Despite considerable progress in the last year, there remain significant challenges for gay and lesbians in Ireland, according to the annual report from the nation’s leading homosexual rights group.

Earlier this year the Irish government published draft legislation on civil partnerships, which the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) described as “a matter of practical and immediate urgency for lesbian and gay couples.”

This afternoon Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, will launch the GLEN Annual Report for 2007.

While there remain significant challenges, the report documents important progress in a range of areas, said GLEN.

“This includes measures to support safe and inclusive access to education by young lesbian and gay people, significant work by the police to promote safety and innovative measures to support lesbian and gay people in health and community development.

“GLEN is working towards a society where being lesbian or gay is unremarkable at any stage of a person’s life. Where a young person can come to terms with their sexuality and have all the support they need.

“Where the children of same-sex couples have full legal protection. Where older lesbian and gay people can be open about their life experiences and have their intimate relationships acknowledged and respected within their communities and by those charged with their care.”

Commenting on the importance of equality for lesbian and gay people, GLEN chief executive Kieran Rose said:

“At a time of great economic change, turbulence and uncertainty it is important to hold on to and build on the fundamentals that have led to economic progress.

“One of these fundamentals has been the progress made on equality, including the equality legislation, which has become part of our economic infrastructure”.

A draft civil partnership bill was published in June. It gives same-sex couples the same financial and maintenance protection as married couples.

The new bill, expected to take effect by next year, creates a legal relationship for same-sex couples, covering registration of civil partnerships, property and financial matters and dissolution of the partnership.

However, the bill does not apply to opposite-sex couples or siblings who are living together.

It does offer financial protection for co-habiting heterosexual couples with the safety net of a redress scheme in the event of economic vulnerability at the end of the relationship.

To qualify for a civil partnership you and your partner must both be 18 by the date of registration and give three months notice of when you wish to register the partnership.

Just as heterosexual marriages, the union cannot take place if either one of you is already married or in a civil partnership and you cannot enter a civil partnership with family members, including those related by adoption.

Partnerships are only annulled if it is found that either party had given false or misleading information regarding the age and marital status of either of the parties, if the couple are are related in any way, information that would have initially prevented the partnership.

The main principle of the bill is to ensure that those in civil partnerships are entitled to the same benefits as married couples based on the fact that they are long term unions, though civil partnership is not the same as marriage.

The government claims such a move would be open to Constitutional challenge under Article 41 of the Constitution.