Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2009: Report and Final Stages

Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except for the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also, on Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 49, to delete lines 21 to 26 and substitute the following:

"the estate shall be distributed in equal shares to the surviving civil partner and each of the children of the deceased civil partner".

This amendment, tabled by Senators John Hanafin, Labhrás Ó Murchú and me, refers to section 73 and deals with intestacy. Section 73 inserts a new section after section 67 of the Succession Act 1965. The newly inserted subsection 67A(1) of the Succession Act will deal with a situation where a person dies intestate leaving a civil partner and no issue. It provides that the civil partner will take the entire estate. I recognise there is an element of equity in this provision and I do not have difficulty with it. However, I have concerns about the newly inserted subsection 67A(2) and our amendment would change it. It states that if an intestate dies leaving a civil partner and children the surviving civil partner is entitled to two thirds of the estate and the remaining shall be distributed among the children.

I have had some slight discussion with the Minister on this matter. I ask Senators to picture a scenario where a husband dies, leaving his estate to his wife. He also leaves three children. The new family unit is a mother and three children. The mother subsequently enters into a civil partnership with another woman. Should she die, her children's inheritance would be confined to a small proportion of their parents' estate. We think this is inequitable.

We fully accept that the surviving civil partner is entitled to a proportion of the estate. However, the children of the deceased civil partner are not adequately catered for in the Bill, although I understand there is provision for them to go to court and seek a redistribution of the estate. Our preference is that the estate be divided in equal share to the surviving civil partner and each of the children of the deceased civil partner. In the example I gave, the civil partner would then get 25% of the estate and not two thirds, and each of the children would get 25% and not one third of one third, or approximately 10%. We think that is fairer and it is the motivation behind the amendment.

A second issue arises from this. The widow and her three children would be regarded, constitutionally, as a family unit. Once she enters a civil partnership that unit no longer exists. It looks to me as if there could be a constitutional issue here. The provisions of the Bill do not adequately address the surviving members of her family, her three children.

There are two issues to consider. One is the possible infringement of the constitutional regard for the family. The other is the more important issue of fairness to the children of the deceased member of a civil partnership. A surviving civil partner might well be self sufficient or quite wealthy whereas the children might have only a small proportion of their parents' estate.

I second the amendment.

I ask the Minister to clarify the following matter. If the father of three children died and the children were left in the care of their stepmother, who was their father's second wife, the Succession Act would affect them similarly to the children in Senator Walsh's example. They would be entitled to a share of one third of their father's estate and their stepmother would be entitled to two thirds. The legislation would also have to be changed if the equity called for in the amendment were to apply to them. All succession legislation regarding how families work would need to be changed. I ask the Minister to clarify my query.

I oppose this amendment. On Committee Stage, Labour Senators tabled two other amendments to section 73, which we felt would have clarified the section. One of our amendments would have been to delete the phrase, "subject to subsections (3) to (7)" in subsection 67A(2)(a). The Law Society of Ireland had recommended that those words should be deleted to avoid litigation and uncertainty and to make it clear that the surviving civil partner would take two thirds of the estate of the intestate civil partner who had died. This would have put them on par with the surviving spouse of a marriage. We felt that would have been an improvement to the legislation. Unfortunately, due to the filibustering and obstruction earlier, we did not have an opportunity to put that but——

What of the Senator's collusion in the guillotine?

I will not tolerate any interruption.

I certainly could not support any dilution of the existing wording of section 73. This proposed amendment would dilute the rights of the surviving civil partner if it were passed. I oppose the amendment and say to the Minister it is a shame we did not have a chance to debate the amendments we had put down, which would have strengthened the position of the surviving civil partner.

I oppose the amendment for the simple reason that, as Senator Twomey said, we would have to examine the Succession Act in order to amend this matter. However, as a practitioner, I have seen many instances where the two thirds, one third rule on intestacy has put many people living in their family homes in jeopardy. I accept there is a point to the amendment but the only way around it is to write a will, a matter that has been quite readily advertised lately. Other than that, there is an issue we need to consider in the tenet of the amendment but I do not believe we can accept it on this occasion.

Senator McDonald made a point that I wished to make, namely, there is an onus on us publicly to encourage people to make wills because much of the certainty that is lost in this area is because people have not left wills.

I oppose the amendment, the effect of which would be not to allow people to be treated equally. This would not at all be in accordance with equality before the law and, therefore, it should be opposed.

There is an air of unreality about our trying to contemplate a question such as this, which may have constitutional implications, in circumstances where a guillotine has been imposed. I want to put on record that Senator Bacik, the Fine Gael leadership and others have shown exactly what they think of free speech. When it is offensive to their ears, they close down the debate.

We are on amendment No. 1.

That has nothing to do with this.

It is a most offensive remark and I want it withdrawn.

It is certainly not relevant to this amendment.

Order, please. Senator Mullen should continue.

Where is all his preaching about tolerance now?

The Senators are the only ones who have shown no tolerance for——

I have listened to the Senator all day.

I ask Senator Mullen to abide by the rules of the House. We are on Report Stage, amendment No. 1, which was moved by Senator Walsh.

On the amendment, it is somewhat relevant to say that we simply do not have the time we need to scrutinise this issue thoroughly.

Thanks to the Senator.

That is not the fault of the people who sought to scrutinise this legislation earlier today. Back in 1998, county committees on agriculture were debated until 5 a.m. in this House, which speaks for itself.

That is not relevant to the amendments.

On the amendment, rules are being provided on intestacy to the effect that a civil partner would take two thirds of the estate over and above any issue of the person. When one considers that the Constitution supports the institution of marriage on which the family is founded, it seems that respect for the family should survive the death of a spouse. If, in the event of the death of a spouse, a person enters civil partnership — perhaps the Minister can correct me on this — it would seem bizarre that the rights of a subsequent civil partner could trump the issue of the marriage.

As the fellow would say, I have had no more than a glansory curse at this because of the guillotine but it does seem to raise constitutional issues. I do not see how we can in any credible way uphold the ability of the Seanad to discuss an issue as profound as this in circumstances where there is such a ridiculous guillotine.

This amendment has the merit that it refers to the children of the deceased civil partner. We have said that one of the gaps in the legislation is the fact children are not dealt with. However, the overall thrust of the amendment is to denigrate and discriminate further against those who are in civil partnership and to put them in a less advantageous position. For that reason, I do not believe it should be supported.

Amendment No. 1 would have the effect of substantially altering the rules of distribution on intestacy for civil partners where the deceased had a child or children. The civil partner would be entitled to the same share of the deceased's estate as each child of the deceased if this amendment was to be accepted. Section 73 states that if an intestate dies leaving a civil partner and issue, the civil partner shall be entitled to two thirds of the estate and the remainder shall be distributed among the issue, which equates to the position in regard to a heterosexual family. This amendment, therefore, would substantially erode the rights of the deceased civil partner. For example, in the case of an adult and three children, the adult civil partner would be entitled to two thirds of the estate and the remaining one third would be equally distributed among the children. However, under this proposal, the civil partner would only get one quarter of the estate and the children would each get one quarter. Such a distribution would be novel and would substantially erode the rights of a deceased civil partner.

We had some debate where it was suggested there was nothing in the Bill to look after children, which was not correct. Unfortunately, this was because of the type of debate we had, although I know there were Members even on my party's side who were genuinely worried about the issue of children. There are several mechanisms contained in the Bill to protect the position of children explicitly, particularly children of a former heterosexual couple now in a civil partnership arrangement. There is ample further provision to allow civil partners to make greater provision for their children should they wish to do so. Section 73 protects a child's position by allowing that the child can apply for enhanced provision from the estate of a deceased civil partner-parent on intestacy up to a maximum of the amount that the child would have received had the parent died intestate with no spouse or no civil partner.

It is also always available to the civil partner, as some Senators have suggested, to make a will providing a greater share or, indeed, no share of the estate for these children. Section 83 inserts a new section in the Succession Act which allows a civil partner in an ante civil partnership registration contract to renounce his or her legal right in the estate of the civil partner. Thus, a civil partner who wishes to make extensive provision for his or her children can arrange for such a contract to be made in advance of registering a civil partnership and can then make a will giving that enhanced provision to their children.

The rules on intestacy replicate those in regard to heterosexual couples save that — this is the protection for children of a prior arrangement — under the new section 67A:

The Court may, on the application by or on behalf of a child of an intestate who dies leaving a civil partner and one or more children, order that provision be made for that child out of the intestate's estate only [this is the important part] if the court is of the opinion that it would be unjust not to make the order, after considering all the circumstances, including—

(a) the extent to which the intestate has made provision for that child...

(b) the age and reasonable financial requirements of that child,

(c) the intestate’s financial situation, and

(d) the intestate’s obligations to the civil partner.

I cannot accept the amendment, which would lead to a diminution of the rights of the civil partner on intestacy. It would lead to discrimination in the way they are treatedvis-à-vis heterosexual couples.

I thank the Minister for his reply. His latter comment accords with Senator Twomey's comment that because our amendment would not mirror the marriage arrangement, it is in some way "diminishing" or eroding the rights of the surviving partner. I thought that until the civil partnership Bill is enacted, there are no rights prescribed in law and we are prescribing these rights today.

People have said this would discriminate against the civil partner and I appreciate the point made by Senator Twomey with regard to a step-parent etc. but we are discriminating against children. That is a matter of genuine concern to me and others who signed their name to the amendment. We must be particularly careful about the issue.

I am also mindful that the inheritance generated and distributed may well have been accumulated through the efforts of the father of a child who because of a premature death will not have a say because he left the inheritance to his wife. There are fairly fundamental issues in this going beyond just the rights of the civil partner. I note the reply to me and comments made by other people concern the rights of the adult and not the rights of children. This is a child-centred amendment and it should be considered. I also note the Minister did not make any reference to any constitutional implications.

I am using my discretion to allow the Minister give a brief reply to explain a point without anybody else coming back in.

This applies equally to children of a deceased partner as well as children of a prior marriage, so there is no discrimination against the children involved. For that reason it is a pro-children measure and seeks to protect children in circumstances where they may not gain any provision in a position of intestacy. We believe it will stand up to constitutional examination because it is endeavouring to deal with a position where there may be children of a prior marriage as part of the civil partnership arrangement.

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

Amendment No. 2 arises from Committee proceedings and is related to amendment No. 3. The amendments may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 56, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

"(4) The Act of 2000 is amended by inserting:

"Nothing in this Act, or in the Acts amended by this Act, shall prohibit a religious, educational, social or community organisation, which is under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes or whose objectives include the provision of services in an environment which promotes certain religious values, from refusing to provide property, goods or services that assist or promote the solemnisation or celebration of any civil partnership or marriage, or provide counselling or other services that directly facilitate the perpetuation of any civil partnership or marriage, where such refusal is reasonably necessary to prevent the undermining of the religious ethos of the institution.".".

As Members know, we have always been very conscious of the ethos of the churches and religious organisations. We have generally endeavoured in legislation to accommodate the issue and one of the reasons the Minister has not included churches is precisely for that reason. He wishes to avoid any misunderstanding and he is right in that respect.

The same provision should have been extended to church property and religious organisations with a particular religious ethos and policy. This is different than people in private circumstances refusing to provide services. The mere fact that we have made a distinction for churches in this and other legislation shows we are particularly conscious of that need.

The Minister may have to some extent extended the view on the issue by indicating that if we are talking about a hall, it would also be used for other community purposes. Very often those other community purposes are related to church activities and therefore have a particular ethos attached. For that reason I ask the Minister to reconsider the issue, upon which I have had exceptionally strong views.

Somebody said he or she could not imagine a gay couple wishing to use the property of a church or religious organisation if there was an existing antipathy. That may be so but I would be sorry if people had to feel such a way in the context of antipathy or otherwise. Interestingly, commenting on what Senator Norris said earlier I asked that we tease out the possibility that where a religious organisation or church wishes to provide a service, and if the service included the registration of the ceremony, I would see reason in that case to debate the matter. For the same reason, if a difficulty is provided for the ethos and policy of a church, it is not enough to say a gay couple is most unlikely to use it.

Senator Feargal Quinn in another context stated that it is not good legislation to say a possibility does not arise. It should not be like that and in this case it is more than a legal issue that is involved. There is an element of symbolism that is important in this case also. The Minister might find it possible to extend the same view as has informed the legislation in regard to the church itself; if that could be extended to church property or religious organisations with a particular policy or position, it would be helpful in the acceptance of this legislation.

I second the amendment. We take no credit for the drafting of the amendment, which we used because we were taken by the content coming from Christian church leaders who circulated it to all. It covers not only civil partnership but also marriage, or divorced marriage, which might be against the ethos of the church. That would exclude them from the issues.

Article 44.2.1° of the Constitution states "Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen". Our amendment is specifically and exclusively directed at church bodies and organisations.

I noticed the Minister dismissed some of my earlier comments regarding comparisons with Britain. I hope he will follow through on that ethos and thinking by looking at the common law system we inherited from the British and look to introduce Napoleonic code structures into the system.

In Britain Catholic adoption agencies had to accept the equal status Act and terminated their service as a consequence. In the US, Connecticut and Vermont have provisions for a conscience clause and it takes in churches in regard to civil marriage in Vermont. The legal provisions indicate:

The civil marriage laws shall not be construed to affect the ability of a society to determine the admission of its members as provided in section 4464 of this title... and shall not require a society that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the society's free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of United States.

In respect of public accommodations it is stated:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodation, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if such request for such services [were to contravene their ethos] . . .

That is what we are trying to achieve in the amendment.

I listened carefully to the debate. We were challenged in respect of ensuring we did not discriminate against people or minorities, on the one hand, while ensuring people's freedom of conscience would be protected, on the other. In this instance, the church does discriminate. In other very liberal states, however, provision is made for that type of exercise by the church of its own ethos. That is our strongly held, conscientious view on this matter.

I do not support the amendments, particularly as they constitute another effort at discrimination. Amendment No. 2 deals with church property, while amendment No. 3 in the name of Senator Mullen goes further in the context of individuals being allowed to discriminate. The amendments are designed to derogate from the normal equal status and equality provisions contained in existing legislation in order to allow for discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. That is why I oppose them. Like many of the other amendments tabled, they seek to undermine objective behind the Bill.

The Minister outlined the arrangements — information in this regard is also set out in the explanatory memorandum to the legislation — whereby church property or other property is used for the solemnisation or celebration of civil partnership or marriage. In that context, I do not believe amendment No. 2 is necessary. It comes down to a choice with regard to where civil registration is to occur and whether there is solemnisation or celebration of civil unions.

On amendment No. 3, in circumstances where one provides or supplies goods or services, there are protected grounds set down in existing legislation which prevent discrimination. Where buildings owned by religious bodies are rented out for non-religious purposes to the public generally or to a section of the public, the provisions to which I refer apply. Said provisions prohibit discrimination on the nine grounds set out in the relevant Acts. The Bill before the House adds civil partnership status to the protected grounds by replacing marital status with an extended civil status ground.

Where a church or religious institution operates in a commercial environment such as that relating to the leasing or renting of properties, it is bound by the Equal Status Act in respect of the supply of goods and services. I do not see why that should be changed. In addition, I do not understand how it could conceivably undermine the ethos of a church or religious institution — the matter to which amendment No. 3 in the name of Senator Mullen relates.

I do not see a basis for these amendments, other than that they seek to maintain in our society discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. I urge, therefore, that they be rejected.

Senator Regan seems to be unaware — I know that this is not actually the case — of the many exceptions in our equality legislation which are designed to achieve the common good and protect people from capricious or unfair proceedings. Amendment No. 3 is the only amendment I have tabled on Report Stage. The rather delicate fig leaf of parliamentary scrutiny which obtained was ripped away by the decision to guillotine the debate on the Bill.

Amendment No. 3 would not undermine the objective behind the Bill in any way. It would, however, temper the effect of the Bill in some areas. While I wish those who will benefit from the legislation the very best — I am genuinely delighted for them — we should spare a thought for those whose freedoms will be curtailed by its enactment. As a result of what has happened here today, the Bill will leave the House tainted.

Amendment No. 3 is very much based on the existing section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 2000. It is interesting to note that the courts stated employment equality legislation would not have been constitutional were it not for the inclusion therein of section 37 which allows religious-run institutions to make employment decisions, where necessary, in order to prevent the undermining of their ethos. If that is the delicate balance required as a result of the provisions in the Constitution relating to freedom of conscience and religion, it should follow that the Bill before us which creates a new potential scenario because of the inclusion of civil status among the prohibited grounds of discrimination could lead to a curtailment of the freedom of religious institutions to act and operate fully on the basis of their ethos.

As with one of the amendments we discussed during the truncated Committee Stage debate, I have sought carefully to delimit the circumstances involved. It is not a question of allowing discrimination, rather it is a question of providing that certain situations shall not constitute discrimination. I have confined the amendment but enough scope is retained in order that "A religious institution or an educational, social or community organisation which is under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes or whose objectives include the provision of services in an environment which promotes certain religious values" would not be taken to discriminate on the marital or civil status grounds or on the sexual orientation ground if it does not provide goods and services. I have further curtailed the provision by requiring that these entities would only enjoy such an exemption where it related to matters directly related to the occasion of such a solemnisation or registration or where it involved relationship counselling or adoption services. It would, therefore, be a clearly delimited ethos protection provision.

The reason I have brought forward this provision is, as stated on Committee Stage, there are different views and values within our society and the ethos of the religious institutions which have contributed so much to the life of this country for a long period differs from what is becoming the prevailing secular ethos. The question arises as to whether we should condemn them for this or whether we should find a way to accommodate them in order that the freedoms people enjoy will be balanced. That is what the amendment involves. It is not about discriminating against any section of the community, rather it is about following in the tradition of allowing certain exemptions to equality legislation. Such exemptions can be found at many locations for those who wish to seek them out.

Under the Bill before the House, there is a possibility that people's right to live and act according to their ethos could be crushed. The protection offered under the proposal I have brought forward would come in two parts. The first relates to religious institutions and the second to private individuals, sole proprietors or small businesses. It cannot be stated amendment No. 3 relates to State officials, rather it relates to private providers of goods and services. Does the Minister want such people to be obliged to lie? If a photographer would rather not spend the day taking pictures at a civil partnership ceremony with which he or she has a moral problem, do we want him or her to lie about his or her reasons for not offering his or her services? Does the Minister wish it to be the case that it should be fair dinkum for the Equality Authority to pursue such individuals? Do we want people to be obliged to lie and say they are busy in order that they do not have to supply their services? If we want to be mature and accept that our society really does believe in pluralism — after today's use of the guillotine I would be surprised if many actually did believe in it — we should try to find a way to accommodate the aspirations of others, even if we deplore them. Even if one deplores the aspirations or religious objections of others — I do not deplore them but there are others present who do — it does not follow that one should seek to crush them or discourage people from harbouring them, as was the case with religion in Soviet Russia.

Amendment No. 3 contains a narrow exemption which recognises that some have conscientious objections in this regard. The amendment would limit people's right to go their own way in respect of the circumstances directly relating to the occasion of a solemnisation or registration. I would include a celebration in this regard because I do not want the Minister to raise the stock point relating to a sacred space. I am not interested in that matter and have never made the argument in respect of it. I am referring to parish halls, church halls, halls owned by the Knights of Columbanus and so on. I am not espousing my own views on this matter. I regard myself as a pragmatic person and I am not necessarily sure what decision I would take in the circumstances to which I refer. As a legislator, however, I wish to legislate for people whose views I do not believe should be regarded as being second class.

That is all I have to say on the matter. I recognise that no matter what I say, I will be treated to the same answer as previously.

We have already spent more than four hours today engaged in a sort of farcical debate, with so much obstruction etc.

I ask the Senator to speak about the amendment.

I will refer to a related point, which is the non-issue of the hypothetical homophobic registrar who might at some point wish not to register a civil partnership. These amendments go well beyond the point we have already debated. Senator Mullen has suggested they are narrowly drafted — far from it. This measure would involve an enormous new exemption to the equality legislation. I agree with him that there are existing exemptions to the equality legislation. We should not add to them by providing for a further mandate or charter to discriminate. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 would allow religious-run community centres and the owners of hotels and small businesses to discriminate not only against civil partners but also against people entering a marriage if it for some reason offended the religious ethos or views of the proprietor of the business or the manager of the community centre. If a previously divorced couple are remarrying and wish to have their reception in a hotel, the hotel owner will be permitted to refuse them under this measure without being subject to the equal status legislation. It is clear that these amendments would provide for extra discrimination by the back door. They would drive a coach and horses through the new civil partnership legislation and the existing equality legislation. We live in a republic. This is not a theocracy. The only justification for introducing amendments of this nature would be a theocratic one, to the effect that laws should derive in some way from the Christian churches, which were behind the drafting of some of these amendments, apparently.

I should say, for the avoidance of doubt, that they were not behind my amendments.

Senator Walsh has acknowledged the help he received from a church leader in drafting his amendments.

We do not know who helped the Senator to write her amendments.

I will ask Members to leave if they continue to interrupt. I cannot allow it.

I have acknowledged the work of Dr. Fergus Ryan on another amendment. Many of us believe the Catholic Church in this country already has too much power.

On a point of information, the assistance I received did not come from the Catholic Church.

I am not suggesting that it was the Catholic Church.

It was a Protestant church.

I remind the House that many Members have already had an opportunity to speak and other Members will get such an opportunity.

I will conclude by saying we will strongly oppose these amendments because we believe their acceptance would compound existing discrimination and undermine greatly the civil partnership legislation and the equality legislation.

Many Members of the House understand the ethos of this country's churches and their members. These amendments seem to reflect the ethos of the churches in managing their affairs and the ethos of individuals in dealing with civil partnership unions. It is true that churches, like individuals, have rights. The people who are involved in civil partnerships have rights as well. The need to balance the rights of both groups is probably one of the reasons we have reflected on this legislation for so long. A forensic and detailed debate on this issue would have been very useful. I regret to say we have not had such a debate today, however. Senator Mullen has criticised Fine Gael Senators in this respect. When he gets an opportunity to read the transcript of the Committee Stage debate, he will see that it verged on the farcical. It did not deal with the core issues at all. It has destroyed the previous quality of the debate on this legislation.

That is ridiculous. What about the two hours Senator Regan took to deal with an amendment?

That is the way I look at it. I would have loved to have heard a high quality debate on issues of this nature, such as the ethos of the churches in our society as it becomes more secular.

We were not even allowed five minutes for such a debate.

If the Senator had been better at doing the debate, he would have had plenty of time to discuss the matter.

I refused to be completely intimidated.

His approach of smirking down the back has done nothing for the three Members who have resigned the Fianna Fáil Whip or those who co-signed his amendments. He has made a farce of this debate.

I ask Senator Twomey to confine his remarks to the amendments.

He tries to claim he upholds the standards of this House, but he has done huge damage to the quality of the debate in this House this afternoon.

That is a shameful remark. At least I was here.

The Senator can examine the record. I was sitting here. I have sat through many debates in this House. I must say I was disappointed with the Committee Stage debate.

The Senator was not here.

I respect some of the views that were expressed by other Senators who made good contributions. I respect them even if they do not necessarily share my point of view. That is the way it is. I would have loved a deeper debate on this issue. I would have loved to have heard the views of others who oppose certain aspects of this legislation. They might have suggested ways of overcoming those difficulties. We did not have time for that, unfortunately.

The Senator supported the guillotine.

It is regrettable.

I am deeply appalled by these amendments. I am ashamed that Senators saw fit to table them on an Order Paper of this House. They have disgraced this Chamber. I accept that they have a fully democratic right to do so. I support that right. I retain a feeling of shame that my fellow citizens and Members of this House have behaved in such a way. If I heard Senator Walsh correctly, it appears that the wording of one of his amendments was supplied by a church.

I was assisted by a Christian church.

I sincerely hope it was not a church with which I have any association.

I do not know what religion the Senator is.

I consider it really appalling. I want to examine what the amendment actually means. I listened to Senator Quinn speak movingly about isolation and loneliness etc. I challenge him in that regard. Amendment No. 3 in his name proposes that people may be excluded by a "community organisation". It seems that we are not to be part of community organisations at particular times.

I ask the Senator to let me speak, if he does not mind.

The Senator is totally misrepresenting the amendment.

He has curtailed debate in this House quite enough.

The Senator voted for the guillotine.

I ask that Senator Norris be allowed to speak on the amendment without interruption.

Amendment No. 2 proposes that these organisations be allowed to refuse to "provide counselling". The Senators want to prevent the provision of counselling. One of the worst aspects of the amendment is its reference to refusing to provide "services that directly facilitate the perpetuation" of the relationship. This measure has been proposed by the Senators who were talking about commitment and marriage. How dare they? Do they not feel ashamed? I should point out that some of these buildings may have been paid for by taxpayers' money.

The Senators in question, in the interests of a completely unelected body, presume to dictate how such facilities should be used. I do not care if the church that assisted with the compilation of this amendment is my church, although I would like to know if it is. If that is the case, I will contact the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Neill, tonight. I doubt he had anything to do with it because I know he is an honourable man.

I wish to speak on the rest of this disgusting tissue. It seeks to allow "any private individual, sole proprietor or small business" to refuse to provide goods and services. Are we to protect a shop that refuses to sell wedding trinkets or a bouquet of flowers? I cannot believe that gentle people I have respected for so long — Senators Ó Murchú and Quinn — have signed their names to such a proposal. If either of them is surprised, or expresses shock, that the gay community might feel antipathy towards a church, I suggest to them that the antipathy is coming entirely the other way, if it is the case that these proposals were drawn up by a church. I cannot believe that having heard the strong expression of my genuine feelings yesterday, Senator Quinn signed his name to this shocking piece of attempted or purported legislation.

These amendments are not worthy of support due to their discriminatory nature, as outlined by Senator Regan. Senator Norris has highlighted how shameful they are and what it would mean if they were accepted. Senator Bacik alluded to the manner in which those who have proposed these amendments have sought comfort by referring to exemptions in other legislation. I agree with her that we should be providing for fewer exemptions rather than more. The last thing we should do is provide for more exemptions. When we draft legislation, we should always seek to provide for equality. The more exemptions we have, the less equal is the legislation. I do not think I share the same understanding of the word "discrimination" as others who have spoken about it, including Senator Mullen. He does not seem to think that exempting and listing people counts as discrimination. I agree with Senator Norris that when one examines what is being proposed, one would expect people to be ashamed to put their names to it. What we have lost sight of is a sense of the purpose of this legislation which is to provide a legal basis for people in a loving relationship——

Senators

Hear, hear.

——and provide comfort for that. We are bogged down now in all kinds of nonsense. As Senator Bacik said——

Speak to the amendment.

I am speaking to the amendment. Senator Bacik said the situation was entirely hypothetical because no credited existing registrar has objected to this.

The Senator would prefer to think the law can be used to go after people.

I had intended to speak on section 23 but decided there was no point. The most objectionable point about it was that comfort was being sought for the hypothetical registrar as if he or she were the injured party when the injured parties were those people being denied the right to marry. That was lost sight of completely. These amendments do not warrant anyone's support.

If these amendments were accepted they would give a significant mandate to discriminate and, in effect, would provide an agenda for discrimination. There is no doubt about that. I agree with Senator Bacik that, without question, they would make a coach and four to go through equality legislation. They would allow for discriminatory actions in the provision of a range of services — in hotels, shops——

——florists, all sorts of places, including hospitals. The amendments could lead to that.

Senator Fitzgerald should read the amendments.

The ethos encapsulated in these amendments should not belong in a civilised and tolerant society that promotes equality.

A Christian society.

To my colleagues who tabled these amendments I say, "You just don't get it." If a reinforcing argument was needed for passing this legislation today, it is found in these two amendments. I have just re-read section 7 of the Equal Status Act which has similar wording, as Senator Mullen noted. Doing so brought back the sick feeling I had in my stomach when that legislation went through.

Did the Senator oppose the current——

No interruptions, please. Members have had an opportunity to speak.

I saw the law being abused for the past ten years to threaten, frighten and control people, especially teachers who had not come out in regard to their sexual orientation. I have seen this repeatedly and have met teachers and groups who outlined chapter and verse to me but would not allow me to become involved or do anything. One walks away angry, biting keen to do something but afraid to because that would expose or further threaten those people. On occasion, Senator Norris attended some of those meetings with me. I felt inadequate as a public representative.

The idea that people celebrating their relationship cannot go and buy a box of burgers or whatever they want for a barbecue is appalling. It is only one step from not being allowed breathe the air or come into a room. It is appalling, distasteful and offensive.

I ask my colleagues, having listened to the debate, to withdraw the amendments and not put this issue to a vote. It undermines all the arguments made. One cannot support those two amendments and at the same time claim to support the rights of people who, in different ways, are the subject of this Bill. It does not add up. Both notions do not come together. It also proves another point which I have been making since 1977. Before one can change habits and attitudes one must change legislation. The Employment Equality Act 1977 did more to change attitudes than any other factor. No attitudes were changed until that came about.

This is crucial. If this measure were applied to any other group in society, whether Travellers or anyone else, people would be appalled. It is desperate. As to ethos, I have appealed 24,000 times for someone to define that word. We finished up in primary schools with 3,000 different applications — perhaps I should call them ethoi — but there is no definition in the Education Act, the Equal Status Act or the amendment to the Employment Equality Act. Ethos means whatever people wish it to mean. It isAlice in Wonderland stuff, it is what I say it means. If one uses words such as “undermining” or “maintaining” or “essential to the ethos”, one winds up in court and is told that something quite other is the ethos as seen by another person. Ethos can be anything and there are no restrictions on it. This is open sesame to discriminate. It is worse than anything in the Equal Status Act. Once again, it is proposed to give licence to people to run through the legislation. I appeal to my colleagues who tabled these extraordinarily distasteful, offensive and embarrassing amendments to withdraw them.

I am very much on Senator O'Toole's side with regard to this. I am very disappointed in these amendments. I remember walking through the countryside as a young man——

We are discussing the amendments.

This relates to them and is important. I remember walking through the countryside and coming across——

There is very little about walking through the countryside in this.

——a mass rock. That was a place where at one time in this country people had to go to celebrate mass, compelled to hide away from society to do so. In regard to the present discussion, where will people celebrate civil partnerships? In what places will homosexual couples get together under this legislation? These two amendments attempt to ensure there will be nowhere where people in a loving civil partnership can get together. That is appalling.

That is not true.

It is atrocious, especially in the light of what was the case at one time in this country. There was discrimination against Catholic people in regard to the celebration of masses.

That was equally appalling. I hope these amendments are not pressed because I am appalled by them.

Senator Mullen accused the Seanad of a lack of refined thinking. These amendments show lack of progressive thinking, in particular amendment No. 3 which is blatantly discriminatory thinking at best. I appeal to the Senator not to press it. There are some brilliant examples in the history of this country, instances in many areas, at many times, where minorities have been trodden upon. Why would anyone want to introduce a measure that would give a green light to people to discriminate against a minority of people?

We are here today to try to right that wrong and bring our society forward. If Senator does not mind me saying it, he is a disgrace.

I do not like that language to be directed at anyone.

I will stick to the amendment. I remind Senator Mullen that since 2000, it has been against the law——

The Senator might care to listen. He has not listened to me all day.

Discussion is through the Chair and on the amendments.

We are dealing with amendments on Report Stage.

How one learns is important.

Please. I shall call the Minister to speak.

I remind those Members who tabled these amendments today that since 2000 it is against the law to discriminate in the provision of goods and services based on nine grounds, namely, gender, age, race, nationality, sexuality, marital status and membership of the Travelling community. I understand the beliefs of those who tabled the amendments although I do not agree with them. If we were to accept this amendment, it would maintain discrimination. As Senators Ó Brolcháin, McDonald and others have noted, it would send people further underground.

It would be legislative discrimination.

It would make discrimination legal. I fail to see Senator Mullen's point about the amendment achieving common good. How would it achieve the common good? What is the common good? What does he understand by common good according to this amendment? To me, as a Christian, a Catholic and a legislator, this is not about common good or maintaining the rights of people. This is erosion and the taking away of rights. This is not about the common good but about putting forward a proposition to play to the Senator's electoral gallery. Let us get real. I do not say that about some of the Members opposite.

Senator, please. My hands will be tied at 6 p.m. and I would like the Minister——

I never used anything but reasoned arguments. The Senator should withdraw that remark.

The Senator is accusing me of being a political cynic. He should be ashamed of himself.

I am accusing the Senator being a political cynic.

He does not mind what he accuses people of.

I absolutely am accusing the Senator of being a political cynic.

Senator Buttimer, I must now call the Minister.

Senator Buttimer should not be accusing people of anything. He has no respect for people's characters or anything.

The time allocated is up. My hands are tied in that respect. I want to give the Minister a minute to reply.

I have absolute respect for people's characters. I completely respect Senators Walsh, Hanafin and Ó Murchú.

I completely despise the Senator's hatred.

I have no hatred.

I want to give the Minister a minute to reply.

I will conclude on this point.

My hands are tied due to the order of the House.

I have no hatred whatever in my body.

The time will be up and I will not be able to call the Minister.

I am a person full of love and spirituality and I embrace allpeople.

Unfortunately, I advise the Minister I will not be able to call him toreply.

If this amendment is accepted, this Bill will be rendered useless.

Unfortunately, my hands are tied and I am unable to call the Minister.

As it is now 6 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Seanad of this day: "That amendment No. 2 is hereby negatived; that Fourth Stage is hereby completed; the Bill is hereby received for final consideration; and the Bill is hereby passed".

Question put.
The Seanad divided by electronic means.

As this is an historic occasion, I would like a manual vote.

As the Senator is not a Teller, will the Senators supporting his request please stand?

More than four Members rose.

The vote will now proceed.

Question again put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 48 48; Níl, 4.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Hanafin, John.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Walsh, Jim.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Rónán Mullen and Feargal Quinn.
Question declared carried.

Owing to pressures of time, I will call only the Minister and lead speaker from each of the parties and the Independent group.

As I am under time constraints, I appreciate the Cathaoirleach allowing me to speak and thank him and the staff of the Seanad. I also thank my staff who have been working with me on the Bill for a number of months. They have been excellent and available at all times and the job they have done is a credit to the public service. We heard a great deal about public servants having objections or otherwise to doing their public duty. I assure the House that in this instance we have been very well served. I thank the Attorney General and the staff of his office who were also assiduous in the responses they provided, particularly given the constraints of time.

As I stated, both in this House and the other House, my party, before the previous general election, made a commitment to provide a legal framework for gay and lesbian couples. The preamble to this was a statement that it was to be done based on the republican ethos of our party and the equality agenda to which we are committed. These were significant words and this is a proud day for my party that we have been able to introduce this progressive legislation. I fully accept, however, that there are people inside and outside my party who may have difficulties with the Bill. That public representatives can argue their position without falling out with each other shows a sense of maturity. As I stated previously, I have good friends on the other side of this equation but we will remain friends following the enactment of the Bill.

As I noted on Second Stage, one thing we learned and I, as a heterosexual person, had not appreciated was that other people are directly affected by the lack of rights and duties available to gay and lesbian people. They include family members and friends who are affected as a result of the difficulties associated with a person coming out as gay or lesbian.

This has been a good day's work for the Oireachtas and politics generally. I stated, to a certain extent jocosely, that I should examine my conscience. In my 23 years in Leinster House and especially in my 13 years as a Minister, I have not had so many people on all sides agreeing with me. I do not believe I have ever secured such a large majority in this House. While I may have had frayed nerves on Committee Stage, the speeches made on Second Stage were a credit to this House and public representatives of all political parties. In that respect, I pay due regard to the Fine Gael Party and Labour Party in both Houses, the other parties and the Independent Members of the Seanad. This is a good day for politics and I thank everyone for their forbearance in ensuring the Bill passed. I hope it will be signed into law by the President in due course.

I welcome the enactment of this Bill. I have never worked so hard to get Government legislation through the House. As one can see, all Fine Gael Party Senators supported the Bill because it is the right thing to do. It is good legislation that is modelled on Fine Gael's policy document of 2004 which carved out the civil partnership approach to resolving this problem in a manner that does not trespass on the constitutional guarantees and protection for the family.

The Bill reflects changes in society, the extent of same-sex couple and cohabitee relationships and the acceptance by the vast majority that civil union relationships should be given legal recognition and protection. It is also an attempt to end the victimisation, discrimination and hostility which has been shown to the gay community over the years. For Members of the House it has been an exercise of conscience to be fair and reasonable and tolerant of the gay community. It is the Christian thing to do. That is what we have done here over the past two days. We have had a good debate. It deteriorated at certain times and became a sham debate. It became taut because there is an issue of discrimination. The objective of the Bill was to end discrimination and we did not want to see any of that creep back into the Bill. I commend the work of the Department, the Minister and everyone who contributed to it. The input of the Independent Senators who have spoken and raised issues made for a good debate. It was too prolonged, but nevertheless valid issues were raised. The debate centred on the merits of those arguments more than on the personalities. I am very happy with the Bill and I am happy that we have fully supported it. It is legislation that reflects a more modern Ireland.

This is a truly historic day. I agree 100% with the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, that we have done a good day's work. In fact it has been a good couple of days' work. I note with some pleasure the collaborative nature of our efforts. The Minister said it was a Fianna Fáil Bill. We then learned that it was modelled on a Fine Gael Bill. I do not think we should leave out the Green Party without whose pivotal involvement we might not have had the Bill at all. I also acknowledge the Labour Party which was second into the field because with my usual modesty I must point out that I put the first Civil Partnership Bill before this House.

As the Minister knows I had reservations. I was very concerned about the children. I very much welcome the clear and positive indications he has given that what we all agree is a lacuna in the Bill will be speedily addressed, to which I very much look forward. I had intended and had signalled my intention to vote against the Bill, but after the extraordinary and dramatic developments of the past one and a half hours, I was left with absolutely no moral alternative to walking through the division lobbies with all my colleagues. I never thought in my dreams that I would walk shoulder to shoulder with almost the entire membership of Seanad Éireann into the division lobbies to vote for this kind of wonderful liberalising legislation. I am proud that this day has come. It is a massive overwhelming victory. It is a victory, not for gay people nor for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party, the Labour Party or the Independents; it is a victory for decency and this country.

I add my voice to the voices of others very much welcoming the passage of the Bill. I thank the Minister and his officials who have worked so hard on the Bill. I ask the Minister not to get too used to such a big majority; it may not last. However, it was nice to be part of such a genuine consensus on the issue. I also thank the many non-governmental organisations and individuals, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery now, who have worked for so many years to make this happen. It has been a long road to introduce this legislation. It is 17 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Senator Norris and others have been working for many years on this legislation. A tribute must be paid to Senator Norris who introduced the first legislation on civil partnership, followed closely, of course, by the Labour Party with the two Bills introduced in the Dáil by Deputy Howlin in 2006 and 2007. All parties rightly support this legislation. It is a great day to see that we all support it.

Of course, the Labour Party has been critical of the legislation. We said it does not go far enough. In particular we were critical of the major omission of children and children's rights from the Bill. However, I was very heartened by what the Minister said last night in proposing a comprehensive review of children's rights in other legislation to come. We very much look forward to that. We are also very heartened by such a major shift in public opinion and such a vast majority in favour of the legislation as shown by the very small minority who sought to oppose it.

This is a day for celebration. We all look forward very much to the first civil partnership ceremony taking place in this jurisdiction and we see it very much as a stepping stone and a step forward towards true equality for gay people and all of us in society.

On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I acknowledge the wonderful work done by the Minister, his staff and the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister put considerable personal effort and thought into the Bill. It is ground-breaking legislation that will join him with people such as the wonderful Máire Geoghegan-Quinn who decriminalised homosexuality back in 1993. In years to come when we look back at ground-breaking legislation, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will go down in the annals of history for his courage in bringing this Bill through the Houses today.

The legislation gives rights to gay and lesbian people that they did not have yesterday, which gives grounds for celebration. I am delighted the mood has lifted in the Chamber. We had a very fraught Committee Stage and a very taut Report Stage. That is all about difference of opinion that must be respected, which is why we are here debating the legislation. The benefit of Seanad Éireann is that we get to air these views. It would be fair to say that if we did not have differences of opinion in politics, we would just be in the realms of public administration. As politicians we need to lead. Today we have led the country the right way forward in progressive legislation that will only make people's lives better. When we talk about people's lives, we must acknowledge that gay and lesbian people now have rights that they did not have and also their families do not need to worry so much any more. Their mothers and fathers can relax. It is to be hoped they can enjoy their new-found rights and settle down to enjoy their lives. I hope it lifts much of the pressure that has been on them in the past 17 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality as we moved towards this point today. The summer of 2010 has been a very historic time and I am delighted to be here today to welcome and to have supported the passage of the Bill through the House.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, those who sat in the Chair on your behalf and the staff of the Seanad for their patience, forbearance and even-handedness. I especially thank the Minister for his stewardship of the Bill through both Houses of the Oireachtas. His name will rightly be associated with one of the most significant pieces of social legislation in this country, on which I congratulate him. I thank the Members of the House for conducting a debate full of passion and directing Ireland towards a future vision of all citizens being treated more equally. I thank those who have waited so long for a day such as this, knowing that the Ireland to which we will wake up tomorrow will be a different Ireland. It will not have changed utterly, but it will have changed significantly. Our gay friends, our gay family members and other gay members of our community can now walk taller knowing there are rungs on a ladder that have yet to be clung to. I thank all Members for their co-operation in this debate.

A number of other Members wish to contribute, but to be fair I only wanted to take the group leaders or spokespeople from the different sections.

Given the stance that some of us took — I am talking in particular about Senators Hanafin, Ó Murchú and me — I would like to say a few words if possible.

If I take Senator Walsh I should take other Members.

On a point of order, I have no objection to Senator Walsh making a brief contribution.

As other speakers have taken less than two minutes, I will allow Senator Walsh to speak.

Obviously, we had concerns. We expressed concerns over marital status, siblings, freedom of conscience for people, and children. The step we took was done from our own genuine beliefs and we acted in accordance with those beliefs. People may criticise us for it and obviously we are getting messages from people who disagree and those who agree.It gave rise to a debate on issues of real importance as to the core values we have in our republic.

I recognise that this is a very important day for those in the gay community who are in same-sex relationships. I know that the rights and entitlements which you will gain will give them opportunities in life when they commit to each other which I know they will value. While I have taken an opposing view on certain aspects of the Bill, I wish them everything I would wish for myself and my family.

I thank the Minister and his officials who have been very helpful to us, as the three of us would acknowledge. We went through the Bill microscopically with the Minister. We might not have agreed on everything, but we have been friends for a long time and agreed a long time ago that our differences on the Bill would not cause a breach. I know he is anxious to get away and where he is going.

If I might just——

I am sorry; I allowed one person from the group which was opposed to the Bill to speak. I have given most an opportunity to speak.

On a point of order, this is an historic day. As the sole representative of Sinn Féin in the House, I would have liked to have had an opportunity to express my appreciation.

I understand that. I assumed the Senator was part of the Independent group of Senators.

I am not a member of any grouping.

I understood the Senator was part of the Independent group.

He is with Sinn Féin.

I am not part of any grouping. I will be very brief. On behalf of my party, I thank the Minister for being here throughout Committee Stage to assist us during the debate which was historic. This is an emotional day for those who have campaigned long and hard. I have outlined my party's position on the Bill which does not go far enough. However, I recognise the rights it confers on the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. Whoever the Bill belonged to, be it Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party or Independent Members, the reality is that as soon as the President puts her signature to it, it will be the people's.

This is a great day on which to rejoice. I am glad to be voting the Bill through the Seanad. Only a very small minority has opposed it.