The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network has welcomed the “comprehensive” civil partnership legislation published by the Irish government today.

However, the Dublin-based gay advocacy group said the bill fails to provide protection for gay and lesbian parents and their children.

If passed the legislation would be the first time lesbian and gay relationships are recognised, supported and protected in Irish law.

“This is a reform whose time has come,” said GLEN’s Kieran Rose.

“All political parties have played a role in getting us to this point and there is huge public support for change.”

Today’s “Heads of Bill” is an outline of what the government proposes to bring forward and will undergo a short consultation period.

It is hoped that a bill will go through the Dail, the Irish parliament, by the autumn.

Civil partnerships are already legal in Northern Ireland under United Kingdom legislation.

“Comprehensive civil partnership, as proposed in the Heads of Bill, is a major milestone towards equality,” said Mr Rose.

“The goal of GLEN is access to full equality through civil marriage and this Bill is a fundamental step forward towards this goal.

“The provisions outlined today will resolve many immediate and pressing issues faced by lesbian and gay couples and will also provide a platform for further progress.”

GLEN expressed concern however that today’s Heads of Bill does not provide for legal recognition of the many same-sex couples, in particular women, who are parenting children together.

“This is of critical importance to parents and their children and GLEN urges the Government to bring forward proposals to address this legal gap,” said Mr Rose.

“GLEN also strongly welcomes the proposals in the Heads of Bill for a Redress Scheme to offer certain protections to co-habiting couples who do not marry or avail of civil partnership and which will be provided to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples on an equal basis.

“We look forward to the early passage of the Bill.”

In April MarriagEquality, a group formed to campaign for full civil marriage, released the details of a poll it commissioned which showed the number of Irish people who support partnerships only had fallen from 33% to 26%.

Overall 84% of those polled support either gay marriage or civil partnerships.

The Irish government has ruled out gay marriage, claiming that it would require a change to the country’s constitution and a potentially divisive referendum.

Article 41 of the Irish constitution says:

“The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.”

It does not give any definition of marriage itself, and critics and constitutional scholars argue it does not outlaw gay marriage.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993.

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