‘Quickie’ divorces will not become the norm in Ireland if voters remove the waiting period for separating couples from the Constitution, the Government’s referendum campaign director has said.
Culture Minister Josepha Madigan insists that TDs, current and future, will instead handle divorce rules “responsibly” and that Ireland will not see separation rates shoot up to levels seen in Russia.
Writing in the Irish Examiner today, Ms Madigan appeals to voters to back her and the Government’s proposal to reduce from four to two years the time couples must live apart before they can divorce.
She writes: “In fact, with a divorce rate of one in 10, we have one of the lowest rates anywhere in the world. So why has it been claimed by opponents of the May 24 referendum that by removing the waiting period for divorce from our Constitution, Ireland is on the slippery slope to quickie divorce territory?
“I reject that claim. Quite simply, we are not. On polling day, we are being asked to remove the waiting period for divorce from the Constitution and allow the Oireachtas to legislate where a couple have been separated for two out of the previous three years. This would bring us into line with what is the European norm and nobody talks about slippery slope divorces across Europe.
The current four-year wait exacts an “enormous toll” on people who cannot move on with their lives, adds Ms Madigan.
Her remarks comes after claims by opponents of the referendum, including the Iona Institute, a conservative Catholic think-tank, that the constitutional change would indeed in future allow quick divorces here.
Iona director David Quinn previously told Today FM that he had no issue with the proposed four-year to two-year change, but opposed removing terms from the Constitution to allow TDs instead to decide.
He said: “If it is left up to the Oireactas to decide, it will be two years initially but it will only go in one direction and that will be to make it quicker and quicker to get divorced.”
However, Ms Madigan also rejects the claim that marriage will be easy to leave under proposed changes.
“Opponents also claim getting out of a marriage should not be made quick and easy,” she said. “Let me say this to them. Divorce is never something that is considered lightly, or undergone easily.
“That will not change with this referendum. I have witnessed first-hand the pain and trauma that the time-limit which is currently enshrined in our Constitution under Article 42.1.3, inflicts on families.
“Our four-year wait period exacts an enormous toll on many people who are left unable to move on with their lives.”
She says a two-year wait is enough to allow couples time to obtain legal advice on property, pension’s access and maintenance.
The vote on reducing the divorce waiting period and taking the decision on this out of the Constitution will be held in just under seven weeks, coinciding with the local and European elections. It is over two decades since divorce was legalised in Ireland, after voters only just supported it in 1995.
However, recent opinion polls suggest up to four in five voters want divorce waiting times reduced or done away with completely.
Ms Madigan, who initiated the vote plans, points out that divorce rates in Ireland are on a par with those in Europe. They are nothing like levels in Russia which leads the way for ‘quickie’ divorces, she says.
The minister, a family law solicitor, has been appointed campaign director for Fine Gael. She also insists TDs would handle with care any new power to legislate for divorce.
“If passed, this Oireachtas will treat this issue with respect and I have no doubt our successors will also deal with it responsibly going forward,” she said. “This is a moderate proposal, not radical as some suggest.”