The Irish Prime Minister yesterday pledged to bring in new laws to legalise civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples.

Bertie Ahern, opening a gay community centre in Dublin, said that he wanted to move as quickly as possible on the issue.

He told the assembled crowd: “This Government is committed to providing a more supportive and secure legal environment for same-sex couples.

“Taking into account the Options Paper prepared by the Colley Group, and the pending Supreme Court case, we will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of this Government,” he said.

The court case refers to a lesbian couple, Drs Katherine Zappone and Anne Louise Gilligan, who have lodged an appeal with the country’s Supreme Court, challenging the High Court’s decision that their Canadian marriage is not valid.

In February an attempt to legalise same sex unions in the Republic of Ireland was defeated.

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.

Last year Mr Ahern explained his views on homosexuality and said he wanted to attract more gay candidates to his Fianna Fail party.

“Our sexual orientation is not an incidental attribute. It is an essential part of who we are. All citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, stand equal in the eyes of our laws,” he said.

“Sexual orientation cannot, and must not, be the basis of a second-class citizenship. Our laws have changed, and will continue to change, to reflect this principle.”

Bertie Ahern was once again sworn in as Taoiseach, or Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, on June 14th, after the Green party agreed to join a coalition government under his leadership.

He has held the position since 1997.

The formation of a new administration followed weeks of negotiations among the country’s political parties.

It is the first time the Greens form part of the government Mr Ahern has a majority of just one in the newly-elected Dail.