Large Majority Supports Relaxation of Divorce Restrictions
The referendum on a government proposal to remove restrictions on divorce from the Irish Constitution passed with 82.07 per cent support, one of the largest margins of victory in a referendum in Irish history. There were 1,384,192 ballots cast in favour of the proposal, with 302,319 cast against. Final turnout across the 31 constituencies was 50.89 per cent.
The electorate were asked to vote on the Thirty-Eighth amendment of the Constitution (dissolution of marriage) Bill 2016. Exit polls had predicted a comfortable passage for the referendum, and no constituency in the country rejected the proposal, which will pave the way for legislation allowing a shorter period of separation before a divorce can be sought.
Until now, couples had to be living apart for four of the last five years. The government has said it will legislate to bring the period down to two years. The Yes vote will also make the recognition of foreign divorces explicit in the Constitution.
Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan, a divorce lawyer who headed Fine Gael’s referendum campaign, welcomed the result, which she attributed to the “kindness and understanding” of the electorate. In 2016 Madigan moved a Private Members’ Bill which proposed a liberalisation of the law, which led to Friday’s referendum. Other campaigners welcomed the landslide victory and called for further reform of legislation, constitutional issues and the administration of family law.
The strongest No vote came in Monaghan, where just under one quarter of voters rejected the proposal. The referendum enjoyed strongest support in Minister Madigan’s constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where 86.7 per cent of voters supported it.
Richard Greene, chairman of the Alliance for Defence of Family and Marriage (ADFAM), which campaigned against the proposal, said that the Irish electorate had been “sold a pup”. He criticised the Government and the electoral commission for the information given on the referendum. “It gives a complete blank cheque to the Government to define what they mean by foreign divorces, and the timescale (to apply for a divorce) could be down to six months.”
“What do they mean by foreign divorces? Is that Sharia law?” he asked, saying that women divorced arbitrarily by their husbands under that system could find themselves vulnerable now in Ireland. “The referendum commission gave no really proper information of what the Government intends to do with the blank cheque they are asking for from the people.” He said that the Government was “behaving unconstitutionally”, that the referendum result is “anti-family”, that the state is “undermining marriage” and that the result would be a “lawyer’s paradise”.
The Irish Times. May 25.