Irish voters back easier divorces and united Ireland 

Irish voters back easier divorces and united Ireland 

Ireland has voted by an overwhelming majority to relax its constitutional restrictions on divorce, the latest in a series of progressive reforms.

Around 82 per cent of voters backed the removal of a provision requiring couples to live separately for four out of five years before divorcing.

Ireland said it would shorten the requirement to two out of the previous three years to relax one of Europe’s most restrictive divorce laws.

Any change to Ireland’s constitution must be supported by a majority in a referendum.

Eire had the lowest separation rate of any EU member state in 2015 figures, Dublin’s Central Statistics Office reported.

Eurostat said the crude divorce rate in the Republic was 0.6 per cent a year for every 1,000 citizens, compared with 1.9 per cent for the UK and 3.2 per cent in the USA.

The main political parties in Ireland supported the liberalisation of divorce laws. Opposition came from Roman Catholic pressure groups, including the Iona Institute, which said it did not want to see divorce laws removed from the constitution completely.

The referendum will also allow MPs to recognise foreign divorces. 

The five-year separation period arose from a 1995 referendum which granted Irish couples the right to divorce with just 50.3-per-cent support and a majority of only 9,114 votes.

Activists said the requirement placed an unnecessary emotional and financial burden on couples as Irish rental and property prices were rising.

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council, said a quicker divorce process was important for women who endured domestic abuse. It was the first stage in reforming Ireland’s family law.

“We are here seeing another referendum where Irish people are showing their compassion and their support for families that are in difficult situations,” O’Connor said.

Exit polling suggested a two-thirds majority voted in favour of a united Ireland.

Voters were asked: “If there was a referendum on a united Ireland tomorrow, would you vote yes in favour or no against?”

Ireland was partitioned in 1921 with six northern counties remaining part of the UK.

Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, referendums should be held in the Republic and Northern Ireland if a majority were likely to vote for reunification.

A year ago, 66 per cent of voters backed the repeal of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.

That referendum sparked street celebrations but today’s divorce reform results were received in silence.

In October 2018 voters also chose to axe a rarely enforced and ridiculed constitutional ban on blasphemy.

A referendum to remove a constitutional article referring to the “woman’s life within the home” is expected soon.

The turnout in the referendum, which coincided with the European election, was 51 per cent.




Irish voters keep opting to liberalise their constitution. Picture credit: GoodFreePictures 

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