Wednesday 21 March 2018

Top barrister marries gay partner overseas

Lawyer left AG's office after Brendan Smyth scandal

Dearbhail McDonald and Sam Smyth

A SENIOR lawyer, who was forced to step aside from his role in the Attorney General's office following the Fr Brendan Smyth extradition scandal, has married his long-term male partner.

Retired barrister Matthew Russell (77) entered into a civil partnership with his former law library colleague Fergus Courtney (52), it has emerged.

Mr Russell famously denied to a Dail committee that he was a member of Opus Dei, along with former Attorney General Harry Whelehan.

It emerged in November 1994 that nine warrants for paedophile priest Smyth's arrest had lain unprocessed on the desk of Mr Russell for seven months. The Albert Reynolds-led Fianna Fail-Labour coalition fell soon afterwards.

Mr Russell, known as Official A, was a senior legal assistant in the Attorney General's Office and later resigned with a generous early retirement package.

The marriage of the two retired, high-profile barristers in Scotland -- where civil partnership was introduced in December 2005 -- has taken Ireland's legal community by surprise.

But the Dublin based Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) has told the Irish Independent that a growing number of same-sex couples are travelling to Belfast, the UK, Canada and other countries where civil partnership is legal, to have their unions validated in the eyes of their family and friends.

Same-sex couples who marry outside of Ireland are also entering into civil partnerships with a view to having those partnerships recognised in Ireland when the civil partnership becomes law.

"They are marrying abroad even though they know it has no legal effect here," said Eoin Collins, director of policy change in GLEN.

"A lot of people enter into a partnership outside of Ireland for status or for symbolic effect, but it is important to do so as the new bill will give legal effect to them here."

The two men, who live in Dublin, entered into a civil partnership in Lothian Chambers in Edinburgh, Scotland, on January 23 last, according to the Register of Civil Partnerships there.

Efforts by the Irish Independent to contact Mr Russell and Mr Courtney were unsuccessful.

The men are the latest high-profile Irish couple to enter into a civil partnership abroad.

The news comes as the Irish Bishop's Conference intensifies its campaign to persuade politicians to dilute plans to give gay couples similar legal status to that of husbands and wives.

The Civil Partnership Bill 2009 was published last year and is making its way through the Oireachtas amid opposition from the bishops and some conservative groups.

Irish Independent

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