EARLY divisions within Fianna Fail over the forthcoming gay marriage referendum have surfaced after former minister Mary Hanafin voted against a council motion linked to the issue.
Ms Hanafin has defended her decision to vote against an equality motion before Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council yesterday on grounds that it was not appropriate for a local council to tell people how to vote in a referendum. She said her decision did not relate to the merits of the gay marriage referendum - which has already been endorsed by party leader Micheal Martin.
To add to the confusion, Ms Hanafin's party colleague, Councillor Kate Feeney, abstained in the Sinn Fein-backed motion. Fianna Fail Senator Averil Power said she believed it was down to "difference of opinions" in relation to handling the motion. And she insisted that the party was united in favour of same-sex marriage.
"There is no doubt about the party position," Senator Power said.
At the same time, government officials have said the Children and Family Relations Bill, seen as crucial to the same-sex marriage referendum, will be published in the coming weeks. It is expected to deal with issues including guardianship, custody and access to children.
The draft law will also address the issue of parentage, assisted reproduction and the use of DNA to establish parentage. Government sources concede the bill must be law before voters are asked in May to endorse same-sex marriage in a referendum. Both government parties believe that failure to address all the children's welfare issues comprehensively in advance of the vote will leave them vulnerable to opponents of the referendum, who will direct much of their energy towards this issue. One government source said winning or losing referendums turned on minimising doubt.
The new draft law will not be ready in time for the weekly Cabinet meeting scheduled for this morning. But it is expected within the next two weeks.
Today's Cabinet meeting may consider legislation allowing for the referendum reducing the age of eligibility to stand for the office of president from 35 to 21. But a bill to authorise the holding of the same-sex marriage referendum is still under preparation.
Under existing laws, only married couples or single individuals can apply to adopt a child. But the draft headlines of the new law signal adoption rights will be extended to same-sex couples.
It also allows cohabiting couples, living together for three years in a committed relationship, to jointly adopt children. Unmarried fathers can also automatically become guardians in some cases.
Officials say the bill is designed to take account of the growing complexity and diversity of modern families and proposes key law changes.