The Irish Labour party is to reintroduce a private member’s bill in the country’s Parliament next week in an attempt to legalise civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

LGBT activists in Ireland are urging people to contact their members of Parliament and lobby for the legislation.

In February an earlier attempt by the opposition Labour party to legalise same sex unions in the Republic was defeated.

The Irish government said that the bill proposed by Labour would not comply with the constitution, but pledged to introduce their own legislation later this year.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell told Irish MPs (called TDs) at the time that the state is constitutionally required to uphold the institution of marriage. Mr McDowell lost his seat in last May’s elections.

Article 41 of the Irish constitution says the institution of marriage is to be protected, but does not define what marriage is.

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.

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.

In July opening a gay community centre in Dublin, the Taoiseach pledged to bring in new laws to legalise civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples.

He said that he wanted to move “as quickly as possible” on the issue.

“This Government is committed to providing a more supportive and secure legal environment for same-sex couples,” Mr Ahern said.

“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.”

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.

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.