Government clears the way for same-sex marriage vote
The Government has cleared the way for a referendum on same-sex marriage to take place next May.
A referendum will also take place on the same day to reduce the age of presidential candidates from 35 to 21.
In the Dail, Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed that the Cabinet had given approval for both referendums to take place.
"The Cabinet gave approval to hold the referenda, and both referenda will happen on the one day in the month of May 2015. The Government did not fix a final date," he said.
Mr Kenny added that Frances Fitzgerald, the justice minister, will come back to the Dail when she has finalised her proposals in relation to the same-sex marriage question.
It is expected the two referendums will take place on the same day as the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election to fill the Dail seat vacated by former minister Phil Hogan, who is now Ireland's EU Commissioner.
He said the Government would move to create a Referendum Commission to oversee the holding of the two referendums.
Tanaiste Joan Burton said the decision was a "very positive and progressive development".
She said: "The fact that this referendum is now to take place is a mark of the progress that has taken place in this country in recent years and decades, and indicates the extent to which attitudes to lesbian and gay people have changed."
Junior justice minister, Aodhan O Riordain, also strongly welcomed the Government decision. He said: "This referendum will provide the people of Ireland with the opportunity to have their say on what is a crucial equality issue."
However, the plan to hold the same-sex marriage referendum in early May has caused some concern in the gay community as it clashes with a major European pride parade.
The Government has received representations from the gay community explaining the proposed referendum date coincides with a major festival in the Canary Islands, the Irish Independent has learned.
In emails to senior members of the Coalition yesterday, members of the LGBT community protested that more than 5,000 people travel to Gran Canaria at that time. Government sources indicated the date of the referendum will not be changed due to the diary clash.
The Government also gave approval to allow a referendum to reduce the voting age of presidential candidates from 35 to 21. This was a move approved by the Constitutional Convention last year. Environment Minister Alan Kelly brought a memo to Cabinet yesterday for approval to draft legislation. The radical move comes as the Government looks set to hold at least four referendums next year.
Government sources have confirmed that the move to reduce the age is part of a drive to make the presidency more relevant to younger people.
But the idea of lowering the age was one of the most divisive issues debated at the convention last year. The proposal to lower the eligible age for presidential candidates was passed by only three votes.
Half of delegates (50) were in favour of the move, 47 were against and three did not know.
The same convention rejected a move to reduce its term from seven years to five.
The proposal for a one-term presidency of seven years split delegates with 44 voting in favour and 44 voting against, while 12 did not know. A one-term presidency of five years was rejected by 78 people, accepted by 14, eight did not know.