The Irish Minister of State with responsibility for equality issues, Sean Power, has announced that the government has approved the appointment of the new board of the Equality Authority.

The chair of gay rights organisation The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, Kieran Rose, has been appointed to the board of the authority, which has wide-ranging powers.

The authority works to eliminate discrimination and promote equality in Ireland.

In 2002 the authority issued a formal report on equality for LGB people in Ireland and recommended changes to the law to eliminate discrimination that arises from the lack of legal recognition of lesbian and gay couples.

Discrimination in the workplace and in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and educational establishments are already prohibited.

However, religious institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church have wide-ranging exemptions from the law.

While the exemptions have been upheld as legal by the Irish Supreme Court, some lawyers argue that they are not compatible with the European Framework Directive on Discrimination in Employment.

The religious opt-out has also been criticised by the UN Committee on Human Rights.

“The government appointment of Kieran Rose, Chair of GLEN, to the Board of the Equality Authority is a significant step forward,” said Eoin Collins, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network’s Director of Policy Change.

“The Government is to bring in legislation recognising same-sex relationships and this appointment is an indication of their commitment to advancing progress on this and other issues affecting lesbian and gay people” continued Mr Collins.

In July Ireland’s Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, pledged to bring in new laws to legalise civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples.

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.”

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

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.