Fine Gael has officially launched its campaign for a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum on divorce. The referendum will take place on Friday, 24th May – the same day as the Local and European Elections.
Fine Gael’s central campaign message is an appeal to voters to help reduce the emotional and financial distress experienced by couples who currently have to prove to a court that they have been separated for four out of the previous five years before they can apply for a divorce. The long separation period requirement means couples, often apply for a judicial separation or enter a separation agreement, to regularise their affairs before divorcing – doubling their legal costs.
The campaign was launched by the Director of Elections for the Referendum, Minister Josepha Madigan TD, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, along with Lisa Hughes, a person who has experienced judicial separation and divorce.
Giving his backing to a Yes vote, North Cork Fine Gael Councillor John Paul O’Shea said the current requirement for couples to be separated for four out of the last five years adds considerably to the emotional and financial pain and stress on those involved. “Four years is too long to live in legal and day-to-day limbo if your marriage has broken down irretrievably. That is why I’m urging people to vote Yes on Friday, 24th May,” Cllr. O’Shea said.
Minister Madigan, who as a backbencher introduced a private members’ bill seeking a referendum to reduce the separation period, said: “The current four-year wait period before someone can even apply for a divorce exacts an enormous toll on many people who are left unable to move on with their lives.
“They are often caught in a long-drawn out court process that only serves to increase acrimony in the long run. Family relationships become further strained, often beyond repair. This surely cannot be acceptable in modern Ireland. The law today traps couples in irretrievable failed relationships. Rather than supporting families, the current lengthy separation period requirement can damage them.”
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, who is responsible for the legislation, said: “Ireland has a very low divorce rate by international standards and that is very positive news. However, sadly in every part of Ireland, people’s marriages do break down irreparably and we want to help couples who find themselves in this sad situation.
“Our proposal involves retaining important constitutional protections: only a court may grant a divorce and the judge must be satisfied there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation and proper provision has been made for children and dependents.”
The referendum will also ask people to agree to amend the constitutional provision governing the recognition of foreign divorces. The current provision dates from 1937 – at a time when divorce was illegal under the Constitution.
The proposal seeks to streamline the proposal so that the Oireachtas can regulate this area of law and address inconsistencies in the law. The Law Reform Commission will conduct an expert analysis of these issues in its next programme of law reform and legislation will follow, if the referendum is passed.