Pro-gay politicians in Ireland have said they are hopeful that new legislation granting gay and lesbian couples the right to a civil marriage will gain the approval of MPs.

The opposition Labour party are introducing a bill into the country’s parliament, the Dáil, tonight.

The party’s justice spokesman, Brendan Howlin, has revealed that government MPs have been positive about the legislation.

“I am optimistic that the government will allow it to pass second stage for it to be debated by at committee stage,” Mr Howlin told the Evening Echo.

The proposed new law will grant all of the same rights for same-sex couples as married couples currently enjoy.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993, but since then the country has embraced gay rights.

Both discrimination and incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation are illegal.

A recent opinion poll found 84% in favour of some sort of recognition for lesbian and gay couples.

Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, has had same-sex civil partnerships since December 2005.

The Labour party has moved on the issue in the absence of government proposals, but all the main parties support the concept of legal recognition.

Labour introduced the country’s first divorce and contraception legislation in the 1990s.

Former President Mary Robinson, a Labour party member, fought for gay rights in the European courts while a barrister.

As President she signed the bill finally decriminalising homosexuality.

The civil unions proposal is certain to face opposition from the Roman Catholic church, who once had considerable influence in Irish political affairs.

The Dáil will vote tomorrow night on whether the legislation can move forward to the second stage.