Minister for Justice warns against complacency in divorce referendum

‘Any referendum can be a difficult endeavour’

Fine Gael launched the party's campaign for a 'Yes' vote to modernise divorce laws in Ireland in the upcoming referendum.


The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has warned against any complacency in the referendum later this month to change the constitutional restrictions on divorce but said he is confident the measure will be backed by a majority of voters.

Mr Flanagan was speaking at the launch of the Fine Gael campaign for a Yes vote in Dublin today where culture minister Josepha Madigan, who first introduced the proposals as a backbench TD, also appealed to voters to support the measure, saying “We believe in supporting marriage but these are people who have already decided to divorce.”

“Any referendum can be a difficult endeavour,” Mr Flanagan said, but he described the proposal as a “compassionate and reasonable proposal.”

“There is support out there for these changes, and it’s not just urban support, not just Dublin support. It’s all over the country,” Mr Flanagan said.

“I’ve been a rural TD for more than half of my adult life and I know that this is not an urban issue. It’s also not a rural issue. It’s everybody’s issue . . . I see on a daily basis in my constituency the emotional and financial stress the long wait puts on families and people,” he said.

No group has yet emerged to oppose the referendum.

Time limit

The vote will take place on the same day as the local and European elections and proposes that the constitutional requirement for a couple to be living apart for four out of the previous five years before they can be granted a divorce should be deleted.

The Government says it will then legislate for a time limit of two years, which Ms Madigan said that people trusted politicians to do, citing the example of the legislation after the abortion referendum last year.

She said that the Government had examined a one-year time limit and felt it was too short.

“We don’t want people in this situation making a knee jerk reaction to the breakdown of their marriage so we felt that two years was more appropriate,” Ms Madigan said.

Mr Flanagan said that bills that have all party support “are more likely to be given a favourable passage through the Dáil and this will be one of them.”

‘Lonely road’

He said that the issue had been discussed with the other parties, who were backing the referendum and the subsequent legislative change.

Mr Flanagan said he expected that the appropriate legislation could be in place by the end of the year.

Lisa Hughes, a divorced woman, also spoke at the Fine Gael event. She said that the divorce process is “a very lonely road, it’s a very unsupported road. There are people who would bring shame on you for your marriage having failed. And to have that prolonged for four years and to have to carry that around for four years feels like a punishment.”

“When it’s irretrievable, all you want to do is move on,” she said.

“It’s a long drawn out process that creates financial distress, lawyers’ fees, huge emotional distress, it can get very protracted. “

She said the constitutional change and the legislation would be “hugely beneficial”.