Fine Gael's Justice Spokesperson in the Seanad, Sheila Terry, has called for the speedy introduction of Northern Ireland-style civil partnership legislation here after a landmark settlement by the state with a gay couple.

The settlement arose when the partner of a terminally-ill gay man persuaded the Government to compensate him for taking unpaid leave from work to care for his companion.

But the Minister for Social Family Affairs, Seamus Brennan, has emphasised the Government's concession does not create any social policy precedent.

The ill man at the centre of this case is not expected to live for more than two years. 

He asked the Department of Social and Family Affairs to top up his Invalidity Pension by €110 a week when his partner took unpaid leave.

When the Department refused the application, the couple got the help of the Equality Authority to pursue a complaint that they were being discriminated against because heterosexual co-habitees qualified for the top-up.

They also said the refusal caused them significant stress as it forced the partner to return to work and interfered with the necessary care of the ill man.

Eventually, the Cabinet agreed to pay the allowance backdated 19 months to the initial refusal. But ministers emphasised this was done as a favour and not because there was any legal obligation.

Sheila Terry said the fact that this couple had to go to the Equality Tribunal proves that same-sex couples are still treated as second class citizens. 

She called for the speedy introduction of Northern-Ireland style legislation for civil unions.

Niall Crowley, chief executive of the Equality Authority, said that now that the Government has demonstrated that it has the discretion to help this couple, it would be important to extend the right to the allowance to all same-sex couples in similar situations.