The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has said that same-sex couples are entitled to social protection on the same practical basis as co-habiting heterosexuals.

Mr Ahern was responding to protests from people in same-sex unions at an Oireachtas committee recommendation that homosexuals should have to register their civil unions to secure legal protection. 

The recommendation was made in a report by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution launched by Mr Ahern this evening.

For heterosexuals, it recommends the Government either allows them to register, or to rely on a legal presumption that they had earned ‘marriage-like’ rights by having lived together for an undefined period.

This marks a departure from the undiscriminating approach adopted by the Law Reform Commission in 2004, when it proposed that all intimate unmarried partnerships should be presumed to have formed a civil union after two years where there are children and three where there are none.

Last week, Mr Ahern ruled out a referendum to change the Constitution to permit marriage by gay couples because he said he believed it would not be passed.

The committee's report echoes that view.

However, it recommends changing the law to ensure that same-sex couples have succession, maintenance and taxation rights by introducing a system of civil partnerships for both co-habiting homosexuals and heterosexuals.