A leading gay rights group in Ireland is angry that new adoption legislation is discriminatory.

The Irish government published the Adoption Bill 2009 last month.

It limits access to adoption to married couples and individuals, excluding non-married same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

The chair of the country’s National Lesbian and Gay Federation, Ailbhe Smyth, said:

“It is extraordinarily disappointing that a government which professes to support full equality for all citizens would seek to yet again reinforce the inequalities within our society.

“At the same time as they published a legislative programme promising to introduce a Civil Partnership Bill in the current Dáil (Parliament) session, it’s clear that the government have no intention of providing full security for the children of same-sex couples nor increasing placement choice for children requiring adoptive families.

“Thousands of Irish children are living in stable, secure family environments with parents who are not married, or who are not permitted to marry by the state.

“By failing to allow for joint adoption in such circumstances, the government are bringing into stark reality the threat of children being removed from their homes in the event of something happening to their legal parent.

“We call on the government to ensure that this bill, in line with other European jurisdictions, is expanded to provide for equality of adoption rights between all couples, be they married or unmarried, same-sex or opposite-sex.”

In England and Wales the Adoption and Children Act took force in December 2005 and for the first time allowed unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, to apply for joint adoption.

Any unmarried couple, including a same-sex couple, wishing to adopt will need to be able to demonstrate that their partnership is an “enduring family relationship.”

In Scotland the law has been changed to allow gay couples to adopt – it comes into force in June.

In the aftermath of a landmark court case last year which paved the way for unmarried couples in Northern Ireland to adopt, legal experts said there should be no reason as to why gay couples cannot take advantage of the ruling.

The Adoption and Children Act came into effect .