Tuesday saw the publication of the heads of the Civil Partnership Bill. These were meant to be published by the end of March, but were delayed due to the changes in Cabinet and some disagreements between ourselves and Fianna Fail as to the content.

I’m pleased to see that the Government is moving to deliver on the commitment, contained within the Programme for Government, to legislate for civil partnerships. Within the Green Party, we believe that same-sex couples should have full access to civil marriage. As such, we would like to go further then these proposals. However, we see the Civil Partnership Bill as a step in the right direction, as it will give protection to persons currently in a relationship, and give recognition to these relationships.

The heads of the bill run to 172 pages, but briefly, the proposals on civil partnership would give same-sex couples who obtain a partnership the same rights as married couples in a wide range of areas such as tax, succession, pensions, social welfare, immigration and domestic violence. Civil partnerships would be formed in the same way as marriage, and would only be dissolved on the death of one of the partners or under a court order if the partners had been living apart for two of the previous three years and proper provision had been made for both partners.

I was disappointed that no provision was made for children’s rights within this legislation. However, this issue will have to be addressed in a wider reform of guardianship and custody laws, dealing with a wide range of issues including the rights of fathers, rights in relation to step-children etc. I understand that there is an acceptance within Government that there is a general need to address all these areas through reforming legislation.

I’m also pleasd to see that the bill provides a new redress scheme for both opposite and same-sex couples who are left in a financially vulnerable situation in the event that their relationship breaks down or one of the couple dies suddenly. This new redress scheme will allow the financially vulnerable person apply to the courts for a range of reliefs. Obviously, this would apply to persons not currently in a marriage or civil partnership.

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