not give comfort to bigots, wife-beaters and so on. For example, the Minister stated a court clerk might refuse to issue divorce orders because of a religious belief. He said a fundamentalist Christian garda might refuse to arrest a person who had breached a safety order on the basis that a husband was entitled to chastise his wife. He said a judge might refuse to register a power of attorney in favour of a person's civil partner. In his most Islamophobic moment he said a Muslim — or a Mormon — accident and emergency doctor might refuse to treat a person for alcohol poisoning. He said a social welfare official might refuse to pay carer's allowance to a person's civil partner and that a probate officer might refuse to issue a grant of administration to a deceased person's civil partner. Of course, these are the lines people wrote for the Minister, the convenient rhetorical points which take no account of legal possibilities to arrive at something much more nuanced.

Senator Mullen, in accordance with Standing Order 48, your contribution has concluded. I call the next speaker, Senator Doherty.

May I have 30 seconds?

I am sorry. Will the Chair please quote the relevant Standing Order to me?

Standing Order 48 states a Senator who persists in irrelevance or repetition in a debate, or who, in the opinion of the Cathaoirleach, is speaking for the purpose of obstructing business, may be directed by the Cathaoirleach to discontinue his speech after the attention of the Seanad and-or the committee has been called to his conduct.

Is the Chair saying——

Excuse me. On a point of order, is the Chair ruling that what I have just said is somehow irrelevant?

No. What I am bringing to your attention is the fact that you have spoken for in excess of 32 minutes, during which I repeatedly asked you to stop repeating yourself and moving away from the point of the amendment to irrelevancies.

Now that I am on a relevant point——

I have ruled on the matter. I call Senator Doherty.

On a further point of order, will the Chair allow me to speak further on the amendment?

You are entitled to speak further on it.

On that basis, I will resume my seat.

I have no problem with Senator Mullen speaking on the amendment for the rest of the day, regardless of how difficult it is to listen to the words coming from his mouth. The amendment goes to the heart of the legislation. The Senator acted the same way yesterday and will continue in the same way today, with support from others, nitpicking and turning the legislation on its head.

Yesterday I stated my party and I supported the Bill because of our commitment to equality. The Bill does not go far enough, but if this amendment were to be accepted, the incremental advances we have achieved in the legislation would be rolled back. We are being asked to carve out an exception for those civil registrars who do not believe in the principle of non-discrimination so far as gays and lesbians are concerned. This would defeat the entire purpose of anti-discrimination laws. The amendment is worded in such a way as to avoid a precedent being set. It would not allow those who have not come to terms with the increasing diversity of Irish society to refuse to serve mixed race couples. Clearly, this is being done for the sake of expediency because there is no logic to the argument that one form of conscientious objection is wrong and another is not, nor is it the case, as Senator Mullen has argued, that there is universal agreement on the issue. Let us not forget that only last year a judge in the state of Louisiana refused to marry an inter-racial couple. No doubt there are still those who believe that Protestants and Catholics should not marry. There are many in the Six Counties who particularly hold that view.

(Interruptions).

With respect to Senator Mullen, I said I would have no problem listening to him speak on this amendment for the rest of day and I did not interrupt him. It is a reality that people still hold a strong view based on the religious beliefs that Protestants and Catholics should not marry. Many of those who hold that view are in the Six Counties. I ask Members to imagine the reaction of Senator Ó Murchú or Senator Walsh if registrars in the Six Counties were given the right to refuse to carry out ceremonies in such cases. We would lambaste that type of discrimination and it is right that we would do so, but that type of discrimination and what is being proposed here are two sides of the same coin.

The amendment's proposers have evoked the Constitution's guarantees of freedoms — freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion, but the Bill as proposed would do nothing to limit those freedoms. They are, a letter in today's edition ofThe Irish Times notes, freedoms granted to the citizen. A civil registrar acting in the course of his or her duties is acting on behalf of the State. Registrars remain free to discriminate, if they must, in their personal lives but nothing in the Constitution entitles them to subject a person who comes to them, seeking a service of this State, to differential treatment based on their own personal morality. As the amendment would undermine the limited degree of equality provided by this Bill, my party and I will oppose it.

Senator Mullen mentioned a list of issues which the Minister gave as examples if we were to apply the conscientious clause across the board. I agree with the Minister in this regard. I will examine how this would apply if we were to expand it to members of the gardaí without talking account of workers in the health service, Muslims or mixed race marriages. I will give the example of a member of the gardaí who was to investigate abuse in a gay relationship and who refused to investigate it because of his or her principled stance on this issue.

That has happened.

It is ridiculous that members of the gardaí who are employed by the State can discriminate in this way. The proposed amendment is disgusting——

——and it should be rejected outright by this House.

Senator Doherty has put the matter extremely well. He has gone right to the heart of the matter. A registrar acts on behalf of the State, on behalf of the people, and he or she must implement the law. Once the law is passed, that must happen.

Senator Mullen made me feel young again. I thought I was in a kindergarten being instructed laboriously by an inexperienced teacher. I found his analysis of Shakespeare wrong-headed but intriguing. I would have referred rather to Dickens. Uriah Heep comes to my mind immediately.

The Senator is not very humble, that is for sure.

Moving on to the principal points I wish to make, I endorse 100% what Senator Doherty said with great dignity and, unlike myself, never having interrupted, although he was churlishly interrupted.

As I understand it, no single registrar in this State has made any formal objection to this legislation. Therefore, Senator Mullen, having colonised my feelings and having interpreted Shakespeare's mind, now represents the registrars as well. There seems to be a slight touch of megalomania.

I ask the Senator to speak to the amendment.

I am speaking to the amendment. I am talking about the fact that no registrar and no trade union has raised this matter. Therefore, it seems to be unrealistic.

I agree with the Senator on one point. It would not be at all appropriate for a registrar in these circumstances to go to jail. There are a large number of matters on which it is inappropriate for people to go to jail. I deplore the building of extra jails and I believe the number of them should be reduced. I submitted a proposal to the effect that it is idiotic to put women — or anyone for that matter, but I was thinking of the case of a person who did not pay a television licence — in jail and the taxpayer then had to pay——

That is not relevant to the amendment.

I want to make this point, and I am coming to it, but I accept the Acting Chairman's ruling, of course.

I do not mind if it is not relevant. I am enjoying the Senator.

This is not for the Senator's entertainment.

It would be wrong to penalise the taxpayer by having to pay for the jailing of a registrar, if this were true, who did not abide by this legislation. If a registrar refuses to do this by his or her stated intention of refusing to implement the law, he or she has automatically ruled himself or herself out.

Another point is that the Senator used a nasty way to make a smear, and I did not like it. I do not at all find it appropriate that the celebration of either a marriage or a civil union should be compared, as Senator Mullen has done, to an abortion. I respectfully ask him to withdraw that phrase immediately from the record of the House.

The tests that he gave were sincerity of belief. I have no idea how Senator Mullen or anyone charged with operating these tests would know whether someone's belief is sincerely held. It seems to be an absurd and hypothetical matter.

Senator Mullen and his colleague, and they include, sadly, another Member of the Independent benches who poses as having great concern for the——

I ask the Senator to speak to the amendment. He does not need to comment on what people are doing.

No, I am making a very clear point and then I will sit down.

The very same people insisted on the inclusion in equality legislation of an exemption for the churches so that teachers could potentially be fired. There is no difficulty with the firing of teachers simply because they are gay, but, on the other hand, we cannot ensure a registrar fulfils the job for which he or she was paid.

Can the Acting Chairman tell me how many minutes I spoke and how many minutes Senator Mullen spoke?

Time is not normally observed, but I know, and it was less than five minutes.

Thank you. There is a time limit for this debate. Every time we exceed our time allocation, we take time from other Members.

There is no time limit.

The debate is to conclude by 5.30 p.m.

It is to adjourn at that time.

I can assure the Acting Chairman that I will be taking fewer than five minutes.

The Senator should speak to the amendment.

I will. I do not mean to get on the right side of the Acting Chairman——

I am sure the Senator means the wrong side.

I compliment the Acting Chairman on the wonderful way she is chairing the debate. She has been very fair and very firm-handed, on which I compliment her.

The Senator would not be biased.

I would like, as Senator Norris has done, to highlight the importance of the fact that no trade union has sought an opt-out clause. If trade unions are not seeking an opt-out clause and they represent the majority of public sector workers, we should not be even talking about an opt-out clause. The Acting Chairman was not in the Chair at the time but I got confused as to what amendment I was speaking to a few minutes ago and I thought I was speaking to this amendment when I explained I am a nominee of the labour panel, as is Senator Hanafin. We are well aware of the workings of the trade unions——

The Senator seems to be in danger of being repetitive. I have no objection.

Please allow Senator Feeney to continue, without interruption.

——and the respect trade unions attach to the area of equality. I will go further and say I am well aware because I have been contacted by members of trade unions who have asked me to speak on this amendment and to say that if they wanted an opt-out clause, they would have gone through the proper channels and lobbied the Minister for appropriate amendments. They have not done do. I repeat they represent the majority of public sector workers in this country.

The opt-out clause is not emanating from workers, rather it is emanating from a small minority of Independent Senators in this Chamber. I heard Independent Senator Mullen on "Today with Pat Kenny" a number of mornings ago. When Pat Kenny put it to him that he could do nothing to bring down the Bill he agreed, but he threw in a lovely remark with a laugh in his tone when he said, "But we can delay it". I am sad to be part——

On a point of order, Senator Feeney is completely misrepresenting what I said on that programme. I was explaining the position of the Seanad which is that the most we can do is delay legislation.

That is not a point of order.

That is not a point of order. Senator Feeney, resume your contribution. Senator Mullen, sit down.

I thank Senator Alex White.

I meant a point of clarification. I got my terminology wrong.

Read Standing Orders.

I thank the Senator but I will Chair the meeting.

We had such wonderful Second Stage speeches here yesterday and everybody got an opportunity to say what they said. Not one person supporting this Bill did not recognise the hard work and craftsmanship which went into bringing the Bill to its current form. Everybody said what an important Bill it was. It saddens me that we are now being almost preached and dictated to by people who feel——

I ask the Senator to speak to the amendment.

——-that they have a higher moral ground than anybody else. The majority of Senators support the Bill. As we saw from the votes yesterday there were 46 or 48 votes to five.

Senator, on the amendment please.

It is hard not to conclude that this amendment, tabled by Senator Mullen and other Independent Senators, is being used as pretext——

There are Government Senators, not Independent Senators.

——for opposition to the entire Bill.

They are mainly Independent Senators.

They are mainly Fianna Fáil Senators.

They are Independent. They are no longer under the Fianna Fáil Whip.

Senator Feeney, on the amendment.

The current equality legislation, which we have spoken about often enough in this House, I am glad to say has stood the test of time. There is no evidence to say that a pub, bar or hotel has been disadvantaged in any way by treating all its customers with the same level of respect and dignity. I ask the Senators who have opposing views to the majority of Senators to bear that respect in mind and exercise a little of it.

For the record, there are two Independent Senators who sponsored this amendment.

I agree with Senator Doherty. It is helpful that Senator Mullen spoke at length to this amendment because I found the more he spoke and grasped different arguments and straws to support his argument it so obviously became threadbare. It is hard to know what is the purpose of the exercise. I am trying to examine the basis of why he and other Senators tabled this amendment. It boils down to a hostility towards gay people.

That is outrageous. On a point of order, I ask the Senator to withdraw that remark.

It is not a point of order.

That is not a point of order, Senator.

I think it is——

It must relate to procedure. This is nothing to do with——

I ask the Acting Chairman to take advice from——

Senator, I am tired of shouting over you. When I am speaking I ask you to allow me to be heard. That is not a point of order.

I do not think you did because I am sick of being interrupted by you. A point of order relates to procedure. The Senator in possession has merely offered an opinion. I ask the Senator to please be seated. I ask the Senator in possession to resume his contribution.

May I ask for a clarification on whether it is appropriate for one of my colleagues to accuse another Member of hostility towards a group in our society?

I said that because I want to know what is so distasteful about a civil partnership registration that it can give rise to a crisis of conscience. It is one thing for our conscience to guide our behaviour but it is another matter when we seek to impose our extreme views on others. That is what is at the heart of this.

Senator Mullen is a lawyer and I will quote the law to him. There is a case in the United Kingdom, Islington Borough Councilv. Ladele:

The claimant, a registrar of births, marriages and deaths, was required by the respondent council to conduct civil partnerships between persons of the same sex in accordance with the Civil Partnership Act 2004. She refused on the ground that such unions were contrary to her Christian beliefs, and she was subjected to a disciplinary hearing on the ground that her refusal was contrary to the council's equality and diversity policy. She made a claim to an employment tribunal that she had been discriminated against, directly and indirectly, on the ground of her religion.

The position of the court and the logic adopted there is instructive in this matter. She lost her case. The Employment Appeals Tribunal held:

[T]hat the view that the requirement that all registrars perform civil partnership functions was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim and that the council was entitled to adopt as a legitimate objective an unambiguous commitment to the non-discriminatory provisions of services by all staff and it followed that they were entitled to require all registrars to perform the full range of services. The tribunal held that the claimant could not pick and choose what duties she would perform depending on whether they accorded with her religious views. At least where her personal stance involved discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation which was inconsistent with the council's non-discriminatory objectives, accordingly the council's refusal to accommodate the claimant's religious belief did not involve indirect discrimination. The tribunal held that the freedom to manifest religious beliefs under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as scheduled to the Human Rights Act, did not apply where it involved discriminating on groups Parliament had provided were unlawful, such as the right of same sex partners to have their partnerships recognised by law.

That is jurisprudence which is equally applicable in Ireland.

Senator Mullen has undermined his own case. He said what is at issue is that there is a right to pass legalisation which is necessary "To get the job done".

Parliament is deciding that it is appropriate to have legislation to acknowledge, recognise and have a system of registration of civil partnership. It is a legitimate objective. The question is whether the means to achieve that objective are reasonable and proportionate. That is the decision we are making and in the debate to date we have considered it is legitimate and proportionate to have the means to achieve the objective that people who are in the public employ are obliged to register civil partnership unions. That is the objective and the means to achieve it. It is appropriate that the Bill makes provisions to ensure that it is done. On principle and law the Senator is wrong and I urge that the House reject the amendment.

My party and I have a fundamental objection to this amendment and Senator Alex White put our objections very forcefully yesterday in his Second Stage speech. We believe the so-called freedom of conscience clause amounts to a rather obvious attempt to undermine the purpose of the Bill. Senator McDonald correctly described it as dressed up bigotry. It is a fig leaf to cover what would otherwise be blatant prejudice. Other speakers have made the point that it would be a mandate to discriminate under the guise of so-called genuinely held religious or ethical beliefs. Senator Doherty outlined some of the scenarios that might arise if we allowed this precedent to come into effect. Another example that springs to mind is of State officials refusing to register children born to cohabiting couples. The sort of law contemplated in the amendment would be appropriate in a theocracy but not in a republic which holds the separation of church and state to be a fundamental principle. I am glad that the Minister is setting his face against the amendment. Most of use agree that we should leave our views of religion at the door when we legislate.

The registrars have not requested this amendment. Their ears must be burning when they hear others purporting to speak for them. I am reminded of the apocryphal story that de Valera looked into his heart to know what others were thinking. It is all very well to look into one's heart to know what registrars may be thinking but it also belittles and demeans them. Registrars are impeccable public servants——

——and there has been no indication that they are seeking this sort of opt-out clause. As Senator Regan has pointed out, there is no issue.

In regard to the technical import of the amendment and what it purports to amend, Part 7 of the Civil Registration Act 2004, which deals with marriage, allows registered solemnisers from different churches to solemnise marriages. The Bill before us sets out a different means of registering civil partnerships through a new Part 7A to be inserted by section 16 and new sections 59A to 59I. These rules are rather different from those pertaining to the registration of marriage in that only a registrar may register a civil partnership. There is no question of persons other than public registrars employed by the HSE being involved. Under section 59E, the venue would have to be agreed by the registrar if it is other than his or her office.

A number of Senators have spoken about criminalisation of registrars but section 22 simply adds a provision to section 69 of the 2004 Act, which is the general section providing for offences. The 2004 Act already provides that it is an offence for a registrar to delete or alter information contained in a register or index contrary to the Act or to refuse or fail to register a birth, still birth, marriage or death without reasonable cause. The Bill simply expands this category of offences to include omissions or failures to register civil partnerships. It is entirely appropriate that we would see these sorts of offence and penalties, which are standard for minor offences, set out in section 70 in respect of public officials who are privy to all sorts of sensitive information on individuals who seek to register births, marriages and civil partnerships. No one objected to those offences being included in the 2004 Act and there can be no valid objection to the extension of these offences and penalties to include civil partnerships.

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 already provides opt-outs for religious run schools and hospitals. Many of us strenuously object to these opt-outs because they provide a mandate to discriminate against persons who offend an institution's ethos. This principle is wrong and we certainly should not extend it in any way. Catholic run, State funded schools already impose an obligation on teachers to teach Catholic religious doctrine. This should no longer prevail in a secular republic but it is an argument for another day.

This amendment is an attempt to undermine and destabilise the legislation dressed up in the language of freedom of conscience. We should look forward to celebrating the first civil partnership ceremonies conducted by professional registrars in the employment of the State. These red herrings should not be discussed because they simply are not an issue.

I completely agree with Senator Bacik. The amendment raises a number of questions, one of which is the motivation behind it. Having listened at length to certain Senators over the past 24 hours, it is clear from the explanation for this amendment that a different agenda is being pursued.

I commend the Minister on the strength of his argument in regard to public servants. This is not an issue for church or canon law. These are public servants who are employed by the State. They are required to uphold and implement the law and they can have no excuse for not doing so. I am in complete agreement with the Minister and he needs to face down the critics.

The proposed amendment states: "The registrar's refusal or failure to act is based on a conscientious objection to the registration of the marriage or civil partnership grounded in a sincerely held religious or ethical belief". I ask how one can prove that an ethical belief is sincerely held. I have come across many people who claimed to hold sincere held beliefs against homosexuality of same-sex couples. They may regard their beliefs as sincerely held but others would simply regard them as homophobia. While I do not think any registrar is of that ilk, this amendment would put into law the potential to discriminate.

I note Senator Mullen's argument that the legislation perpetuates new forms of injustice and discrimination. I have not received a single submission from the more than 100 registrars employed in this country. The Minister has stated that he has not received correspondence. I am not sure whether any Member has received correspondence from a registrar on this issue.

Clearly, some Senators are looking into their own hearts and seeing things that are not there. I cannot accept that the amendment is being put forward for any purpose other than to wreck this Bill or to diminish the rights it would afford to same-sex couples.

We certainly will not be supporting it.

I totally object to this amendment. It is badly worded, stating: "A registrar who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to give a civil partnership registration form to one of the parties to an intended civil partnership ... commits an offence", whereas "A registrar who, with reasonable cause, fails or refuses to register a marriage or civil partnership or to give a marriage or civil partnership registration form shall not be taken to discriminate against a person for the purposes of the Equal Status Act 2000." It attempts to make an exemption under the 2000 Act in respect of civil partnership ceremonies but, as I stated yesterday, that is nothing but dressed up bigotry.

I also stated yesterday that we would create a moral hazard were we to allow officials to pick and choose what they want to do. We would run into chaos. Many people in this country have heartfelt views on Travellers, ageism or even women. They are entitled to these views but they should keep them in their own minds. The process of acting on such thoughts is called discrimination. The State and its Legislature do not allow that.

Senators spoke about Hamlet.

The Senator should speak to the amendment.

I am speaking to the amendment. I am responding to Senator Mullen's description of my comments on tolerance as lacking refined thinking. I believe Hamlet also said Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

While they were not the words of Hamlet, they are certainly true.

On the subject of Hamlet, he was not a great family man and appeared to be confused in respect of family principles. As I stated, the proposal is not acceptable in a democracy such as this and we cannot support it.

I will refrain from engaging in soliloquies and such like. This is a most important issue which goes to the heart of the republic we want to create, namely, one that is inclusive, non-discriminatory and tolerant. As a result of some of the comments made today, the debate today does not reflect the quality of debate yesterday.

I ask the Senator to speak to the amendment.

If I am seeking tolerance in a republic, I must practise restraint. For this reason, I will not respond to the pejorative remarks made by other speakers.

The Senator should speak to the amendment.

I received advice from GLEN that pejorative words such as "bigoted" and "homophobic" would be levelled at us, but we should have the courage to speak our minds on these matters. May I contrast the debate on this issue——

The Senator may do so provided it is relevant to the amendment.

If the Acting Chairman allows me to continue, it will become clear that this matter is closely related to the amendment. I will contrast the debate in the Houses of Parliament in Britain which was held within the past six months with the debate in this House. During the debate in the Britain the former head of the judiciary in England and Wales, Lord Mackay, stated equality laws should not force people to provide goods and services in a way that conflicted with their conscience. Tabling an amendment to the Equality Bill which he subsequently withdrew before a vote could be taken, he argued that current laws should be more flexible to accommodate differing points of view. He cited the example of printers, both from the point of view of same-sex printers being forced to print matter alien to their views and——

What is a same-sex printer? I am confused.

He also noted that the British Government's argument on the law did not provide sufficient flexibility for conscience. The contrast between the debate in the Britain and the views expressed by Senators who disagree with the proposal before us is clear because those arguing against Lord Mackay's amendment agreed that greater flexibility was needed to accommodate conscience.

I direct the following remarks to the Minister. The Minister sponsoring the UK legislation, Baroness Thornton, suggested employers could take practical measures to respect the private views of their staff. She cited specifically the example of a registrar — this is pertinent to this debate — stating that "if an individual registrar does not want to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because of their religious beliefs, a local authority could arrange for a different registrar to conduct the ceremony if there is one available." Senator Regan referred to the Ladelle case which was also referred to in the debate in the House of Lords when a Lord stated the relevant local authority was not prepared to work in the manner described by Baroness Thornton. This matter should be addressed in the context of labour relations.

While we have been challenged on this matter, we have had the benefit of a meeting with the Minister and his officials, at which we examined this issue. We can see both sides of the argument and do not want people who have prejudiced views to be in a position to use the veil of conscience to engage in discriminatory actions against people who are gay or, for that matter, any minorities. We will discuss later an amendment we have tabled proposing a conscience clause in relation to religious ethos and on which we take a different view from the view we hold in this case. We were reinforced in our belief by the unreasonable attitude taken by a group of people outside the Houses last week who were criticised from all sides. Its intolerant approach, whether directed at Members of the House or minorities, was unacceptable and I have no truck with it.

I propose briefly to discuss one further interesting example.

It must be relevant to the amendment.

It is very relevant. Senator Regan referred to developing jurisprudence on the neighbouring island in respect of the Ladelle case and its Employment Appeals Tribunal. A very interesting case arose in which a person who had strong beliefs on climate change took serious issue with the chief executive of his company and lost his job as a consequence. When the Employment Appeals Tribunal found against him, he took an appeal to the courts which ruled that, as a result of his genuine beliefs on climate change, the plaintiff should be afforded the same protection as that afforded to religious belief in British law. Christian groups have objected to the ruling and I do not make a case for it. I am merely highlighting the developing views on this matter which needs to be examined.

To clarify our position, we believe there are conflicting priorities between freedom of conscience and the absolute entitlement not to be discriminated against. As a consequence, we did not table the amendment and while we will not support it, we will not oppose it because the issue needs to be addressed in a manner that gives reassurance and protection to people of conscience, regardless of whether they provide individual services or work for the State. We will oppose the criminalisation of such persons through the sanctions included in the Bill.

On a point of clarification, virtually the entire executive and founding members of GLEN are in the Visitors Gallery and they have no notion or knowledge of the statement——

There is no point of clarification procedure. I ask the Senator to resume his seat.

I promise to be brief and confine my remarks to the amendment. I concur with Senator Walsh that the amendment goes to the heart of the republic we want to create. If we were to pass it, we would create a homophobic, intolerant and discriminatory state. The fundamental question the amendment raises is what do the proposers have against gay people.

Senator Walsh described a previous amendment as addressing the crux of the matter. The Senators have a right to hold a view on this matter, although I disagree with them. Are they seriously arguing that we row back on the advances achieved in recent years on the issue of equality? I did not hear any voices of conscience when funding for the Equality Authority was substantially reduced.

I spoke out on the issue.

Senator Norris spoke out from a different perspective. Every Member of the House has a conscience. I act in conscience every day and did so throughout the years I taught in a classroom. Was I to stop teaching a student who had failed to secure an A grade in an examination?

I ask the Senator to speak to the amendment.

I am discussing the issue of discrimination. The subtext of the amendment appears to be a lack of respect. I am a practising Catholic. While the God in whom I believe does not discriminate, the church of which I am a member does. If we allow freedom of conscience on this issue, will we allow publicans to ignore equality legislation and bar all Travellers from their premises or will we extend it to encompass marriages between black people, Asians and Caucasians? Senator Doherty was right. If this happened in Belfast or Derry there would a revolution down here and we would be almost unanimous in giving out. Republicanism is about equality. I support the Minister in what he is doing and I heard what he said earlier. How many civil registrars have objected to divorce and then performed marriages involving divorcees? As with Senator Hannigan, I have not heard one complaint from a registrar. The opposite is the case. This amendment questions the public servant who does a very good job. It is about creating exemptions and is about discrimination. I hope we stand firm and do not allow it. The final paragraph of the amendment states: "(9C) A registrar who, with reasonable cause, fails or refuses to register a marriage or civil partnership or to give a marriage or civil partnership registration form shall not be taken to discriminate". What is it if not discrimination?

Debates such as this allow people to pick and choose and make their arguments one after another. Lord Mackay may sound like a very innocent Member of the British House of Lords, a doddery old man etc. I just checked his voting record there. He has been violently and completely anti-gay rights all the time in the British House of Lords. Let us not speak from the point of view of being in favour of gay rights and then use examples of people who are bitterly opposed to gay rights, which is where Lord Mackay of Clashfern is coming from.

Senator Mullen raised the issue of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is important to consider some of the other articles, including Article 16, which states:

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

I know Senator Mullen, as a lawyer, will say it mentions men and women and that it is implied that it is men marrying women, but that is not what the article states.

We had an interesting discussion the other day.

Senator O'Toole to continue, without interruption.

If we are getting our ducks in a row, let us put all the things down there together. I do not want to undermine the force of the Senator's argument, but I thought it lacked some passion and that he was just going through the procedures.

I wish to confirm for the House the position of the trade union movement on the matter. I sat in Government Buildings during many negotiations on national partnership agreements when this issue was put forward and governments were urged by the trade union movement, employers and other groups to move towards having civil partnership. It subsequently became part of the programme for Government. There has been no objection from trade union members about this issue in any way cutting across them. The view of the trade union movement is completely supportive. It might feel the Bill might have gone further, but it supports the Minister in what he is doing.

I believe my colleagues sat down to ascertain how they could undermine the legislation and this is one of the devices they used.

I know, but I am entitled to my view as to how I see it. You may not speak for your other six people either. People have different views.

I ask Senator O'Toole to address the Chair, please.

I have answered that one.

People regularly vote against proposals for all sorts of reasons. They might be bitterly opposed to each other. My interpretation is that people were opposed to the idea of civil partnership and found this particular one. The proposed amendment allows registrars to have a conscientious objection not just to civil partnerships, but also to marriage. In that regard alone it undermines the entire case put by previous speakers in its favour. It means we could go back now and say they may not take that particular point of view.

We have a long history of conscientious objection in this country. I have dealt with the issue myself. I made passing reference last night to the teaching of religion in schools. Very often during the appointments procedure a prospective teacher will be asked if he or she objects to teaching religion in order that he or she is sewn into that particular commitment. Alternatively they might not be asked, but it is part of the school programme although not part of the national programme. People might genuinely lapse or evolve, whichever one prefers, to atheism or agnosticism and find themselves in a position with which they are uncomfortable and might have a conscientious objection to the teaching of religion. In these cases people tend to take a practical view that it is part of what happens in the school and needs to be taught.

I was a primary school principal and whereas I would not have subscribed to the religious knowledge, I would have insisted as school principal that as we were therein loco parentis all children went through the programme and knew their stuff as well as anybody would expect them to do. I did not find that in any way cynical or ironic. It is part of a job. One gets in, does it, gets on with it and moves on. It is no big deal. We should recognise that every day hundreds of teachers teach a religious education programme to which they would be fundamentally opposed, to which they do not subscribe or in which they do not participate. However, they do it because the parents and school management would like it to be done. The teachers take the view that they are paid to do a job and should get on and do it. It is mathematics now and religious education next; get on and do it, if that is the way it is. People might not like that and people like to think it comes from the heart in all cases; it does not. It does in some cases and it does not in others.

In Irish history we have dealt with this before. I will make a particular reference to the Fianna Fáil Party and its founder. I want to make particular reference to the Catholic Church. At one stage Senator Mullen worked with an eminent cardinal and Archbishop of Dublin, who found himself in difficulty at times. His way of dealing with it, as he described to the entire world, was by establishing a mental reservation. He could do what he wanted without committing himself to what he was doing. It was a mental reservation. This has been done by the Catholic Church; it does not seem to cause a problem. I found it problematic. I say to my friends coming from the Catholic background that they might advise any registrars they know to have a difficulty that they can use that little device. It works and exists, I understand. Theology and Canon Law support it. The Pope in Rome does not have a difficulty with it. Who am I to give out about it?

The Senator has class; I will give him that.

Let us explain to them how we should do it and perhaps Senator Mullen might explain in more detail how it works when he gets to reply later.

I recommend that good friends on the other side should look at the situation of their party's eminent founder, Eamon de Valera, who found himself in a somewhat awkward position in 1927.

There are a few exceptions to that. Eamon de Valera was not my man.

Eamon de Valera was the founder member of the larger party on the other side.

The Senator should direct his comments through the Chair and keep them relevant.

In 1927 he found himself faced with taking an oath of allegiance to the Crown which caused him some concerns. However, he knew if he did not take it he could not get in the door to establish the privilege our friends mentioned earlier. I am explaining this to my Fianna Fáil colleagues as a device they could also use. They could say:

I asked myself what my duty was and anything that was not wrong I was prepared to do. I would not have felt justified in committing perjury or doing anything equivalent to perjury. The party opposite, the Cosgrave-ites, told the people that this was not an oath at all. I believe that the words "I swear" mean an oath. But the Deputies opposite thought differently. They said it was a formality and that anyone could take it. I asked myself whether in a crisis like that I would be justified in staying outside when this was a mere formality.

Eamon de Valera listened to Fine Gael who convinced him that this was a mere formality and he moved on. He then said: "When I came to take the so-called oath I presented to the officer in charge [an English chap I think]." He presented a document to the officer in charge which contained the republican declaration that they did not regard the oath of allegiance as a binding oath. He told him that was their attitude and that they were not prepared to take the oath. He produced a written document in pencil as Gaeilge which contained the statement made to the officer who was supposed to administer the oath and said he was not prepared to take the oath. He just took it. He put down the words, signed up to it and went on to describe it as an empty formula.

I am proposing to my Fianna Fáil colleagues that they see these words as an empty formula. They should not get carried away with it. They should just get down and make it happen. It is an empty formula and is a process well established throughout the history of the Senators' own party. I will actually support them in getting——

It is their ex-party.

I understand that the three Senators are still members of the Fianna Fáil Party.

Can we stick to the amendment please?

I just want to make sure that the record is absolutely correct. These are three members of the Fianna Fáil Party who are not taking the Fianna Fáil Whip at the moment.

Would the Senator call them independent Fianna Fáil?

They fully understand the processes, procedures and history of their own party and there is a device within that to suit their occasion.

Those of my colleagues who come from a Catholic background and who are worried about that have the mental reservation device. Those from the Fianna Fáil background should listen to the Cosgraveites on this side and get on with it. They should not be upset. They should do what their founder did and simply say that this is an empty formula. Why can they not dothat?

The reality is that this amendment is a bottle of smoke. It does not meet any particular needs of any group of which I am aware. It is rare for us to find an issue of pressing concern to a group of people being articulated by their public representatives but which has never been articulated by the group itself. Who are we talking about? Public servants are there to do a job. They sign up, they take the shilling and they follow the flag. They do their job as it is set out for them. In most work places, if people find they have a difficulty in doing some aspects of their job, they find ways around that. People work together and tend not to steamroll each other into doing what they will not do. If somebody has a difficulty then they might be sick on the day they are supposed to do it. They can take a day's holiday or a day's pay cut or whatever. We deal with that all the time. We had to meet this morning trying to find a man.

So that is how it works.

There is no difficulty in dealing with the perceived problem. I do not believe it is a real problem. The registrars have never articulated a problem. I can give much more evidence as we go along of the other ways in which we have dealt with this kind of thing before. This is not new. I do not want Members to think this is a major issue of importance. It is a huge argument about nothing. It is an issue that does not concern anybody outside the few Members in here who raised it. They raised it for their own reasons. I have given one of my views. I am happy to be contradicted on it, but I still hold my view.

As parliamentarians, we must recognise where this legislation is going. Were this amendment to be accepted, it would undermine the spirit and the operation of the legislation. It would also create moral hazard because it would allow, encourage and reward people for not doing their jobs. It would force extra work on other people who would have to pick up the slack from those who claim to have a conscientious objection. If this lead to a situation where somebody was jailed for these acts, then that would be ridiculous. There are certainly better ways of dealing with it, but that is not to be for or against anything. It is a kind of a scare tactic that was raised to add a bit of credence to an argument that was pretty threadbare. It was long and interesting, but it added little to the overall argument. I have not found a scintilla of argument or evidence put forward in the last two or three hours that would change my view on this amendment. We should just dispose of it and vote on it shortly. I do not think I am entitled to put the question under Standing Orders, but somebody can.

Everybody should be as brief as possible so the vote can be called quickly.

On the Order of Business this morning, the Leader complimented the Seanad on the standard of debate which we had in the House yesterday. Several Senators spoke exactly along the same lines. While I did not speak, I certainly agreed. The Minister made exactly the same point. He said that in his 26 or 27 years here, the discussion he had on Second Stage, which he may have slightly corrected on Committee Stage——

We are speaking about the amendment now, so try to confine your comments to that.

I appreciated what he said and I have huge admiration for the man. I am not saying that in a patronising way. I genuinely have great admiration for him, especially due to his accessibility to us when we wanted to meet him and his officials.

I have listened to a lecture from Senator O'Toole as to what we should do, having been put out of Fianna Fáil. I did not hear any interjection, and I congratulate the Senator on what he said. I may discuss the formula with him. I notice that when those of us who hold a certain view get up, we are told it is not relevant. In fact, it will show itself to be relevant when I am finished. I just wonder why the interjection comes so quickly when it has not come when other Senators were speaking.

I have taken over the Chair from somebody else, so I do not know what interruptions occurred until now.

If you wish, I will not make the contribution. If that is what you want, I will sit down because I just get the feeling——

There is no point in getting into a huff about it at this stage.

It is all right. I will not make the point that I was prepared to make.

I am not trying to stop anybody from speaking, but they must speak to the amendment.

It would be nice if we got exactly the same innings as everybody else. If you feel that we do not deserve that, I will sit down.

When Senator O'Toole was moving away from the point, I asked him to speak to the amendment. You started complimenting the Minister, but we want to talk about the amendment. The discussion has been going on for quite some time.

I understand that, but I have sat here for the last two hours and I have listened. The clock has nothing to do with my views.

No, but if you want to speak to the amendment, there is no problem with that. However, you are not speaking to the amendment.

I had not even started to make my views.

On a point of order, if the House is not prepared to listen to reasoned views from Members, but prepared to allow pejorative views that are personal, then I suggest you close down the debate and you move to pass the Bill.

If that is the attitude of the House, then I suggest you do that.

Is Senator Walsh proposing a vote on the amendment? I support his position on this.

Senator Norris, you have not been called. Senator Ó Murchú, you were asked to speak to this particular amendment. All I have heard is a commentary about the Minister. If you can speak to the amendment, there is no problem. When other people did not speak to the amendment, I pulled them up. I am not that long in the Chair and I cannot say what happened before that, so I am not casting aspersions on anybody.

I have heard so many comments in the last few hours which had absolutely nothing to do with the amendment but dealt with us as individuals who had a separate view. Are you saying to us that we cannot go back on those views and explain our opposition to the amendment?

You can speak on anything that is relevant to the amendment.

Exactly. I would like to continue and if you feel that you are not able to abide what I am doing, I will sit down. It would be for the good of this House to have fair comment across the board.

What the Minister said was correct. There has been an exceptionally good debate in this House. Several other Senators made exactly the same point. My name is not to this amendment, but I fully uphold the right of Senator Mullen and Senator Quinn to put down that amendment. I also uphold the right of every Senator to oppose that amendment. My view on it has been informed by the debate that I have heard here. This has been one of the most learned debates ever in this House. I compliment all those who have brought professional expertise with them to the House and who have made it known to us. That is precisely what we are doing.

For those outside the House looking in, those we represent, the Seanad has been done a service today by the opposing views being put in such a generous and open-minded way. That all relates to the amendment because it is important I put it into context.

Like Senator O'Toole, I have been a lifelong trade unionist but I do not accept it is vital that the trade union movement must make a comment or interact with us, as legislators, to have a view. Whether one is Independent or a member of a party, one is still entitled to have a view. That is in response to a comment made.

Whether it is 46 votes to five or 46 votes to one, the numerical strength of the vote has nothing to do with democracy because if we follow that concept, someone may presume that on the basis that only a minority is putting forward a point of view, it should not put it forward at all. If we follow that concept, it is a negation of democracy itself.

We have some new converts to brevity today, and so be it. I wish to make a point, on which Senator Norris touched. My hearing is not as acute as it should be and I did not have the earphone on my ear.

I do not believe I referred to anything the Senator has with hearing.

The Senator does not need to interrupt.

I did not say that. I was coming to Senator O'Toole. I did not know whether to include him in the following point. The only point I have made on this issue on all Stages was in regard to the imprisonment of a registrar for six months. I made a contribution on the Order of Business on this issue and I have been misquoted. I have made this point three times. I said I do not want to find myself in a situation of having to stand up in the Seanad in defence of a prisoner of conscience under this particular section in legislation, of which I will have been seen to be part. I was anxious to pre-empt what might be said subsequently and deal only with that focused issue.

I make that same point again. I do not believe imprisonment is necessary as a deterrent in this case. We are using a sledgehammer in the wrong way and it is undermining much of the goodwill and debate which has taken place heretofore.

I refer to edges of the debate when it gets iffy or flippant. That is in order and I am not raising questions about that. We should not all stand on a butter box on issues such as that because I am sure we have all fallen into that trap at times. However, in the course of that iffy part of the debate, I always feel disappointed that when we are discussing a specific issue, a blanket is thrown over us all as if, in this case, we are opposed to gays and lesbians.

I ask Members to read the record of the House. When we were allowed to make statements, I made very definitive, strong and supportive statements. I will not use words because, at times, Senator Norris feels people are being patronising even when we repeat perhaps some of what he has said. When I made points in a ten-minute statement, I laid out precisely my view on gays and lesbians. That is what this amendment is about.

It is more specific than that.

For someone, in the course of the debate on the amendment, to in some way throw a blanket over us all as if we were homophobic or whatever is wrong because that does not help the debate.

However, we are entitled, when considering the rights of same-sex couples, to discuss the impact of those rights on the rights of other people. We will discuss this in the context of other amendments.

For the rest of the debate, we should leave aside that blanket cover as if, in some way, we were anti-gay and anti-lesbian. I am not, never have been and never will be. I am supportive of them having their rights. Why should they not have rights? I have made this point before. This should not be used as an obstacle to developing the debate in order that we can find out precisely what is inherent in the legislation.

I genuinely learned much from Senator Mullen and I listened to him with great interest. I heard him refer to different sources but I did not hear any repetition in what he put forward. I accept that perhaps it was somewhat long in the context of the time but unless there is an order to indicate the time allowed, then we will have a difficulty in the future.

For years I have sat in this House when we were discussing Bills and I listened to what I did not think was, in any way, what we might consider rational debate. People used other words and terms. I listened to those debates but not once in my 13 years in the House did I make any reference to personalise that or, in some way, demonise the point being put forward. How often have we heard that being put forward in the debate on this amendment? For the remainder of the debate on the amendments, I genuinely hope we can all feel free to put forward our views on each amendment without personalising or demonising anyone else in doing so.

That is all we are asking. We are asking for comments on the amendments.

I find it an unusual concept for someone to say to me that if one feels something in one's heart, one should leave it there. I find that strange. I do not believe anyone in this House would subscribe to that concept. It strikes me as not setting the right tone for this debate.

No one said that.

I wish to speak to the amendment.

That would be a change.

I question whether this amendment deals with the issue. I am not quite clear what it is about. The amendment may have had some favour in the 1950s but it is extremely out of date and misinformed.

The notion that someone who works as a registrar on behalf of the State to provide a service would have a difficulty providing that service is strange. A registrar who, as a result of his or her conscience, is able to opt out of doing the basic job he or she is employed to do, which is to bring two people together in a partnership, should not be working as a registrar.

As Senator O'Toole pointed out, under this amendment, if a registrar had a difficulty with a particular heterosexual couple, he or she could opt out under the conscience clause. Why would someone work as a registrar if he or she would not do the job they have signed up to?

The law is the guidebook on how the registrar works. This is what a registrar is employed to do. I do not understand where this conscience clause comes into it. I made the important point yesterday that conscience certainly comes into spirituality and religion but it does not come into law. Law and conscience do not go together. We live in a civil society. We represent all the people.

Sitting suspended at 2 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

This is not a worthy amendment and I hope it will not be approved by anyone other than its two proposers. It does not have a place in legislation. The idea that people can opt out of doing their job on the basis of conscience is not acceptable. We all carry prejudices and religious beliefs with us. Everyone who does a job has views unrelated to that job. The amendment is not related to the job of registrar. Conscience is a matter outside civil society. It is not a matter of law but of religion or spirituality. To insert conscience clauses in legislation would be regressive rather than progressive.

I have listened very carefully to all of the arguments made. I thank Senator Mullen for making my argument by listing the various issues that show clearly how a freedom of conscience clause in legislation would allow public servants to take anà la carte approach to legislation passed by the Oireachtas on behalf of the people. The general public deserves to know that if we pass legislation on its behalf, it will be implemented without fear or favour on an equal basis. If we were to implement a freedom of conscience clause in relation to any of the exemptions I mentioned previously in the other House and that Senator Mullen has listed on my behalf, I could foresee future Members speaking on the Order of Business in the Dáil or Seanad and objecting to the fact that public servants were not implementing legislation passed by the Oireachtas. How could one run a country and how could the public service be expected to run a country if individuals were allowed to adopt a view contrary to the stated intention of the representatives of the people? That is the essence of democracy.

We have heard much about republicanism, including self-professed republicanism. We seem to refer frequently to our neighbouring island. I have not looked to see how our neighbouring island deals with this issue, as one would not be comparing like with like. We have a Constitution and an independent Judiciary, the members of which make their own decisions. Of course, we are subject to EU laws, but the Constitution is supreme on these issues. We have passed legislation to ensure equal treatment of the general public and it has stood the test of time.

I respect the views expressed by Senator Ó Murchú. He indicated that he would find it difficult to have it on his conscience if someone was sent to prison as a result of this legislation. I believe he was a Member of this House when it passed the Civil Registration Act 2004, but he may correct me if I am wrong. Section 17(4) of that Act states clearly that a "registrar shall have and perform ... functions conferred on him or her by or under this Act". The word "shall" is used, not "may". Section 70 contains the penalties for offences under the Act and there is provision for officials to be relieved of their duties if they do not perform the functions conferred on them. It states a person guilty of an offence shall be liable on summary conviction to six months imprisonment or a fine, or on indictment up to five years imprisonment. What we are doing in this instance is adding, as we are doing in a number of other areas, the issue of civil partnership to this legislation and the Civil Registration Act 2004.

When the issue of conscientious objection was originally raised, my officials made inquiries in this regard. Everything that has come back, anecdotally and otherwise, shows that registrars have no problem with and are looking forward to the implementation of this legislation. That begs the question: where is this coming from? I cannot answer that question.

I was asked what representations the Department or I had received on the use of church property. I can say there were representations from religious representatives who made out, incorrectly, that they would be forced to use their church property. We did not receive representations from any of the people supposedly affected by a freedom of conscience clause.

As a matter of public policy, there is no reason in any democratic society, when legislation is passed, circumstances would be allowed to obtain where it could not be implemented. I suggest to any legislator who says we should do this that it would leave the State open to a potential claim for substantial compensation on the basis that people who had not received the service to which they were entitled under the legislation would have an open and shut case for compensation because the law had not been implemented without fear or favour and on an equal basis. For public policy and also practical reasons, if we pass legislation, the least we can expect is that it will be implemented.

My officials have been dealing with this legislation for the past few months. They may very well have a conscientious objection to dealing with it, as officials in the Seanad may have with this or any other legislation. However, as elected Members, we cannot allow a situation where such persons, whether they have an issue, which is fair enough, will not do their jobs because that is what they have been appointed to do, as public servants.

Others have made the arguments and I fully agree with them. To be fair to Senator Walsh, I must acknowledge that at my meeting with him and his two colleagues they at least understood the argument I was making on behalf of the Government.

They did better than me.

That is the benefit of being a member of a political party.

The Minister showed favouritism.

That is something, of which Senators Walsh, Ó Murchú and Hanafin were well aware until yesterday. It is one of the reasons they find it very difficult to do what they are doing.

I will sign up for a skiing trip with the Minister in order that I can have his ear sometime.

I listen to local radio and hear and understand what the Senator says about me.

Nothing was personalised.

The Houses are the primary location at which the debate and the argument on these issues should take place, not the peddling, which I hope did not come from the Senator——

We would have fun on LMFM.

I hope it was not Senator Mullen, whom Senator McDonald referred to as having said the Minister or somebody had been "got at".

That might have been me.

I was not got at by either side on this legislation. I do what I regard as my duty as an elected representative. I will deal primarily in this and the other House with the argumentation on issues I bring forward as a Minister. I will not apologise to anyone for not engaging on the public airwaves or otherwise.

The Minister is a public representative.

As I said, I have not met any of the groups which were lobbying on this legislation other than the Oireachtas Members of my own political party. I engaged fully with my party, as Senator Walsh has indicated on many occasions.

We need to get back to the amendment.

I do not accept there should be a free vote on the issue. I heard what was said about what Fine Gael had done. Of course, there may be people within a political party who hold a certain view that may not be in line with the majority view. Again, that is the democratic system that has worked very well for this country and I do not think we should change it. While I do not want to be pejorative in this regard, I wonder, when the very people who potentially would be affected by the amendment are not the ones calling for this change——

I will address that issue.

——why is it being suggested?

On the overall issue, it makes no sense in the running of a democratic state if a law is democratically passed through the Legislature for people to be allowed, in effect, to adopt anà la carte approach to its implementation. One would not be able to run a country or any of its public services, particularly given the society we now have, if that were to be the case. Twenty years ago this was a mono-ethnic, mono-cultural and virtually mono-religious society. Today, it is multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious and includes those with no religion. That is why we, as legislators, cannot legislate for one concept of morality; we have to legislate for the common good as best we can. We will not always succeed because there will be people who will be adversely affected by the legislation we bring forward. However, when the vast majority of the elected Members of both Houses agree with the principles laid down in this legislation, I do not support the effort made to chip away at the principle of treating people with fairness and equality and implementing what is contained in the Constitution. It is our Constitution, not a British constitution. It does not concern what the British do in this regard; it dictates that we should treat everyone equally before the law. In this regard, it also gives special recognition to the family and marriage. It is that balance, whether we like it, that we must, as legislators, adhere to.

I look at this issue from the point of view of my profession. As doctors, nurses or other allied health professionals, we could not begin to have issues of conscience. There are ethical questions such as abortion which are major for health care professionals. We should be very careful, as the Minister pointed out, in how we interpret "conscience". It could make life absolutely impossible and people could take views which would have more to do with prejudice, which can be major or minor, than genuine ethical concerns about how they do their jobs.

By way of an opening response, I would never intentionally engage in a filibuster, as suggested earlier.

The Senator could have fooled us.

Long-winded on occasions I may be——

——but I do not lack respect for the procedures of the House. One of the Senators who contributed earlier mentioned to me that on a previous occasion he had spoken for two hours on an amendment, which it was generous to acknowledge. There are circumstances where people feel the need to air points.

Not in modern times.

There is much philosophy here. I apologise if I got people's backs up or if they got the impression I am trying to filibuster. I am not doing so but unlike what I take from Senator Joe O'Toole's comments, I believe there is a profound issue of genuine liberalism at stake here.

I said earlier that——

There is no need for the Senator to say again what he has said already. There is no great need to be repetitive.

What has this to do with the amendment?

I must be allowed to comment on certain remarks made about me earlier. I do not mind people seeking to ridicule, taking me on in arguments or suggesting that my amendments might have unintended consequences or might facilitate bad people in society. I am a big boy and am able to argue my case. I take issue with being accused of dressed up bigotry. In one case Senator McDonald suggested I might have issues with women but I would be happy to supply her with references from some of the exes.

Why are they exes so?

Senator Norris compared me to Uriah Heep, and Senator Regan basically suggested homophobia is behind the amendment. That hurts and is unfair. The Labour Party suggested there were hidden agendas and the Minister made half a suggestion to that effect. There is no hidden agenda and the proposed amendment is not designed to set this entire Bill at naught. I have problems with aspects of the Bill but my problems with the civil partnership model being proposed in the Bill pale into insignificance with the concern I have for the protection of conscience in our society. It is a genuine concern and I would be grateful if people would attack me on the argument and not on my bona fides.

I do not normally talk about my personal life but I subscribe to a Christian world view, which suggests we should be ready to give our lives for one other. Whether a person is homosexual, a sister, brother or distant relative does not come into it. That is the standard I try to live by. There is no hatred or fear of homosexual persons in my heart and I do not believe it is in the heart of any of the others who have tabled amendments. It would be too bad if people trying to legislate for the common good were constantly having their motivation scrutinised and being accused of some quite ugly motivation when such motivation is absent.

I ask those people in the House who brought up the suggestions — they know who they are — to reflect genuinely and dispassionately on what they have said and consider whether they might withdraw them either on the record or privately to me. I would appreciate it if people would not second-guess the motivations of others. There is no hatred, distrust or dislike of homosexual persons in my heart but there are legitimate differences of moral opinion in our society, which is what I am trying to protect.

The Minister indicated I made his argument by going through the various categories, which I will not repeat. He gave examples such as bank officials refusing to open a joint account, doctors refusing to share information with a civil partner, Revenue officials refusing to consider civil partners as a couple or funeral directors refusing to handle a burial ceremony according to the deceased. If the Minister or Senator Pearse Doherty had considered my amendment, they would see it gave no comfort to any of those persons.

The reason this amendment is necessary is precisely because Ireland is becoming a multicultural society. Once upon a time people did not need to think about their consciences because they did what the church or the law indicated. We all accept that it is now wonderful that we are getting to a society where people think for themselves and will decide for or against what they hear from churches and other bodies.

I gave the example of the abortion Act in Britain which specifically provides for a conscientious objection to participation in treatment. I am glad Senator Twomey brought that up because it at least establishes the principle that it is sometimes necessary in a just and pluralistic society to allow people who have a genuine problem in their conscience to continue to function as State officials in certain positions while being allowed to go their own way and live out their ethos and morality. It is a delicate issue calling for a balance.

My argument to the Minister, which I did not hear him address in any detail or at all, is that my amendment offers that balance. It would not in any way give comfort to a racist or other motivation. It starts from the premise that there are different points of view in our society with regard to sexuality and recognition of same-sex partnerships. It offers some comfort to those who may have a conscientious objection by saying that provided it does not impact on the State, they can be accommodated. That is different from givingcarte blanche to racists or homophobes to blithely claim a conscientious objection and gum up the works. That is impossible under my amendment and I would have been grateful if instead of attacking me personally, other Seanadóirí would have teased out what my amendment proposes. By all means they can attack any unintended consequences found.

It cannot be argued, as Senator Doherty and others have tried, that if conscientious objection is allowed in one case, the floodgates will be opened. It is our job as a Legislature to set out the circumstances in which we will allow for exceptions. In that regard I want to be very clear on the subject. Considering the existing equality legislation, it is replete with exceptions and anti-discrimination provisions have exceptions included designed to achieve the common good. I will not go through all of them but, for example, treating a person who has not attained the age of 18 more or less favourably than another shall not be regarded as discrimination. There are even provisions for discrimination in the treatment of a person on gender grounds with regard to services of an aesthetic, cosmetic or similar nature.

We all know about section 30 of the Employment Equality Act, which the Supreme Court said was necessary for employment equality legislation to be constitutional. That exception allows religious-run schools or hospitals to make decisions, where necessary, to prevent the undermining of their ethos. We have admitted the principle of conscientious objection into our law. Not only that, the Constitution has stood by it and indicated it is necessary.

It makes a mockery of legislative debate if the first time someone comes up with an exception that is carefully crafted, he or she is accused of ulterior motives. That is not in the best spirit of legislative debate.

Will the Senator give way for a moment?

The Senator has instanced a number of cases where there are exceptions. There is no exception to the circumstance where a public servant, in the performance of statutory duty as laid down by legislation, is allowed to decide based on freedom of conscience. It is nowhere in existing legislation.

That is completely true.

It is true and I do not believe I said anything to gainsay that fact. In other cases, such as the British abortion Act, it has been deemed necessary to have such a provision.

We are talking about the Irish context.

There could very well be a public employee seeking to invoke such a provision. It is the first area in which British law might be relevant. The second issue was brought up by Senator Regan and is very telling. He mentioned the Islington borough council case, which as far as I know involved an evangelical Christian who did not want to be involved in the provision of civil partnership. In that case Senator Regan agrees with the eventual decision, which I understand was against that person.

It is very well for the Minister to say there has never been anyone who brought up this concern or that the trade unions have not yet expressed it. That may be true. In light of the reaction to that expression of concern by me, does the Minister think people would feel courageous enough to raise that concern? We can consider the reaction when I raised the possibility that someone might have that concern.

We must legislate prospectively because we are becoming a multicultural society. There may be a lady or gentleman who will mirror that British issue and indicate a conscience problem. I do not have any problem with the fact that our current equal status legislation, for example, prohibits discrimination on sexual orientation grounds. I have never opposed that idea. By legislating for the new model of civil partnership, new issues are being brought to light requiring us to look at the workings and implications of existing legislation and this Bill in particular.

The principle I am standing up for today is not necessarily a principle on which I would intend to rely. The fact that I worked for the church in the past is being allowed to muddy the debate because people are focusing on the idea that the exception comes from a particular quarter. The principle I am defending is the idea that a person with whom I may disagree——

The Senator is making a Second Stage speech.

Genuinely, I am not.

The Senator spoke for half an hour before this and has been on his feet for another ten minutes. The Senator should stick to the amendments.

I shall try. I assure Senators I am not in any sense trying to filibuster. A number of profound issues arise.

The Senator is making a Second Stage speech.

Senator O'Toole respectfully suggested that the amendment is tantamount to a bottle of smoke and that there is no real mischief which it seeks to remedy. It is my view that the amendment seeks to pre-empt a possible mischief that might arise. I offer the amendment in sincerity to the House and on the basis that we are moving into a multicultural society within which we must begin to contemplate issues of conscience. It is precisely as a result of the multicultural nature of our society that in the future people will hold views or whatever that will differ from the prevailing morality. That morality will probably be very secularised in nature.

On the issue of sexual orientation and same-sex relationships, I am of the view that society does not have a settled opinion. For the foreseeable future, there will be a majority and a minority in respect of this matter. There are two roads which can be taken from the point. One can decide to impose the morality of the majority and state that anyone who dares to differ therefrom should not work in the Civil Service. On the other hand, one can try to tack with the changing circumstances that prevail to discover whether there is a means by which people of a different ethos can be accommodated. We must also ask whether we can allow people who hold a different ethos to function as respected members of society or as employees of the State without coercing them in some way and without frustrating the State's ability to get the job done.

On a point of order, did the Senator not make this argument already?

The Senator is citing case law. As he is well aware, apart from anything else, hard cases make bad law. I am of the view that Senator Mullen is being repetitive.

The Senator is being repetitive.

The Chair should put the question.

I ask Senator Mullen to make his point to the Minister. There is no need for him to travel all over Europe to underpin his argument.

It is difficult for people to understand that there are some issues which are of profound importance to some members of society. Senators Ó Murchú and Walsh and I have received a great deal of correspondence in respect of this matter. Much of its was sent by people who do not understand from where we are coming and just as much came from those who are of the view that this is a civilisational issue that deserves careful attention, especially as it goes to the heart of the question whether we will allow freedom of opinion and conscience in our society.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who lived much of his life under a regime based on the denial of the authentic rights of conscience, once stated that those who clearly recognise the voice of their own conscience usually recognise also the voice of justice. I mention this because conscience is being denigrated in this debate as something that will allow narrow-minded people to be awkward. The history of conscience and conscientious objection is much more about people, such as Martin Luther King Jr., who stood against laws because of principles they ultimately believed to represent the common good. I sincerely believe that the common good is best served by allowing people with different values to function to the greatest extent possible, subject to the overriding need of the State to get the job done.

It is in that context that I ask Senator Regan, in particular, to at least consider that I may hold such a view without being a homophobic person. This really matters to me. To be accused of being homophobic when what one is trying to do is secure the common good for everyone in society is not acceptable. Nothing I am proposing would prevent civil partnership from working, particularly as it would be subject to the overriding ability of the civil registrar or superintendent to avoid delay.

Senator Alex White stated that my proposal emanates from a theocratic position. As I understand it, under a theocracy church leaders make the laws of the land. I am no theocrat. That is why I refer to religious and ethical concerns. We do not have a right to question from where people obtain their views and values. Nor do we have a right to assume that the only reason a person has a certain moral view is because some guy wearing a mitre has done his or her thinking for him or her. That is not the truth. The truth is that people form their own consciences according to the authorities they most respect and on the basis of the arguments they find most convincing. Let us forget notions of theocracy and say rather that there are people in our society who harbour different moral views. Let us try to facilitate these people to the greatest extent possible without frustrating our ability to get the job done. As I stated, let us try to legislate prospectively.

We should not worry about the fact that the registrars have not, for whatever reason, been lobbying the Minister. The tenor of this debate is one good reason they would not do so, particularly in the context of the reaction they would receive. I am not criticising the Minister in this regard but the general tone of the debate has not been good.

What the Senator has just said is both appalling and unfair.

I do not believe that is the case.

Senator Mullen should confine himself to the amendment. If he does not do so, I will put the amendment.

I am about to conclude.

It is a ten-minute conclusion.

Senator O'Toole raised the issue of conscience and the way in which Éamon de Valera dealt with it. In his book,The Begrudger’s Guide to Irish Politics, Breandán Ó hEithir characterised that whole incident in a chapter entitled——

This has absolutely nothing to do with the amendment. The Senator should confine his remarks to the amendment.

I solemnly swear——

The amendment relates solely to registrars.

If this Chamber were a stage, Senator Mullen would be determined to remain on it.

The Senator is repeating what everyone has said. We already know what has been said.

Senator Mullen to continue, without interruption. The Senator should confine himself to the amendment.

We are approaching a stage where there are people in this House who will not even allow one to respond in respect of comments that have been made in respect of one.

Senator Mullen has had plenty of time to respond. He has been on his feet for 15 minutes and he spoke earlier for more than 30 minutes.

In a private conversation I had earlier with one of the officials, I indicated that people's stress levels increase when matters of this nature are dealt with in an overly heavy-handed way. Almost everything I have said in the past 15 minutes has been relevant. I remained on point but I accept that I may not have been as concise in my arguments as could have been the case. However, that is the nature of the beast. If one is determined to set one's face against detailed, reasoned argument, then one is on the road to dictatorship because one has given up one's ability to value such an argument.

The only dictator here is Senator Mullen.

Senator Mullen to continue, without interruption. The Senator should confine his remarks to the amendment.

I do not ask colleagues to accept my arguments in an unthinking way. I merely request that they consider and reply to them without denigrating me and others.

In concluding, I ask the Minister to inform me how, in view of its tight scope, the amendment before the House could possibly offercarte blanche to the people on the list to which he referred. There is not a single item on that list which could be contemplated in the conscientious objection clause as I have drafted it. Why is it not the prerogative of the Oireachtas, as the State Legislature, to contemplate our new society and the issues which arise in respect of it? In view of the exemptions contained in the equality legislation, why should we not, in a tightly drawn way, facilitate one group in society — which may possibly be small or which may not, as yet, have manifested itself — without treating its members as bigots and while also ensuring the State can get the job done at the same time?

Will the Leas-Chathaoirleach confirm that the Order of Business states that all Stages must conclude at 5.30 p.m.?

The Order of Business does not state that. It says that the proceedings shall be adjourned not later than 5.30 p.m. The debate is, therefore, open ended.

We are dealing with No. 15 of 77 amendments. I had not intended to contribute to the debate on Committee Stage. What I had feared would happen, namely, the making of circular arguments, has come to pass.

The Senator should confine his remarks to the amendment.

I am speaking about the process and I will address the amendment. This is the only occasion on which I have contributed to the debate on Committee Stage.

I am aware of that. However, we must confine ourselves to discussing the amendment.

Certain other Members have spoken for 30 minutes at a time.

Changing the Order of Business is a matter for the Leader.

As far as I and my party are concerned, if a motion is tabled to the effect that the question should be put, then that motion must be given active consideration. We cannot continue with this process for hours, days or weeks.

On amendment No. 15, the practicalities involved have been well argued by the Minister. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who moved the amendment. I am of the view that they genuinely believe in the veracity of the argument they are making. I wish to address the effect of that argument. There seems to be an implication that there are people with conscience and people without conscience. That might be too broad a generalisation but that it exists at all is offensive. Even in its narrowest sense, the implication is that there are those who possess a more developed sense or higher form of conscience and that this is better than the form of conscience possessed by others. That is offensive. The further implication is that there are people who want to apply their sense of conscience specifically to people with a certain lifestyle and sexual inclination and that this would salve their conscience, regardless of the effects on other members of the community. As the Minister said, the further implication is that public servants could address their public service roles in anà la carte manner without having to apply the law, as passed by this and the other House, directly and even-handedly. That is offensive, regardless of the sincerity with which the argument is made, how genuine those who believe in the argument are, how the argument is heard or represented. I suggest my speech will be well short of the average length of the contributions made on Committee Stage.

The record of the House on Committee Stage will be grossly unrepresentative of the nature of the contributions made on Second Stage. I am confident, however, that we will win the eventual vote at the end of these proceedings which should finish this week. Any attempt to prolong the process or engage in the type of——

That has nothing to do with the amendment. It is a matter for the Leader of the House. We are on amendment No. 15.

It is directly related to the amendment.

I will explain how it is related. We are addressing amendment No. 15, the debate on which has taken up most of the time of the House on Committee Stage.

Some 77 amendments have been proposed to the Bill which has over 200 sections. I ask the Senator to confine his remarks to amendment No. 15.

I am addressing it particularly. I remind the Chair of the brevity of this contribution and that is the only time I will come in on the amendment. The disproportionate amount of time we have spent on it — we have spent more time on it than on any other — has eaten into the amount of time we will have to discuss the other amendments. If we were to list all of the remaining sections and amendments that have yet to be discussed, we would not reach the allocated time of 5.30 p.m. During the rest of this debate and in the light of the overwhelming willingness of the Members of this House to have the legislation passed we will need to give serious consideration to how we should make progress with this Bill.

That is a matter for the Members who may wish to speak.

I have a great deal of sympathy for what Senator Boyle said. Perhaps we will have to approach the issue in another fashion. On the amendment, I said on Second Stage that I thought the proposal to introduce a conscience clause was a contrivance.

I have not spoken this morning and will not detain my colleagues for very long. Nothing I have heard in the last three hours has persuaded me that what I said on Second Stage was wrong. This proposal is a complete contrivance because it is based on the perception that classes of people may require to exercise an objection. The point made by the Minister in his intervention ten or 15 minutes ago was bang on. We should consider his clear statement that "nowhere in existing legislation" have we provided for public officials to opt out from implementing the laws passed by these Houses. The point made by him in his timely intervention on our codes and laws is absolutely the case for very persuasive and compelling legal, constitutional and democratic reasons. Of course, it is true.

I accept the genuineness of what Senator Ó Murchú said about people having their views. He may not have meant it to come across as slightly patronising when he said he was prepared to let people have their views. However, there is a corollary to the holding of that position. One cannot say, "I do not mind if people are gay, or want to live in a particular way," unless one is also prepared to include in law a means by which such persons can vindicate their right to live in such a manner; for example, with whoever they like. I heard an interview with Senator Mullen — I think it was on radio — in which he was pressed on this issue which has come up time and again in terms of motivation. He said he believed people who were homosexual absolutely had a right to their dignity.

I said they had their dignity.

He has said they have their dignity, as if that is something that requires to be conceded to them by him.

No. It is because people have been calling my motivation into question.

I will not be interrupted.

Senator White to continue, without interruption, on the amendment.

I ask Senator White not to misrepresent what I said.

I will not be interrupted.

The Senator is trying to demonise me.

There is no question——

He ought to be ashamed of himself.

——of being prepared to concede——

He is just like his colleagues.

——that people have their dignity——

Senator Mullen should allow Senator White to address the amendment.

——without being prepared to include in law a means and a method by which their rights can be vindicated. That is the point I would like to make genuinely to Senator Ó Murchú. It is at the heart of this debate. One cannot have one without the other. In a democracy one cannot say in all fairness and honesty that it is fine for people to be gay and to want to live with somebody of the same sex without also providing for laws that allow that to occur. Senator McDonald made the same point eloquently earlier in this debate. That contradiction is at the heart of this proposal.

The Senator should read the amendment.

I will refer to the wording of the amendment. One of the provisions in the amendment is very telling. It refers to protecting registrars who raise an objection, as long as it "is not based on any of the discriminatory grounds identified in section 3, subsection (2), paragraphs (a), (c), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i) of the Equal Status Act, 2000”. That is the section of the Act that lists the prohibited grounds, including sexual orientation. How could the objection of a mythical registrar to registering a civil partnership not offend against the law that states there should be no discrimination against people of a particular sexual orientation? What else would the objection be based on? It could not be made on any other ground. Such an objection would constitute a direct form of discrimination. If I am wrong in that regard, I suggest it would certainly constitute indirect discrimination. How could it be otherwise?

As Senator McDonald said, this proposal would be a charter for discrimination. It does not stand up in any respect. This bogus notion is supposedly being proposed to accommodate those who hold a different moral position. In a democracy one debates what the laws governing state services should be, but one cannot play out the controversy every time the State delivers that service. The controversy should take place in Parliament and public when one is deciding what the solution is. One draws up a law on that basis. That law cannot be implemented, or not implemented as the case may be, on the basis of the views of a person providing the service. That is not how democracy works. One plays out the issues in public and Parliament and then one makes one's decision. I think Senator Mullen understands this. I do not intend to stray into the area of questioning people's motivation. Senator Mullen is intelligent enough to understand precisely what I am saying. I will set out the central contradiction. Perhaps "flaw" is too marginal or benign a word. The central dishonesty——

——is that it can be nothing other than an attempt to attack, undermine and set aside the basic objective of the legislation. It should be opposed absolutely. I thank the Minister for being so clear in his opposition to this provision which we should reject. If it is order to do so, I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to put the question now.

I want to intervene on the same basis as Senator White. Before I do so, I genuinely do not believe Senator Mullen is homophobic. I accept that completely.

I thank the Minister.

To a certain extent, this is a battle in which Senators are engaged on the issue of freedom of conscience, but there is a bigger battle to be fought on what are probably more difficult ethical issues that will come down the line in years to come.

That is partly true. There is a principle at stake.

In his last intervention the Senator clearly indicated that he had foreseen that there would be difficulties in this respect. Most people would accept there might be issues coming down the line, in respect of which freedom of conscience may very well be examined. However, we are dealing with the issue of civil partnership which we all accept is a reality. The Senator's amendment would for the first time set a precedent, whereby a public servant could discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. That is specifically stated in the amendment. Section 3(2)(d) of the Equal Status Act 2000 includes what is known as “the sexual orientation ground”. The Senator has gone even further, saying a refusal or objection on the grounds of sexual orientation or marital status would not be deemed to be discrimination.

I disagree with the Senator because clearly that would set up the possibility that a public servant could opt in or out as he or she so wished. I made the point that one could not run a country on that basis, that on issues such as this, particularly to do with sexual orientation or marital status, people would have the right to opt in or out as they so wished.

I am satisfied the amendment has been debated adequately in the House.

An issue was raised that needs a response.

Is the amendment being pressed?

May I respond briefly?

(Interruptions).

It would not be to the credit of the House——

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand," put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

On a point of order——

Is section 22 agreed to?

I am pressing the amendment.

I put the question. The Senator is too late.

I was raising a point of order and not whispering.

After I have put the question, I cannot take a point of order.

I asked to raise a point of order before the Leas-Chathaoirleach put the question.

I put the question and it was dealt with.

Question put: "That section 22 stand part of the Bill."

Senators

Vótáil.

Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Feargal Quinn, Rónán Mullen and Shane Ross rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the question carried. The names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared carried.
SECTION 23
Question proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill."

This section is opposed by Senators Hanafin, Ó Murchú and Walsh. I call Senator Walsh.

I will be reasonably brief. I note from the explanatory memorandum that section 23 imposes a fine of €2,000 or imprisonment of up to six months on a registrar who is in breach in regard to registration. I do not know whether it goes further than applying to registrars.

There are three parts to the conscience issue. There are religious bodies, with which we will deal later as we have tabled an amendment in regard to them, registrars or the employees of the State and service providers. In regard to service providers, if I had a premises such as a hotel which provided a service and I was approached by a couple who wished to celebrate their civil partnership in it, I would have no difficulty allowing them to have their celebration there and I would gladly take their money. Balancing the anti-discrimination side with freedom of conscience is an important issue in this respect.

While I am taken with what has been said, if an employee of the State in particular does not comply with the legislation, surely there is provision under industrial relations procedures to deal with that. I have concerns about criminalising such non-compliance in cases where people could have a very genuine conscientious objection. We must try to see if we can allow for that. I could not find a way as to how we might allow for it without there being a feeling of some form of discrimination. It was for that reason we thought that not criminalising it might be a better approach.

I agree with what Senator Walsh said. I am very conscious of the allowance that is made in the UK for nurses who, on conscientious grounds, will not perform or be involved in the performance of an abortion. How can we have a situation where we would criminalise people for genuinely conscientiously held reasons? It appears to be excessive and very wrong. The issue goes beyond the fine or term of imprisonment of six months. It is at the core of what Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú eloquently spoke on during the Order of Business on an occasion. The section imposes penal laws on people who have genuinely held beliefs. Such actions will not promote the liberal agenda. For the remainder of the debate it would be useful if people spoke on what we believed rather than what they think we believe.

I made my views on this issue known before the Bill was brought before the House and I still feel the same way. There are Senators in the House who may not necessarily take the same view as we do on some issues and who may have certain reservations about the Bill which I hope can be revisited. Criminalising somebody in this way would serve no purpose. It generally has a counter effect. In this case we would be as well off not to include such a provision in the Bill.

I am happy to take the opportunity to speak to the amendment which goes to the core of some of the arguments made, some of which have been disgraceful. It is pure scaremongering; the arguments made have no basis in fact or law. I went to the trouble of checking after I heard what Members had to say yesterday. The amendment would change the 2004 Act which deals with the issue of criminalisation. Under the Act, on summary conviction, a person is liable to a fine of up to €2,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to six months for deleting, altering or procuring the deletion or alteration of information on the register, keeping or procuring information on the register on a computer and changing it. There is a list of wrongdoings and actions specifically taken to corrupt the process of registration, in other words, there is a wilful act in breach of the law which covers all such eventualities.

The section being opposed adds a new offence and I would like the House to listen carefully. It deals with a registrar who refuses to registers a civil partnership. I would like Senator Walsh to listen to this. It reads: "A registrar who without reasonable cause either fails or refuses to give a civil partnership form shall be guilty of an offence". Somebody has to say, therefore, that there was not reasonable cause. There can be a range of responses to the offence, but if one takes it that the range will have to be reflected in the judgment of the court — this would be the least serious of a series of offences — this is not something that should worry decent people; it is not something about which we need to worry. It does not mean somebody who fails to give a civil partnership form will be criminalised and thrown into jail. A person will first have to be asked why he or she did something. Perhaps that is why Senator Walsh asked why there was no provision for a human resources approach. There is. The first question to be asked is: "Why did you do it?" Somebody will then have to decide that there was not reasonable cause. This does mean somebody will be thrown into jail or fined €2,000. One could argue the provision is excessive, an argument to which I am prepared to listen but not agree with, as I can see the point of it. However, it is wrong to give the impression that somebody who fails to act on the basis of conscience or any other will suddenly winds up in jail. That is not the case.

I do not want to be controversial in my remarks, but there is something inherently wrong with this debate when we compare the celebration of a same-sex union with a person's objection to carrying out an abortion. When a person who puts them on the same level says he is not homophobic, there is an inherent contradiction. Much of the debate on the Bill has skewed completely from what it seems to be about. There is a need, therefore, for the Senators who oppose the Bill to tighten their arguments on what their objections are and not use emotive language while debating the issues involved and not make such a direct link. They should make their points on the ethos of a church or religious institution but stay away from making such comparisons.

We support section 23 which is very straightforward. The arguments in favour of it have been made. Senator Alex White has made the same point. The sanctions are included in section 20 of the 2004 Act and section 23 simply extends them to cover civil partnership registration and the work of a registrar in that regard. It is appropriate that we do this. I do not think we will ever see anyone being prosecuted or penalised for breaching the provisions of the section which has been in place since 2004 and there was no objection to it at the time. This is a red herring, a non-issue and an attempt to destabilise and undermine the Bill. It is time we moved on because the Bill has the broad support of the overwhelming majority of Senators.

I agree with the Bill and will be voting in favour of it. That does not mean we have to agree with every single point, part or section of it. I disagree with virtually everything that has been said about this clause on both sides of the House. An offender under the section can go jail and be fined an enormous amount of money. I have just read it and may be open to correction. The person concerned is being put in the category of a criminal, which is completely different from the offence which he or she has supposedly committed. The other offenders under the 2004 Act all actively commit offences such as fraud which is obviously something which not only has to be discouraged but also punished. I understand in this case, based on what Senator O'Toole said, that when a person "without reasonable cause" — a very subjective judgment — fails to do something, he or she is committing an offence. It is when someone fails to do something which is part of his or her job that he or she is committing an offence. The idea that for not doing one's job for whatever reason — I do not want to discuss the issue of conscience because I do believe there is a case to be made for conscientious objection which is impossible to define — a person can be put into jail is utterly wrong. There should even be such a possibility——

On a point of order, it is already included in the 2004 Act.

I do not care about that. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. That is the point. Just because it is included does not make it right. The Senator knows this perfectly well.

Propose an amendment.

It is obvious that this is an inappropriate punishment. The appropriate punishment in this case is simple: people should be dismissed from their jobs — end of the story. I do not know if people in the private sector are put in jail when they do not do their job. It only happens when they commit an offence such as theft, show disloyalty or do something which is against the law. We are creating a new offence of not doing one's job which is utterly wrong. We hear a lot about others possibly being sent to jail, but that this will happen to people in the public service is unacceptable. To be told it is unlikely to happen is totally unconvincing. I agree it is unlikely to happen, but to suggest people should be locked up for not doing their job is extreme. On this issue only I am prepared to vote against the Government. I appeal to the Minister to consider amending this provision in a reasonable way because it is not convincing to say it is impossible for this to happen. It is possible; it is the law. Judges can make completely different decisions for different reasons. The idea that someone in the public service should go to jail because he or she has said, for whatever reason, that he or she will not do his or her job is utterly wrong. Let us fire them or leave them to be subject to the normal process of employment law. Let us not send him or her to jail.

By opposing section 23 I hope to achieve a similar goal to my previous amendment. Whereas I had attempted to define "reasonable cause" so as to leave the offence in place while giving a person room to avoid being deemed to have committed an offence, I oppose the section because the severe punishments it sets out are inappropriate in the context of registration of civil partnership. As far as I am aware, if an official fails to comply with the law in the North, he or she may lose his or her job but would not be liable for criminal prosecution.

Senator O'Toole argued there is no basis in fact or law for what is being claimed. I demur at the use of the word "disgraceful" to describe not only the issue but also by implication the motivation of the people who put forward the amendment. I dissent from such an approach to the argument. Senator O'Toole is incorrect to claim there is no basis in fact or law for what is being claimed by the proponents of this amendment. There is the possibility of an offence which covers a range of transgressions. Nothing in the legislation excludes a possible offence in this context from the most severe of the penalties. The Senator may have an arguable case that there is no basis in fact on the grounds that this area has not seen many prosecutions, although he appeared to be looking into the crystal ball when he suggested there never would be a basis in fact.

No, I am not. It is not there.

He is certainly wrong to say there is no basis in law because the law clearly provides for this possibility. It is no argument to say "trust us", which is the essence of Senator Bacik's intervention. We are here to legislate for situations that may not have occurred in the past but which might occur in the future. We must have an eye for the changing trends in society and possible future examples of intolerance on the secular side, just as there was in the past intolerance on the religious side. This is why we have to think out the future. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, let us not be so open minded that we let our brains fall out. We must predict what is going to happen.

The opponents of this section do not have to meet a high threshold. They merely have to show that, for the avoidance of doubt, it would be preferable to exclude the possibility that a person would face such severe sanctions for a transgression of this nature. To my mind, they have discharged that obligation persuasively and I will support them.

I was about to make a point that I have discussed with Senator O'Toole but I think he is the better person to make it.

Senator Ross is totally wrong. This is not a simple question of someone not doing his or her job. The offence is unlawful discrimination and, worse still, it would be committed by a public servant acting in an official capacity. This is why sanctions are needed to prevent such discrimination.

Senator Mullen used the term "reasonable cause", which is contained in the Act. If I understand him correctly, he is saying sexual orientation is reasonable cause to discriminate where the registration involves a gay or lesbian couple. This brings us back to the hostility against gay and lesbian couples which, as far as I can see, is inherent in this and other amendments.

Hear, hear. Well said.

I support this section. It is appropriate that jail is the ultimate sanction in our penal code. A person who threatens to kill somebody can be imprisoned for life but he or she would more commonly receive a suspended sentence or two years in jail. That is an example of the sliding scale and the evidentiary process. When a public official makes a mistake or discriminates against another individual in the course of his or her duties, he or she will be subjected to the rigours and fair process of the disciplinary system. In a worst case scenario, where the discrimination is so blatant and terrible that it warrants jail, that would have to be considered in the final analysis. Generally speaking, however, that road has never been followed.

I do not agree with Senator Ross's assertion that people cannot go to jail for not doing their jobs. At issue here is an official who performs a public duty by marrying same-sex couples. It is not sufficient that discriminatory practices would merely result in the perpetrator losing his or her job and continuing these practices in a new position until, perhaps, the penny drops that he or she requires a conversion on the road to Damascus. If one has a problem with same-sex couples getting married, one should not be a registrar but one should not discriminate.

In other jurisdictions around the world where minorities have suffered, tough legislation was needed to stop discrimination. Before the Equal Status Act came into force, Travellers were refused service in many bars. Now, however, they can go into bars and they behave themselves. I appreciate there are times when everything is not okay but if the sanction was not available we would never have taken that quantum leap. We must move away from the word "tolerance" and begin to accept all minorities in society.

We are debating a phantom minority which does not exist. We say minorities need to be protected because we are navel gazing or wondering what will happen in the future. We will deal with the future when it comes but, right now, we are dealing with a minority whose rights have been trampled on for decades and who were criminals in this country 16 years ago. We need to move on with this legislation and put the section to a vote. I accept Senator Walsh's bona fides in opposing the section but it is my right to disagree with him. We need to move on to vindicate the rights of the minority we are here to protect.

Like Senator McDonald, I do not agree with the opposition to the section. It is just a red herring or a pretext for the wider opposition to the Bill. Public officials, by their very nature, are good people who carry out their duties to the highest standard. Those who work in the public service do not and, I hope, would not seek the freedom to ignore State policy. This Bill is going to become State policy. If they had that freedom, the machinery of the State would grind to a halt and we would become a banana republic.

Job descriptions change from time to time. We have all taken on added responsibilities or covered new areas at some point in our working lives. ICTU or another source would have sought an amendment or protocol to the Bill if there were any such concerns about persons performing their duties. I agree with Senator McDonald that a person who is not capable, on the basis of conscience or otherwise, of treating everyone equally and with dignity and respect should not be a registrar.

I have not spoken much on this topic. This issue has been simplified and speakers have not recognised that some people have real problems with the section. It has been argued that job descriptions change from time to time. When this occurs, people are disciplined or, as Senator McDonald stated, disciplinary procedures are pursued. If someone does not obey the outcome of a disciplinary procedure, he or she is usually sacked. Senator Ross is correct on that point. This matter is different, however, because we are creating law which will last. I am concerned about the use of terms such as "it is highly unlikely" or "generally speaking". Relying on improbabilities or generalities does not make good law.

If we do not remove the section, a person who commits an offence because of a change in his or her job description could go to jail. While I accept that such a scenario is highly unlikely, I am not in favour of making laws which rely on generalities or improbables. As Senator Ross noted, the solution is to dismiss those who do not do the job they are supposed to do.

I concur with Senator Quinn. If a scenario is highly unlikely or does not feature on the agenda, why is it provided for in the Bill? It seems the purpose of the section is to be penal in the sense of penal law, in other words, vindictive. The approach appears to be one that those who do not agree with our view will be made to pay for it.

It appears I am not allowed to use an example unless it ispari passu. This does not happen at times but it accentuates the point. I ask the Minister to address two points. If it is acceptable in the United Kingdom for a nurse to be allowed to decline to perform her duty as prescribed by law, why is a similar scenario — a decision taken in conscience and not necessarily provided for in the Act — not acceptable? I have requested a schedule of cost for the legislation and ask the Minister to provide such a schedule to show the cost of the Bill in the next three to five years.

Apart from his preamble on the motives of people who hold a contrary view to his own, Senator O'Toole hit on something for which I felt like cheering him. On examination, however, I believe he is incorrect because having discussed this point with the Minister, we left the meeting believing there was a possibility that someone would go to jail in this context. I will be pleased if it transpires that I am wrong and Senator O'Toole is able to show this is not the case because this is the only aspect of the Bill on which I have spoken, whether on the Order of Business or at other times. I continue to make the same point on this section. If, as most people argue, the scenario provided for is unlikely, it is not necessary to include it in the legislation. Senator Hanafin went further and asked why the section is included in the Bill. If it does not serve a purpose and we are not trying to send out some type of message and wish to continue to implement legislation in the right spirit, it would be better not to have a provision of this nature in the Bill.

I know lay people who are much more religious than I am and hold conscientious views on matters which they believe infringe on their beliefs and the teachings of their religion. I can envisage such persons being caught by this provision. I assumed — perhaps I was wrong — that the words "without reasonable cause" would not cover such persons. Perhaps the Minister will clarify this matter, on which there have been discussions among officialdom. If a person found himself or herself in the circumstances described, will it be possible to accommodate him or her to ensure he or she is not criminalised? I do not mind if a person is suspended for a week or transferred to another Department.

I do not disagree with anything Senator McDonald said about discrimination. What we are trying to do is reconcile two competing priorities, namely, the need to ensure people are not discriminated against and the need to accommodate genuine freedom of conscience. I know the latter is difficult to determine. If the Minister is able to give me any comfort on this matter, I would take a different view on opposing the section.

Senator Mullen is indicating.

The Senator has spoken since I last spoke. I would like to respond to his comments as he challenged my views.

We need to examine what is happening here because it is a little like the invasion of Afghanistan when the Russians stated they were invited into the country. The group of people the amendment is rushing to protect does not want our protection. The individuals in question are doing their job, are aware of the issue given that it has been widely reported in the newspapers yet not one of them has said he or she needs our protection. Some of us are determined to give it to them in any case. We are rushing to help people who do not want to know. The last thing they want to see is a group of politicians rushing at them, as it were.

We need to consider this issue in real world terms. Important issues have been raised by a number of speakers, including Senator Quinn. To assist Senator Mullen and others, I will read again what is written in the section. It will apply to a registrar "who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to give a civil partnership registration form to one of the parties". What happens before one reaches this point is the human relations aspect of the process to which Senator Walsh referred. If someone working in an office indicates to his or her boss that he or she is not prepared to carry out civil partnership functions or weddings, the boss then has a job to do, namely, find a local arrangement, transfer, sack or suspend the person or find another solution. We must bear in mind that a crime has not been committed and a human resources procedure is followed before one proceeds further. When someone refuses to carry out a function it must be dealt with locally. Sacking the person, as some Senators have suggested, could be much more costly than the maximum fine of €2,000 provided for in the section. The action taken will depend on the local arrangements in place. At that point, the civil registrar may simply refuse to carry out his or her function.

Why do we need the provisions of the section? It is not only a matter of scale, as a number of speakers suggested, but also one of aggravating circumstances. In many cases, a gay couple will not have a great deal of self-confidence in dealing with public matters of this nature. Not only could they be deprived of the civil partnership registration form, there could be aggravating circumstances, for instance, they could be led to believe that it is not possible for them to enter into a partnership or a form could be lost. The scale provided for is necessary to address such aggravating circumstances.

The issue is not one of a person refusing to hand over a piece of paper or sign a form but one of discrimination. I ask Senator Mullen or another opponent of the Bill to put a price on discrimination. At what point does a continuing contravention of the law by discriminating against a person fail to be important? If someone continues to hold an unlawful position, should we back off? While I do not envisage such a scenario, I am being forced to bring the hypothetical case to its conclusion. If there are aggravating circumstances, we must be able to measure them in terms of the response of the law. We are depriving a citizen of a legal right — rights we are putting in place with this legislation. Someone is being discriminated against. Someone is being deprived of his or her rights. Someone is not applying the law we are passing. Someone may not have dealt with this or agreed with any arrangement that was made previous to this in his or her office, whatever HR arrangements were there. This is all the background stuff. Things do not happen like that. As there is always a story behind a story, how would we get to it?

The other issue is moral hazard. The idea that we could put into legislation that someone can refuse to do an aspect of his or her job is inviting situations where people go forward. I am not talking about people with a conscientious objection; that may well be the case. I find it difficult to deal with that issue, but I am not talking about that. A parish priest described someone some time ago by saying "It's not that he had lost his religion; he was just too lazy to get up to go to Mass." I am talking about someone who is too lazy to do his or her job and claims to have a moral objection. That is a moral hazard. It would open issues which would make it impossible to control because someone could claim to have a conscientious objection. Someone who is lazy might not have any trouble telling lies or — I remind Senator Mullen about this — might have a mental reservation about it one way or another.

The serious point is that this is not something that happens like a bang. This is something that builds up. If someone working in an office or elsewhere, including in teaching, claims to have a difficulty about something or other, the boss needs to deal with it. If it cannot be dealt with, action needs to be taken. If action is not taken, it moves to a next step. If it is a minor thing that someone has refused to do his or her job, action should be taken about that.

If they do not, they can end up in prison. That is the point.

We need to allow for aggravating circumstances. I will not hear anyone say that the refusal is simply refusing to hand out a form. I want to hear it said that this is discrimination and deprivation of a legal right we are putting in place. We need equality before the law. It is important we respond to it in that way. I do not want to and I do not believe I will ever see anyone go to jail as a result of this. However, I want people to know that we, in this House, value the rights of our citizens and will ensure they will be delivered for them. That is why it goes up that sliding scale. It is not as if someone makes a mistake and finishes up in jail. There are many steps in between.

Senator O'Toole has very adequately dealt with a number of points. I believe Senator Mullen indicated very honestly that this is, to a certain extent, a device for reopening the discussion that has been held already on——

I did not say that.

He said something very close to it.

No, a million miles away. I shall explain in a minute.

Something very close to that was said. I shall leave it at that.

The Minister has largely dealt with these problems. Taking into account that this is a device for reopening the discussion of the subject matter of amendment No. 15 and because the wording of that amendment also includes marriage, it opens up the floodgates of Islamophobia, etc. There may well be cranks who would not give a civil partnership to people who are Muslim. That is a much greater possibility than the possibility of someone going to jail. I do not believe that anyone would go to jail. I think it is highly unlikely that this clause will ever need to be invoked in terms of the provision of service. I have just returned from the barber's shop. I have read reports in the newspapers that some people believe that hairdressers would be forced do weddings and civil partnerships. I asked in the barber's shop whether there would be any objection and everyone there fell around the floor laughing. It is so bloody absurd.

This is not a victimless crime. It is not just someone claiming he or she does not want to shuffle a piece of paper around. Senators should imagine themselves in the situation of people who want to apply for a civil partnership, which they will be perfectly entitled to do under the law of this land, hopefully, after this evening, and are bluntly told: "No. Get lost. We're not doing it." What will their feelings be? This is really poisonous.

Senator Hanafin and several others have deliberately dragged in the idea of abortion. I now call on them publicly to clarify that and to make it absolutely clear that they are not equating in the slightest sense or in any way the performing of a civil ceremony for same-sex couples with the performing of an abortion. That must be clarified. It is so easy to throw around the word "abortion", which gets many people very steamed up. I want that issue to be clarified urgently.

I hope we will not have a repetition of what happened last night when on a series of amendments with exactly the same wording we were put through the necessity to vote.

That has nothing to do with the amendment.

The Cathaoirleach asked the Senators who had called for the vote to stand up. Members, who had never contributed once to the debate, came into the House and stood up to have a vote.

Senator Norris——

That is acceptable on one occasion but not for the same amendment endlessly.

Senator Norris, that has nothing to do with this amendment.

I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to keep moving on and get the job done.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.