TWO OF the three key ministers responsible for the implementation of the delay ed civil partner ship bill have refused to clarify their personal views on civil partnership or gay rights in the run up to next month's 15-year anniversary of the decriminalisation of homo sexuality in Ireland.

Minister for justice, equality and law reform, Dermot Ahern; Tanaiste and minister for enterprise, trade and employment, Mary Coughlan; refused to speak about, or roll back on previous comments they have made against, civil partnership.

The revisiting of comments during the Dail debates on the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993 has caused huge reaction online this week, with blogs and gay message boards debating the comments made by Dermot Ahern at the time when he agreed with an inflammatory and homophobic speech made by Fine Gael TD Brendan McGahon.

During the debates, McGahon vigor ously protested the decriminalisation of homosexuality saying, "I regard homosexuals as being in a sad category, but I believe homosexuality to be an abnormality, some type of psycho-sexual problem that has defied explanation over the years. I do not believe that the Irish people desire this normalisation of what is clearly an abnormality. . .

"Homosexuality is a departure from normality and while homosexuals deserve our compassion they do not deserve our tolerance. That is how the man in the street thinks. I know of no homosexual who has been discriminated against. Such people have a persecution complex because they know they are different from the masses or normal society.

They endure inner torment and it is not a question of the way others view them. . . The lord provided us with sexual organs for a specific purpose.

Homosexuals are like lefthand drivers driving on the right-hand side of the road."

In response to this speech, Ahern said, "I do not often find myself in agreement with my constituency colleague, Deputy McGahon, but on this occasion I am, " before expres - sing reservations on the breakdown of the family and gay adoption. "Will we eventually see the day in this country when, as has happened in the USA, homosexuals will seek the right to adopt children? We should think seriously about this possibility, " he said.

A spokesman for Ahern told the Sunday Tribune, "The minister made the comments in 1993. It's now 2008 and he is fully supportive of the government programme which contains a commitment to civil partnership, " but wouldn't allow for the minister's personal views on the subject to be expressed.

A spokesperson for Coughlan said, "The Tanaiste was very supportive and considerate of the gay community during her time in Social and Family Affairs and this was widely recognised by all repres - entative bodies." This is denied by gay rights campaigners.

Although a spokesman for the Department of Justice this week told the Sunday Tribune the Civil Partnership legislation is awaiting committee stage, the Sunday Tribune understands this is not the case and the heads of the bill have not yet been presented to cabinet.

Tireless campaigner for gay rights senator David Norris told the Sunday Tribune he believes "conservatives have been brought in from the backwaters" in ministerial positions and said the continuing delay with civil partnership was to do with the personal "immaturity and hang-ups" of certain ministers, adding that polls showing overwhelming public support for civil partnerships proved "there's no perceived electoral risk. We simply aren't providing moral leadership here."

The lack of clarification on the views of key ministers drew ire from gay rights campaigners. A spokeswoman for LGBT Noise, a group calling for the legalisation of gay marriage said, "It is our hope that Dermot Ahern no longer bears such vile views of gay people and gives equal measure to the term 'equality' in his new title by appraising himself with the real and everyday inequalities being perpetrated on gay people by continuing government inaction on the issue of gay civil marriage."

Ahern is not alone in the cabinet with regard to his muddy views on gay rights. In March 2004, Mary Coughlan attempted to introduce an amendment to social welfare legislation as minister for social and family affairs which would define the word "spouse" in terms of opposite-sex relationships only. In the same year, she spoke at a European Union conference on social policy, saying Ireland would never be ready for same-sex marriage.

Norris, told the Sunday Tribune that Coughlan "should be thoroughly ashamed of herself. She proudly boasted that we weren't ready for gay marriage. . . She wanted to change the definition of 'spouse'. I protested vigorously against that and I was told it was just a tidying up.

It's not. I think she has a serious black mark to expunge. I don't think it's appropriate for a minister to espouse any of those kind of comments."

LGBT Noise echoed these remarks, saying they hoped "the new Tanaiste no longer holds outdated views on gay people and will show leadership by helping Ireland join countries like Spain in recognising that loving and stable gay relationships united under civil marriage are good for society as a whole".

Other gay rights groups who have worked closely with the government were more wary of criticising past remarks made by politicians now in key positions of power.

"So much has changed since then, all of us have changed since then, " a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) told the Sunday Tribune. "What we have had over the past 15 years is [the government introducing] equality legislation. The current government is committed to enact ing legal recog nition of some sort."

Another gay rights activist said there was now a reluctance to criticise politicians as they perceive the legislation to be so close and don't want to be seen "to be slagging them off."

Reflecting on the 25 years since Norris took his case for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts to the Supreme Court, he told the Sunday Tribune, "They [TDs and ministers] wish to jaysus it [civil partnership] would go away. But it won't.

Only if they deal with it. They should stop being such bloody moral cowards."