THE Labour Party is making a pitch for the 'gay vote' by calling for a same-sex marriage referendum -- but it risks alienating more conservative voters.
Leader Eamon Gilmore yesterday said the party wanted to push ahead with a referendum to allow gay people the same right to marry as straight people. "Ireland is ready for equality between gay and straight," he said.
Labour is still maintaining its policy on another divisive social issue -- it wants to introduce legislation which would copper-fasten the right of women to access life-saving abortions.
Wexford TD Brendan Howlin said this was in line with the recommendation made by the Supreme Court in the 1992 'X' case, which gave permission for a suicidal 14-year-old girl who had been raped to travel to England for an abortion.
However, Labour's social policies could cause divisions with its likely coalition partner Fine Gael, which is opposed to holding an abortion referendum and has not publicly backed same-sex marriages.
Green Party TD Ciaran Cuffe said he welcomed the fact Labour had "come out" in favour of what had been his party's long-standing policy.
The Fianna-Fail/Green Government introduced legislation last year to allow gay people to enter into civil partnerships which give marriage-like benefits across a range of areas such as property, residency, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax.
At the launch of Labour's 90 page election manifesto in the Aviva Stadium yesterday, Mr Gilmore strongly attacked Fine Gael's Michael Noonan for claiming that Labour was a high-tax party. "Labour will not increase tax on people earning under €100,000," he said.
Mr Gilmore, whose slogan of "Gilmore for Taoiseach" has been questioned in recent days, made it clear that his party was still campaigning to become the biggest party in Government. He said voters could choose a Labour-led Government instead of changing "one conservative party for another".
"Labour, for the first time in the history of this State, is credibly challenging for the leadership of the next government. We are confident we can win that contest," he said.
Labour's manifesto includes plans to get more young people involved in farming, and, unlike FIne Gael, to keep Irish as a compulsory subject for the Leaving Cert, and a new Minister for Public Service reform.
Mr Howlin also claimed his party would close some of the "zombie hotels" controlled by NAMA, which are undercutting their commercial competitors.