A poll commissioned by a national newspaper has found that over half of Irish adults support the introduction of gay marriages in the predominantly Catholic country.

The Irish Examiner/Red C survey claims that 51% of the public would welcome the introduction of civil marriages for gay couples and allowing gay couples the same rights of adoption as straight couples.

“When you consider where we have come from where you could be imprisoned for life for being gay this is definitely progress. People are changing,” Eoin Collins of the Gay Lesbian Equality Network said today.

The Irish government is currently considering the legal, financial and familial implications of introducing civil partnership legislation similar to that already in place in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell met with gay rights campaigners in Dublin following the first marriages in Britain and announced the creation of a government committee to examine the case for gay marriages.

“Our view is that the centre of gravity in Ireland has shifted,” Mr McDowell told the gathering, “Irish people know that being fair to everyone in the community is good for the community.”

Mr McDowell also voiced his support for changes to adoption laws saying that gay and lesbians are “as good or as bad as heterosexual parents.”

One in six surveyed consider that homosexuality is morally wrong and a third claimed they would be uncomfortable having a gay relative. A third also claim that they would hesitate in voting for a gay candidate at the forthcoming general election.

One in seven of the thousand adults questioned believed that a child brought up in a gay household will grow up to be gay.

Twice as many men as women displayed disapproval of gay rights in the survey. Young people and those in higher income groups were more likely to be supportive of gay rights.

The Republic of Ireland was one of the last Western European countries to legalise homosexuality in 1992.