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Sign of the times: With This Fee, I Thee Wed

Not wanting to pay the HSE €150 to get married, Ger Gilroy sought out a loophole, but only managed to fall down it. Judge for yourself...

If you want to get married in Ireland, first you have to register with the HSE. You pay a €150 fee, for which they give you a form that you get stamped and signed on your wedding day. They issue the licence -- and if you want it and all it signifies, you will play by their rules. I am now an expert on this because, two weeks ago, I got married for the second time. It was the first time I've been married in the eyes of this State, but my second time to exchange vows. For the record, it was the same lady receiving both sets of vows.

We'd decided long engagements were rubbish. Unfortunately, it turns out that getting married is a bit more hassle than you might imagine. The most cursory research on my part deduced that we had to register with the State our intention to avail of the better tax laws they provide for newly minted baby factories and also, at some point, plight our troth in the eyes of whomever was watching. Easy. I breezily concluded that you didn't really have much to do.

There are some legal hoops they make you jump through, in case you're getting married accidentally. It did jar slightly that you've to pay the HSE to get married though. I'd rather give the money to a school or a library. Or maybe even a bank. When 'a friend' told me he'd heard about a loophole on Boards.ie that allows you to forego paying the fee, it sounded like an adventure was brewing.

I sought permission -- "purely as a protest; wouldn't it be nice not to have to prop up this mouldering, slow-witted, solipsistic beast [the HSE, not me] while still fulfiling our legal obligations?" "Eh, no" was the long answer from the new boss, who said "we're going to the HSE, and smiling and paying our money, and getting our paperwork."

Of course, fate intervened and on the allotted day of our HSE appointment, I was struck down with a lurgy so bad I couldn't speak or walk; sweating was painful and there was lots of that. The appointment lapsed and no other could be secured before our wedding day. Suddenly, my protest was on, only now due to a legal obligation.

The loophole was to go before a judge, smile nicely and seek permission to be married. They bless you, or smile back, or something and, presto, you're legal. So the story went. Time passed and as the day approached, my plan seemed reckless; a pre-nuptial murder (mine) was definitely on the cards unless we could wangle a date with the beak. A month before we were due to get married, we finally got our appointment to see the wheels of justice of this great State in action.

The court system is a joke. The most recent technology in use are the pacemakers in the guard's hearts, there's no information, no queuing system and lots of fat, rich barristers talking loudly. Two-and-a-half hours of chaos later, the judge eventually saw us. We left happy, albeit slightly frazzled as she waved us on our way with the benediction we needed -- "Donegal is lovely, you'll have a great time." Stick that in your pipe Mister HSE. We only had to wait in the courts for an entire morning to screw you, buddy.

Ignorance is bliss. Of course, we hadn't the right form when it came to the wedding day. We were missing a green or blue form, apparently -- I don't remember the particular colour at this stage, but I know its provenance. It's the one that you get from the HSE by paying €150. Our loophole was all hole and no loop. You're supposed to go back from the judge to the HSE and grovel apologetically before them, hand over your cash and be a proper citizen to get the correct form.

Luckily, the unofficial, non-legal part of the wedding went ahead, in the church. Our guests had a great time, laughed at all the right points at the speeches, Leinster won the Heineken Cup and everyone had a night to remember. And then two weeks ago, having paid the HSE its money, we had a lovely ceremony on Grand Canal Street at the Registry Office.

It turns out the HSE is full of really good people. And getting married a second time? Worth every cent ...