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McAleese may convene Council of State over Civil Partnerships

Rumours abound of a potential Supreme Court referral over a co-habitation clause.

President McAleese has until Wednesday to sign the Civil Partnership Bill.
Image: Paul Faith/PA Wire

RUMOURS ARE MOUNTING that President Mary McAleese may convene the Council of State to discuss the constitutionality of the Civil Partnership Bill.

The Bill – which past its final hurdle in Leinster House last Thursday week with passage through the Seanad – was presented to the President last Wednesday.

McAleese is required to sign the Bill into law on the 5th, 6th, or 7th day after it is presented to her – meaning she can sign it any time between Monday and Wednesday of this week.

It is widely believed, however, that McAleese may exercise a provision in the Constitution and convene the Council of State for a discussion on whether certain clauses of the Bill are in conflict with the constitution.

In particular it is understood that a clause relating to co-habitation and how it may impact current law on heterosexual couples will come under review.

It is also reported that a high-ranking senior counsel has been advised not to book any holidays in case the bill is referred to the Supreme Court.

If the Council of State agrees that there may be some conflict, it can refer the Bill to the Supreme Court for a final ruling on it. Should the Supreme Court find the Bill acceptable, it would then be bulletproof from future legal challenge.

The Council of State is comprised of:

  • the heads of the Supreme Court and High Court
  • the Taoiseach and Tánaiste
  • the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil and Cathaoirleach of the Seanad
  • the Attorney-General
  • seven presidential nominees
  • any past living Presidents
  • any past living Chief Justices of the Supreme Court
  • any past living Taoisigh

Supporters of the Bill have welcomed the move, with gay rights advocate Panti noting that any Supreme Court ruling would pre-emptively deny opponents of the group the chance to prepare a legal challenge of their own.

There remains some confusion, however, over whether the Supreme Court can rule individual sections of the Bill out of order and still approve the remainder as constitutional, or whether it is required to throw out the entire Bill.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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