Ireland’s Minister of State for Equality, Sean Power, said this morning that legislation allowing same-sex civil partnerships could be introduced by early next summer.

He was speaking at the National Lesbian and Gay Federation’s (NLGF) symposium on Full And Equal Rights: Lesbian And Gay Marriage And Partnership Rights In Ireland. The symposium is part of the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All 2007

Mr Power added that the government was keen to pass the new laws as soon as possible and that they didn’t anticipate any objection from the opposition.

John Fisher, of ARC International rights organisation, told the Irish Examiner: “Same-sex couples are entitled to the same range of relationship options as opposite-sex couples, including marriage for those who choose it.

“Anything less is a denial of full equality. The struggle for equal marriage is about recognising love and commitment, strengthening families and affirming the core social values of dignity and respect.”

A bill outlining the new proposed legislation is expected to be published in March.

Mr Powers comments reiterate those made in a speech by Prime Minister Bertie Ahern last July, shortly after he had formed a new administration with the Green party.

Opening a gay community centre in Dublin, Mr Ahern told the 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.”

The year before, Mr Ahern has announced a desire to attract more gay candidates to his Fianna Fail party, adding.

“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.

“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.”