Speech to Dáil Éireann on Finance (No. 3) Bill 2011:
I dtús báire, molaim an Bille seo agus glacaim mo bhuíochas agus mo comhghairdeas don Rialtas as an mBille seo a chur ar Chlár na Dála. Today is an important day as the Bill under discussion is important. It represents the culmination of many years of advocacy and campaigning and at the outset, I acknowledge and welcome the members of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, who are in the Visitors’ Gallery and who have been pioneers in the elimination of discrimination in our society. I thank each man and woman in GLEN for the work he or she has done. Last year the Houses of the Oireachtas passed the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights of Cohabitants Act 2010. It heralded a new beginning and new era for our nation and its citizens. It proclaimed an Ireland that was proud and ambitious for the nation and for the people. As Deputy Doherty said, it was very good to be a legislator and, in no small way, it showed the importance of being a Member of this august House. No longer can we nor should we ignore the relationships of so many citizens, be they gay or heterosexual. We can never stigmatise or allow a stigma to be attached to any member of our society. The passing of this Bill and last year’s Bill will portray a genuinely inclusive Ireland, a country where all its political parties signed up to and voted for the Bill. I hope there will not be a division on this Bill.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was correct in his presentation of this Bill as stand-alone legislation. It is too important to be an attachment or an addendum to other legislation. I welcome the fact the Bill will be retrospective in its treatment of people who registered in April for civil partnerships. As Deputy Catherine Murphy noted, did we ever think it would be thus in 2011 with the human outpouring of joy, pride and love, not just in the celebration of civil unions but in the ending of discrimination and the ending of the treatment of people as second class citizens? This was a joy to behold.
I had the pleasure of attending a civil partnership ceremony. It was memorable and personal, human and joyful. That day, a person congratulated me and my fellow politicians on passing the Bill. This demonstrated to me the power of politics to change lives. As politicians we can change lives and we can make a difference in order that people are treated better. I congratulate and wish all those in civil unions the very best.
This Bill underlines the theme of equal or same treatment. When passed and signed into law, this Bill will bestow equal treatment for and will effect change in the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens. That change will not be at the periphery of life but at its heart and at the core of human relationships. This equality will not be a distant image or aspiration but will be a bright and shining star in the lives of couples, be they same sex or opposite sex, and it will make an immeasurable difference to their lives.
This Bill is important. It proposes to regularise the tax system and it is enabling legislation to change existing tax legislation. However, it is all of this and also so much more. It is a declaration of progression and a statement of intent. The press statement from GLEN states: “It provides important certainty and security for the many same-sex couples who have registered or are planning to register their civil partnerships.”
This Bill will give real and practical effect to the civil partnership legislation. I welcome the swift passage and publication of the Bill. It is not just a technical Bill, nor is it a complex financial Bill but one which allows civil partners to receive the same tax treatment as married couples. Neither is it just about the important elements of income tax, capital acquisitions tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax. This Bill is about the lives of people and about the way people are treated by the State, be they men or women, gay or straight. It is about the advancement of all our citizens, men, women and children. The passing of this Bill will properly and correctly give effect to the taxation aspects of the civil partnership Act of 2010. It is a statement that this Government is continuing the work of the previous Government. Deputy Kelleher might note I have given the previous Government some elements of praise.
It is important that all politicians are united in a desire to treat all our citizens equally.
We are privileged to walk into this Chamber and, as we do, we pass the Proclamation of the Irish Republic which states in clear, bold language:
The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.
These are not light words and nor were they written in a hurry, rather they were written with intent. Today we are putting those words into practical reality and this is to be welcomed.
In a modern interpretation, that alien government referred to in the Proclamation could be taken as referring to decisions and actions of this State and to the church and other bodies which have inhibited religious and civil liberty, failed to ensure equal rights and neglected to cherish all the children of the nation equally. This Bill is a welcome step to ensuring we continue our slow progression towards the equality that was eloquently set out in the Proclamation of Independence 95 years ago. Today we commence the legislative process to give real and practical effect to the newly introduced civil partnerships. We commence the process to allow registered same sex couples the same tax treatment as married couples. This is another step along the road towards equality.
Last year when a Member of the Seanad I raised the issue of the church in society. For many years the church has dominated church-State relationships and on many occasions the State deferred to the church, not only on social and moral questions but also on many other issues, including educational issues. We have seen the legacy of this abdication of responsibility by the State, and society is trying to rectify some of the damage caused. However, not all aspects of the involvement of religion in Irish society have had a negative impact. The close-knit social fabric which we enjoy is often founded and based on the idea of the parish. Our health system has developed from the initial ground-breaking efforts of religious orders. Much of our education system was founded by the religious. There has been much good work. In recent years, society has led both church and State on progressive social issues. The policies and structures of both church and State have lagged behind the realities of life for many people. Today, the State is saying it is willing to play catch-up.
I echo the comments made recently by Bishop Paul Colton the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, when speaking at the Church of Ireland diocesan synod. He was addressing the alienation and marginalisation of gay people from their church. He said that clergy regularly visited the homes of parishioners, both gay and straight, during their parochial rounds and he hoped that pastoral support was being offered by way of prayer and blessing. He asked the question as to what now is to be the response of the church, pastorally and liturgically, in this new civil partnership scenario. This question should not be confined to the diocesan synod but rather needs to be considered by all churches, all religious groups and every sector of society. True Christianity should neither alienate nor marginalise people who are gay. Like the rest of society, gay people also share the same spiritual and religious beliefs. They should not have to suffer pain by the very same Christian community which espouses that the reign of God will be a kingdom of love, peace, and justice.
Unfortunately, we have seen in recent years the many failures of this State to cherish all its children equally. Today we are ensuring another group of children will begin to receive equal treatment. For the purposes of tax, a child of civil partners will be treated in the same way as a child of a married couple. We are recognising the realities of family life for many children and those children brought up within caring and committed relationships by two caring and committed parents will be treated in the same way regardless of whether their parents are a married couple or civil partners. That is important. Children of State recognised unions will receive the same treatment for inheritance tax, gift tax and stamp duty. Today the State is recognising that parenting is not just done by married couples, single people or widowed parents, it is also done by same-sex couples. We are saying to those that choose to become civil partners and raise children within their relationships that society understands, values and appreciates their parental commitment.
Equality for children of parents in a civil partnership should not be limited to equal treatment for tax purposes. The State must examine the options available to it to go even further towards cherishing these children equally. It should examine the available mechanisms for formally recognising the parental role of a non-biological parent. As Deputy Murphy said regarding the previous census, we have seen that the number of same sex or cohabiting couples in the 2006 census increased from 1,200 to 2,090. I am sure the 2011 census will show a similar increase. It is open to all of the couples concerned to avail of the changes we are debating here today. GLEN has estimated that approximately 1,000 couples will avail of civil partnerships within the first year. That unveiling of joy, happiness, support and solidarity is what we bring to the House.
I refer to the imagery of the front page of The Irish Times on Monday of an 18-year-old girl or young man who was beaten up. Our horror and shock would be rightly placed if such a person was heterosexual. In our society today there is still a homophobic attitude that needs to be changed. Last week a young man visited my office. He was chased from an establishment in a certain part of the country. He was caught and beaten up because he was in a gay pub and was gay. That is wrong and sends the wrong signal. I compliment Educate Together, INTO and GLEN for their primary school teacher course on homophobic bullying which will take place in July this year.
We must live in a society where we are all free and equal and will be cherished by all organs of society. There can be no place for ambiguity or intolerance. The achievement of bringing this Bill to the House has taken many years of campaigning by the brave men and women of GLEN who are in the Visitors’ Gallery, previous and current Governments, politicians and advocacy groups. Groups and individuals have led society. They have educated it to the point that in this House last year, as Deputy Calleary said, there was unanimity. A minority voted against it in the Seanad.
Our attitudes, I hope, have changed. The transformation in our outlook and attitude must be met, as Deputy Doherty said, not just with political rhetoric but with action. The action is contained in the Bill and the Minister’s statement today which allows for retrospection. We must spare a thought for the many people today who are not here and would be proud that our Legislature joined together in passing the Bill.
We can never allow discrimination to continue in our society and the purpose of theBill is to provide the necessary change, as the Minister said, to the tax legislation. It is much more than that. It is about the gnáth duine, the ordinary person. We live in a new Ireland where the ignominious stigma of being gay is being removed today.
It is imperative that we continue the advancement and together portray an Ireland which is ambitious, outward looking and, as Deputy Calleary said, will benefit internationally from the passing of the Bill, in the context of foreign direct investment which will make it easier for companies relocate here and attract people to the country. The Oireachtas has sent a strong signal that we are becoming a forward-looking diverse society. I commend the Bill to the House.