Terror charges for Australian youth

Officers wearing bombproof suits raided a house in Greenvale on Friday

Australian police have arrested a 17-year-old on terror charges in a Melbourne suburb and say they have halted a plot to detonate three homemade bombs in the city.

A house was raided in the northern suburb of Greenvale on Friday.

Five men were detained last month, also in Melbourne, for allegedly planning an attack on an Anzac Day ceremony.

Last September saw the country’s biggest counter-terrorism operation, with 15 people arrested.

The arrested youth has not been named, but is due to appear in court on Monday.

The charges include “preparation for a terrorist act” and possessing “things connected with a terrorist act”.

Police detonated three devices found during Friday’s raid in Greenvale.

Heavily armed officers made the raid after a tip-off to a security hotline.

“There is evidence of a bomb plot that was in a reasonably advanced state of preparation,” said Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Saturday.

Police said they were unable to confirm what the target for the alleged attack was.

“But let me tell you, something was going to happen,” Australian Federal Police (AFP) Deputy Commissioner Mike Phelan told a press conference in Melbourne.

“As a result of Victoria police and AFP interception yesterday, some Victorians are going to be alive,” he added.

Last month, the authorities in Melbourne said they had uncovered a plot to behead a police officer.

Two teenagers were charged with conspiring to plan a terrorist attack

Police discovered a plot “in a reasonably advanced state of preparation,” said PM Tony Abbott

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NZ-Australian in China drug trial

Mr Gardner’s trial was broadcast live on the Guangzhou court website, and he was heard testifying off-screen

A New Zealand-born Australian man has gone on trial in southern China for attempting to smuggle crystal methamphetamine out of the country.

If found guilty, 25-year-old Peter Gardner could be executed.

Mr Gardner was arrested last November in Guangzhou allegedly carrying over 30kg (66lb) of the drug in his luggage.

China has strict drug laws – anyone found carrying more than 50gm of methamphetamine faces a potential death penalty or life in prison.

China carries out more executions than the rest of the world put together, according to Amnesty International, but actual numbers are difficult to verify as China’s government does not release the figures.

New Zealand’s foreign affairs and trade ministry said in a statement to the BBC that consulate staff in Guangzhou were supporting Mr Gardner and the consul-general would be attending the hearing to observe proceedings.

In a live broadcast of the court proceedings on Thursday, Mr Gardner was heard testifying off-screen that he had made “a really big mistake” and brought “a big shame” to his family.

“I’m really sorry, I really regret it… I have broken the law and there’s no getting out of it,” he said.

He added that he would be willing to cooperate in identifying Chinese drug traffickers, and stated he had no previous drug convictions in Australia and New Zealand, where he holds joint citizenship.

Mr Gardner was stopped at Guangzhou’s airport while attempting to get on a flight to Sydney with two sealed pieces of luggage containing the drugs, said the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

His Australian girlfriend, Kalynda Davis, who was travelling with him at the time, was also detained.

But she was released in December without charge after Chinese officials decided she was not involved.

Anti-drug campaign

Police in China have been cracking down on the illegal drug trade and destroying large hauls

Mr Gardner’s case follows the high-profile executions of two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, in Indonesia for drug trafficking.

Last September, Australian officials said several of its citizens were facing the death penalty in China for drugs charges, with a number of them caught in Guangzhou, known as a methamphetamine hub.

China has been waging a crackdown on the illegal drug trade, which has found profitable routes to Australia and other parts of the region.

Authorities have made several high-profile arrests, including minor celebrities such as Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee.

Last year more than 168,000 suspects of narcotics crime were arrested and police seized nearly 70 tonnes of drugs, including about 26 tonnes of methamphetamine, according to state news agency Xinhua..

Australia, meanwhile, has said crystal meth presents the highest risk to Australian communities of any illegal substance.

It says increasing amounts of the drug’s ingredients are being seized on its borders, much of it imported from India and China.

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The story of Indigenous Australia

Stories are told through old and new Indigenous art such as this ‘Kungkarangkalpa’ painting

It is just past 8 a.m. on a chilly London morning and the gates of the British Museum have yet to open. An enormous exhibition banner flaps gently in the breeze as a small group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women crane their necks upwards to read the words: ‘Indigenous Australia: enduring civilization’.

The long awaited exhibition, some six years in the making, has just opened and the group, including Simon Hogan, a senior man and artist of the Spinifex people who is now well into his 80s, is here to see the show.

Yolngu men Wukun Wanambi and Ishmael Marika help conduct a ceremonial welcome to re-connect the artefacts with their people.

As the sound of a yidaki (didgeridoo) and Aboriginal song fill Gallery 35, there are wide smiles and teary eyes.

For Gaye Sculthorpe, the exhibition’s curator, it is a significant and moving moment.

Imperial legacy

Ms Sculthorpe, of Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestry and now curator of the British Museum’s Oceania collection, is at the heart of a newly ignited debate on the institution’s imperial legacy and the vexed “ownership”, provenance and possible future repatriation of key objects in the 6,000-piece collection.

Ceremonies involving masks were a key part of traditional life in the Torres Strait islands

Aboriginal advocates in Australia have focused on this issue, raising the possibility of a re-run of the 2004 Australian legal challenge to return bark objects loaned by the British Museum to Museum Victoria.

The exhibition contains some of the earliest objects collected from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by British colonists and missionaries after 1770.

Most have never been seen in public before. They tell the dual stories of a 60,000-year-old, living culture and the struggle to survive colonisation, along with the contemporary role of museums holding such collections.

A scholar, activist and curator for more than three decades, Ms Sculthorpe is no stranger to such controversies, having helped develop policy during the earliest negotiations in the 1990s on the repatriation of human remains to Aboriginal communities in the Australian state of Victoria.

Speaking with the BBC just 24 hours before the ceremony, Ms Sculthorpe is pensive but exudes a quiet confidence.

“For me, it is the Indigenous voices that come through that are so important. You can see that when they visit – listen to them, hear what they say,” she says.

The exhibition is the product of an extraordinary, behind-the-scenes project that has seen Ms Sculthorpe and her team open the British Museum’s stores and collections to scores of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors who have come looking for artefacts and objects significant to them.

Some objects hark back to ‘first contact’ with the Australians

Permanent display

Launched in 2011 as part of a research collaboration with the National Museum of Australia and the Australian National University, the project has offered Indigenous communities access to important parts of the museum collections. It aims to help them reconnect with significant traditional objects and add to local knowledge, while also helping to improve the museum’s own understanding and documentation.

Ishmael Marika, a Yolngu man from north-east Arnhem Land, has been helping the museum categorise pieces in the collection

The project is particularly important in light of a recent announcement by the museum’s Director, Neil MacGregor, that there may be a permanent Indigenous display at the British Museum.

“We have had many people who come to look at an object from their area: to be with it is an emotional experience for those individuals and to be there at the moment of sharing that first view is very special”, says Ms Sculthorpe.

Ishmael Marika, a 24-year-old Yolngu man from north-east Arnhem Land is in London with the Indigenous delegation. A film-maker at Buku-Larrnnggay Mulka art centre in Yirrkala, he is working to try to digitise the complexity and richness of the Yolngu culture. Already, hundreds of thousands of photos, video, audio files and early stills have been archived as part of the project known as Mulka, or “keeping things safe”.

Kade McDonald, art co-ordinator for the centre, remembers Mr Marika in the collection stores of the museum, surrounded by artefacts including an ancient yidaki. “Everyone had curators’ white gloves on looking at objects but Ishmael just picked it up and started to play it. That is what it was for him, completely natural, to be used, alive. It was quite a moment”.

Collecting continues

Ms Sculthorpe says people are often surprised to learn the museum is still collecting.

“Documenting contemporary Aboriginal values and beliefs is also ongoing. People might make generalisations, talk about 6,000 objects being returned, but we have been buying from artists and from art centres to continue to develop the collection and we want to develop it even further.

“I think it is important to help people who make decisions about the objects – where they are held and what should be displayed – aware of all the information relevant to making those decisions.

“For me, it’s really important to do what I can to encourage greater engagement of Indigenous people in the collection and the value of doing so, and the way it is done demonstrates the broader significance of this material.”

The exhibition is open until 2 August and many of the objects will travel to Australia for a related exhibition at the National Museum in November.

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Australian bank CBA posts flat profit

Commonwealth Bank of Australia is the country’s biggest lender by market value

Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), the country’s biggest bank by market value, has posted a quarterly cash profit that is unchanged from the same period a year ago.

The lender’s third quarter cash profit for the three months to the end of March was about 2.2bn Australian dollars ($1.74bn; £1.15bn).

CBA said the flat result was due to higher regulatory costs.

But analysts said the bank may still deliver a record full-year cash profit.

The lender’s net profit for its third quarter was also approximately $A2.2bn.

Many Australian banks use a cash profit result rather than net profit as their preferred performance measure. The cash profit numbers strip out one-off items, including those that may introduce distortions to a bank’s performance in a given period.

CBA’s first-half cash profits posted earlier this year came in at 4.62bn Australian dollars, 8% up from the same period a year earlier.

CBA’s figures were unaudited and came with limited information, but they follow disappointing half-year figures from rival Westpac.

They also follow half-year results from ANZ, which were described by analysts as a welcome relief after the disappointing Westpac numbers.

National Australia Bank, which is the country’s number one lender by assets, is also expected to file its half-year results this week.

Big banks

The country’s big lenders are facing increased regulatory controls amid rising property prices.

National Australia Bank, Westpac, ANZ and CBA make up the so-called big four lenders in Australia.

They are regarded as highly profitable and came out of the global financial crisis relatively unhurt.

However, there are concerns that Australia’s big lenders rely too heavily on their home lending businesses.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, CBA said its home lending volume growth “continued to track slightly below system”, but that growth in household deposits was “particularly strong” in the quarter.

The country’s big lenders are also facing increased regulatory controls amid rising property prices.

In a report published last year, Australian lenders were told they needed to hold more capital to be able to survive future financial crises.

The Financial System Inquiry report singled out bank competition, increased capital levels and inefficient taxes for reform.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the country’s central bank, cut its key interest rate on Tuesday by 25 basis points to an all-time low of 2%, with rising property prices in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, one of the reasons for the cut.

A strong currency and a drop in iron ore prices were also among the reasons for the cut, which is the second this year, following a previous 25 basis point cut in February.

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Australia shares lead losses

Australia’s stocks led losses in Asia following share price falls in the US

Australia’s stocks led losses in Asian markets, following the US trend.

US trade figures had shown that the country’s deficit jumped sharply to $51.4bn in March, its highest level in more than six years.

This suggested weaker economic growth and contributed to Australia’s benchmark SP/ASX 200 index falling 1.56% to 5,735.80 points.

Poor results from Australia’s biggest supermarket retailer Woolworths sent its shares down as much as 4%.

The firm said its sales for the third quarter fell 2.1% to 15bn Australian dollars ($11.9bn; £7.85bn) due to falling petrol sales among other issues.

It also announced a further 400 job cuts in response to the poor sales results.

Australia’s retail sales for March also disappointed investors, coming in below forecasts at 0.3% from a month earlier.

In China, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down 0.22% at 27,695.43 points, while the Shanghai Composite was up 0.83% at 4,334.42.

Chinese shares tumbled to their biggest loss in almost four months on Tuesday amid a flurry of new share issues, dragging down markets across much of Asia.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s financial markets were down 1.23% at 2,106.09 points.

Japanese markets are shut for the Golden Week holiday. They will reopen on Thursday.

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Would Australia’s asylum seeker policy stop boats to Europe?

(CNN)Much of the world has been stunned by the huge increase of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean this year, increasing the number of deaths at sea by a factor of 30 compared to the same time last year. Almost all the deaths have occurred in the perilous central Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy.

The flows of migrants across the Mediterranean are unlikely to stop — Italian authorities estimate that up to 200,000 migrants in Libya are waiting to cross, following 170,000 refugees and migrants who arrived in Italy last year. These flows reflect a significant increase in the number of refugees and internally displaced people across the world, with a total estimate of 51.2 million people.

The latest sinking has triggered some action in the European Union, which has unveiled a new ten-point action plan. The plan includes both deterrent mechanisms, such as efforts to capture and destroy vessels being used by smugglers and a rapid return system, but also an expansion of search-and-rescue programs and a proposed new voluntary resettlement scheme, though it is reported that this may only provide 5,000 spaces.

But some EU critics called for much tougher action to deter asylum seekers from making the risky journey. In a column published in the UK’s Sun newspaper just hours before the sinking, Katie Hopkins declared: “It’s time to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.”

Since then, Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has also suggested that Europe adopt a tougher approach, saying, “The only way you can stop the deaths is to stop the people smuggling trade. The only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats… That’s why it is so urgent that the countries of Europe adopt very strong policies that will end the people smuggling trade across the Mediterranean.”

The Australian campaign to abolish the death penalty

Australian opposition to the death penalty is growing in the wake of the Bali Nine executions

Momentum is gathering in Australia to push for the elimination of the death penalty around the world but some say Australians should address attitudes in their own backyard first.

Not long before they died, convicted drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran expressed a wish for a global campaign to abolish the death penalty.

They had spent 10 long years in Indonesian prisons after being convicted in 2006 of playing a major role in the so-called Bali Nine drug ring that attempted to smuggle more than 18lb (8.2kg) of heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

By all accounts, they had worked hard to rehabilitate themselves: Chan had qualified as a pastor and ministered to fellow inmates. Sukumaran found solace in art. His talent for painting earned him an associate degree in fine arts from Western Australia’s Curtin University two months before his execution.

Those changes slowly won them the sympathy of many Australians. Now, their desire to see more action on the death penalty is being taken up by some of the country’s top politicians.

Front foot

Devastated by the failure of frantic diplomatic and legal bids to save their lives, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last week said “it is time for us to have a significant discussion about the application of the death penalty for drug offences in our region”.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop worked hard for clemency for the Bali Nine duo

Former Attorney General Philip Ruddock has taken the campaign a step further. He has written to the local diplomats of countries such as Brazil, France and Nigeria, whose nationals were executed this year by Indonesia or are on death row there.

Co-chair of Australian Parliamentarians against the Death Penalty, Mr Ruddock wants them to work with Australia on abolishing the death penalty in and beyond the region, including in the United States.

“I think it is timely that Australia indicates it has a principled position on this matter and that we’re prepared to be on the front foot in advocating change,” Mr Ruddock told the BBC.

But Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who is charged with managing sensitive trade issues with Indonesia, says Australia might have to look into its own backyard as well as trying to influence others.

“I have to be honest, I do get approached by people saying, ‘Well, that might be your view, Barnaby, that you don’t support the death penalty, but it’s not our view’,” he told ABC television.

“And I find that rather startling at times and I think that the discussion that we’re having about others, we should also be carrying out domestically.”

Many Australians wanted the Indonesians responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings executed

Australia has a long-standing bipartisan opposition to capital punishment and has not executed anyone since 1967.

But the nation’s leaders at times send mixed messages about the death penalty. Comments by former Prime Minister John Howard in 2007 about the ringleaders of the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, are a prime example.

“The idea that we would plead for the deferral of executions of people who murdered 88 Australians is distasteful to the entire community,” he said.

However, Australians’ acceptance of the use of the death penalty by other countries has fallen in recent years.

A 1986 poll found more than 70% believed it should be carried out if Australians were sentenced to death in another country, says Lowy Institute for International Policy polling director Alex Oliver.

But a Lowy poll conducted in February this year showed nearly a complete reversal: 62% of people did not want Chan and Sukumaran to be executed, and nearly 70% believed the death penalty should not be used to punish drug traffickers.

Another poll, in 2010, found that nearly 60% of people wanted Australia to push for abolition of the death penalty in South East Asia. Ms Oliver expects to see similar sentiments in a poll conducted at the weekend about the latest executions, to be published later this week.

“The last 35 years have seen a strengthening opposition to the death penalty generally,” she says.

However, she says views can change depending on who is facing capital punishment and what their crime is.

Most people hold inconsistent views on the death penalty, says Patrick Stokes, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Melbourne’s Deakin University.

‘Accusations of hypocrisy’

“Most people don’t like the death penalty but think maybe certain people should be put to death, or they don’t want the death penalty here but are less concerned about overseas, or they don’t like the thought of Australians being executed, say, in China or Malaysia or Indonesia but are not concerned about it being applied in places like the US, or Iran or Japan or Saudi Arabia,” he says.

Sympathy for Chan and Sukumaran grew after the media drew attention to their rehabilitation

“It’s an area where most people don’t have a clear, principled position but a fragmented reaction to cases as they arrive.”

Working harder to abolish the death penalty rather than just winning a reprieve for sentenced Australians would shield Australia from accusations of hypocrisy or “special pleading”, says Lowy executive director Dr Michael Fullilove.

Asia is the obvious place for Australia to begin – it is home to “the world’s worst offenders” on capital punishment, like China. Mr Fullilove says Australia should forge a regional alliance with countries in the region that have abolished the death penalty: Cambodia, Nepal, Timor-Leste, Bhutan and the Philippines. It should also make the issue not just a principle, but a priority.

“We should aim to become a leader in the international movement against the death penalty,” he says.

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Australia to probe foreign labour

Exploited workers are allegedly being used across Australia to pick fruit and vegetables

An Australian government inquiry is to investigate labour exploitation following revelations of widespread abuse of foreign workers.

Allegations of unethical treatment and underpayment will be investigated by the state government of Victoria.

Victoria will also push for a national inquiry into what it has described as “a national shame”.

Claims Australia has an underclass of foreign workers treated like “slave labour” were made by ABC TV on Monday.

The report by ABC’s Four Corners programme detailed widespread abuses of Australia’s 417 visa.

The visa is for people aged 18 to 30 years of age who want a working holiday of up to 12 months in Australia.

The investigation uncovered abuses of the popular visa, including what were described as “slave-like conditions” at farms and factories across Australia.

Exploitation of foreign fruit and vegetable pickers, especially from Asia, is reportedly widespread

“No employee should ever be exploited, harassed or deprived of their basic liberties”, said Victoria’s Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins.

“This is not just about the underpayment of wages; this is about creating an underclass of foreign workers,” said Ms Hutchins in a statement.

Foreign underclass

“It’s clear that Victoria needs a better system in place when it comes to regulating labour hire practices,” she said.

The food being picked and processed by exploited workers was reportedly sold to consumers across the country by major supermarket chains and fast food outlets.

Queensland MP Keith Pitt last month called for an uncover investigation of exploitation of foreign workers in the horticultural sector.

He said many farmers were at risk of prosecution because they were using labour hire companies that underpaid backpacker workers.

Migrant workers are essential to Australia’s agriculture sector, according to the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF).

“Without them, there would be a chronic labour shortage at peak harvest times of the year,” said NFF President Brent Finlay.

But he said all farmers had a responsibility to adopt employment practices and use labour contractors that did not exploit workers.

“And it’s not just farmers, this is a whole of supply chain issue,” he said.

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Australian budget a ‘horror story’

There are dark clouds over the Australian government’s budget thanks to a slowdown in China

China’s slowdown has gouged a big hole in the Australian government’s budget, a new report said.

Slower wages growth in Australia has also hit government revenues hard, said Deloitte Access Economics.

It has forecast massive budget blowouts for both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 financial years.

The budget looks like it was “written by Stephen King and painted by Edvard Munch”, thanks to a crash in commodity prices, it said in its report.

The government will deliver its 2015-16 budget papers on 12 May, setting out its proposed revenue and expenditure in the following financial year, and its fiscal policy for several years after that.


The Abbott government campaigned hard in the 2013 election on its economic credentials, promising to balance the budget and not raise new taxes.

But last month, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said the government faced a multi-billion dollar revenue loss due to a plunge in the price of iron ore.

A slowdown in China’s demand for commodities like iron ore has hurt the Australian economy

A large slice of Australian government revenue comes from royalties paid by miners on commodities such as iron ore and coal.

However, the government has said it remains committed to achieving a budget surplus.

Deloitte Access Economics, one of Australia’s main economic advisory firms, has projected an underlying cash deficit of A$45.9bn ($35.9bn; £23.7bn) for the 2014-15 year.

‘Rampant shortfalls’

“That is a substantial A$5.5bn worse than projected at budget time (last year) and shows little improvement from the recorded deficit of A$48.5bn in 2013-14,” said Deloitte partner Chris Richardson.

“And if you think that’s bad, then 2015-16 looks like it has been written by Stephen King and painted by Edvard Munch,” he said.

“Dull it ain’t: China continues to carve chunks out of Canberra, leading to rampant revenue shortfalls.”

He said also that wages growth, which jumped ahead of productivity gains during the commodity boom that is now coming to an end, was now “limping along” as businesses tried to claw back their competitiveness.

“That’s set to tear a new hole in the heart of the budget,” said Mr Richardson, adding that Deloitte had projected a deficit of $45.3bn for 2015-16.

“There are reasons to fear China’s slowdown could worsen, and the momentum in commodity markets is downwards,” he said.

Responding to the report, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the government had a credible path back to a budget surplus but would not put a date on when that would be achieved.

“I appreciate what Chris Richardson has been saying. He is a very distinguished private sector economist,” Mr Abbott said at a press conference in Canberra on Monday.

“[But] I want to assure you that this government has a strong and credible plan to repair the budget and what will be obvious on budget night is that this is a budget that is measured, responsible and fair,” he said.

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Ireland prepares for same-sex marriage referendum

Voters in the Republic of Ireland will make history on 22 May, by holding the world’s first referendum on legalising same-sex marriage.

The vote marks a pivotal moment in the evolving relationship between Church and State, pitting religious leaders against the government in an historically conservative and Catholic country.

The Church has urged the public to reject the proposal, while the major political parties say it is a civil not a religious matter and are campaigning for a Yes vote.

Opinion polls suggest 78% of people are in favour of altering the constitution to allow gay couples to marry. But former Equality Minister and government Chief Whip Pat Carey believes the final result will be much closer.

“In the major urban centres the Yes campaign is getting a good reception,” he told the BBC. “But a lot of people in middle Ireland and among an older age group still don’t feel comfortable about it.”

Mr Carey came out earlier this year aged 67. He says his decision was not borne out of “bravery” but a desire to “energise” the Yes campaign.

“I am sorry I didn’t speak out earlier but I didn’t have the confidence or the courage,” he said.

“It seems to have resonated with a lot of people in my own age bracket. I have got some very sad letters. There is a great deal of torment out there.”

Raising a family

Homosexuality was illegal in Ireland until 1993, and Mr Carey believes a generation of gay men and women now deserve “some generosity” from the Irish people.

Gay rights in Ireland


Ireland votes on 22 May

  • 2013 Cabinet agrees to same-sex marriage referendum

  • 2011 First same-sex civil partnership takes place

  • 2010 Civil Partnership Act introduced

  • 1993 Homosexuality de-criminalised

Mr Carey says a lot of gay people in Ireland live lonely and isolated lives

Catholic bishops and family rights campaigners argue that a Yes vote would encroach on religious beliefs and have implications for the welfare of children.

Keith Mills, an agnostic, gay man and member of the Mothers and Fathers Matter group, believes gay and lesbian couples are already catered for by the Civil Partnership Act of 2010, and have adequate next of kin and taxation rights.

Same-sex marriage would lead to gay couples adopting and using surrogates, he believes, depriving children “of a mother and father”.

“Marriage is the gel that brings a couple together to raise a family. That should not be redefined,” he added.

‘This feels personal’

Rory O’Neill, an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activist and drag queen considers such arguments “constitutionally bogus”.

“The referendum asks if two people should enter in to marriage regardless of their sex. It has nothing to do with surrogacy or adoption or gay families,” he added.

Last year, Mr O’Neill hit international headlines when he made an impassioned speech about homophobia; dressed as his alter ego Panti Bliss.

“This feels personal. Referendums in Ireland, especially on social issues, always get a bit nasty,” he told the BBC.

Why is Ireland holding a referendum?

  • Seventeen countries, and some states in US and Mexico, have legalised same-sex marriage through legislation or court rulings. Laws in Finland and Slovenia are pending
  • Ireland wants to change its constitution to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples
  • Any constitutional amendments must be approved by parliament and then put to the people in a referendum
  • On 22 May Ireland will ask its citizens if “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”
  • Only Irish citizens who are registered and living in the state can vote
  • Past referendums have been very divisive. In 1995, after fierce debate, a vote to legalise divorce narrowly passed by 51% to 49%

Heated debate

The two sides’ positions have become deeply entrenched.

Activists from the No camp say they are regularly “shouted down” by their Yes side opponents, while LGBT campaigners say they have been subjected to demeaning posters and pamphlets, including one that likened voting for same sex marriage, to voting for Sharia.

Mr O’Neill believes the issue should have been dealt with in parliament, rather than in public.

“I would have much preferred if it had happened through legislation. Now we are having to argue that we are ordinary, good people and the whole country gets to decide.

“It’s actually a horrible situation to be in.”

Keith Mills (centre left) says a Yes outcome would be “depressing” for a family orientated country like Ireland

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) says same-sex marriage will not diminish church or faith-based unions

Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, says the eventual outcome will depend on turnout.

He will be voting No on the day, as he believes marriage is “a unique institution between a man and a woman”.

“A lot of the Yes vote is quite soft,” he said.

“While there is a lot of warmth towards this, people don’t feel that strongly about it.”

Pat Carey will spend the next few weeks trying to galvanise voters, in the hope that he can one day marry his partner.

“A woman said to me the other night, ‘Pat will you marry me?’. She was highlighting that the two of us could get married and nobody would blink an eye.

“But if two gay people want to get married they have to consult 4.1 million people.”

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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32486426#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

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