Divorce could be removed from Constitution, says Minister

Josepha Madigan claims there is an ‘appetite’ to deal with the issue in legislation

Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan has already proposed in a Private Members’ Bill to reduce the waiting time for a divorce from four years to two. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan has already proposed in a Private Members’ Bill to reduce the waiting time for a divorce from four years to two. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government should consider removing divorce from the constitution and dealing with it in legislation given the scale of public support for removing the constitutional ban on abortion, a Cabinet Minister has proposed.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan said that arising from her role leading Fine Gael’s campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment she believed that there was “an appetite” for the complete removal of Article 41.3.2 from the Constitution, which covers divorce.

The public might back such a move given the “groundswell of support” – a vote of 66 per cent in last month’s referendum – for the removal of the Eighth Amendment, said the Dublin Rathdown TD.

The Fine Gael Minister, a family law specialist, has already proposed in a Private Members’ Bill to reduce the waiting time for a divorce from four years to two.

This will be put to a constitutional referendum in the summer of 2019, she said, and the vote could take place at the same time as the European and local elections in May of next year.

Ms Madigan said, speaking to members of the public during the abortion referendum campaign, many told her they believed that divorce, like abortion, was best dealt with in legislation, not the Constitution.

“That is something that is achievable,” she told The Irish Times, after suggesting the idea during a speech at the Law Society’s parchment ceremony for newly qualified solicitors yesterday evening.

“There are still conditions set out for divorce in the Constitution but there is no reason why we can’t put those in legislation and have an enabling clause [in the Constitution] as we have done with the Eighth. Is the place for divorce really in the Constitution? That’s something as a society that I think we might be ready to look at.”

Ms Madigan said the removal of divorce from the Constitution could be done through changes to her Private Members’ Thirty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Divorce Bill 2016) at report stage in the Dáil.

“I will be having conversations with people at that stage,” she said.

She intends to raise the matter with the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, other members of Government and Opposition parties.

In her speech to newly enrolled solicitors to the Law Society, Ms Madigan, the first woman solicitor to sit at Cabinet, noted that the country had more women than men solicitors, a first for any legal profession in the world.

“Irish politicians could learn a few things from the Law Society about gender equality,” she said, after noting that women represent just 22 per cent of the current Dáil.