The Government has published details of proposed legislation to provide for Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples.
The final drafting of the legislation is expected to take several months, but Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said he would think it could be law by this time next year.
The Civil Partnership process will be open to couples who are over 18 and who give three months notice of their wish to register their partnership.
It is not open to opposite sex couples, nor does it cover non-conjugal relationships, such as two siblings living together.
Minister Ahern stressed that Civil Partnership is not the same as marriage, as such a move would be open to Constitutional challenge under Article 41 of the Constitution.
The proposed legislation will also allow same-sex and opposite-sex couples to register cohabitant agreements to regulate their joint financial affairs.
In addition, it will allow the courts to operate a redress scheme giving protection to a vulnerable party at the end of a long-term relationship, either opposite-sex or same-sex.
At a media briefing on the Heads of the Bill, Minister Eamon Ryan said the Green Party were pleased to see the proposed legislation and looked forward to it being enacted, although he acknowledged that his party had wanted to go further.