Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 May 2004

6:00 pm

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)

The debate must be broader than that. I recall instances where brothers and sisters, friends or whomever lived together. We should not, therefore, view relationships in terms of sexuality.

As Senator O'Toole stated, outside of marriage, people's precise relationship with each other, regardless of its nature, is no one else's business. There is an exception, however, if there are children involved or if it is a one-parent family. Recognising what Senator O'Toole stated, is there not a need for something broader? It is on this point that I disagree with the Law Reform Commission which, in respect of non-sexual relationships states "The Commission is not concerned with such relationships because, in our view, it is not possible to devise a single scheme for the determination of legal rights and duties". That is a challenge we must embrace and overcome. It would have a liberating effect on the debate in this area if, for example, gay relationships or unmarried relationships — regardless of whether divorced persons are involved — could be subsumed into a wider category I prefer to call "companionship" but which others may prefer to term "civil partnership". What we are discussing is broader than the term "cohabitation" which makes central the sexual nature of a relationship. If we could do that, we would be doing something useful and enlightened. We would also be able to get consensus on the matter if we were not exclusively focused on certain types of relationships. While this, obviously, subsumes and includes those sexual relationships, it does not necessarily put them up in lights as being the main reason for what we are doing. Many valuable, loving relationships exist.

I was conscious, when a member of the tax strategy group under the previous Government, that tax revenue has much to do with the problem. The Exchequer collects an enormous amount of revenue from people who, although they may be in the types of relationships about which we are talking, are not recognised for tax purposes as such, for example, brothers and sisters, etc. There are some exceptions, particularly in the agricultural sector, but they are limited. If we look at capital transfer revenue, a huge amount of it comes from people who are living together not necessarily in a sexual sense, but under the same roof, or from relatively close relations but not parent-child or married.

The Department of Finance holds much of the responsibility in this area. We might like to think that it is all a question of moral attitudes and of changing them but we need to disabuse ourselves of that idea. Tax revenue has much to do with a certain degree of resistance to change in this area.


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