Referendum to decide on cutting divorce waiting times

The public will be asked to cut divorce waiting times in half and allow millions of Irish citizens living abroad to vote in future presidential elections in two referenda on the same day as the local and European elections next May.

Officials confirmed the plans last night after calls from the Government and opposition parties for both questions to be clarified as part of a public vote.

After the Government’s weekly Cabinet meeting, a spokesperson for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said ministers had provisionally agreed to hold the divorce and Irish abroad referenda on Friday, May 24.

The divorce referendum, which has been pushed by Culture Minister Josepha Madigan over the past year, will ask the public to cut the existing divorce waiting time in half.

Under existing constitutional rules, separated couples in Ireland can only seek a divorce if they have been apart for four out of the five preceding years.

The referendum will ask the public to reduce the waiting time to allow couples who have been separated for two out of the preceding three years to seek a divorce.

Although the exact wording of the referendum will not be outlined until early January, a Government spokesperson confirmed the vote will be held on May 24.

On the same day, coinciding with the local and European elections, the public is also likely to be asked to vote to allow tens of millions of Irish people living abroad to vote in future presidential elections.

The move is controversial as the sheer number of Irish citizens living abroad far outweighs the number of people in this country, meaning any changes could result in a future president who may not represent the views of people physically living in Ireland.

Large numbers of the diaspora in North America have repeatedly called for the right to vote in elections here, with the presidential election vote seen by some as a testing ground for a future push for Dáil and Seanad election diaspora voting rights.

Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was also told the cost of running the Oireachtas surged by 14% to €422.27m in 2017.

The figure, which is the latest available and is up from €369m in 2016, is based on a three-year allocation required under the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 2003.

It was confirmed at Cabinet yesterday by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and relates in part to:

  • Dáil reform measures implemented after the 2016 general election
  • A three-year IT “transformation project” costing €22m
  • Changes to existing Fempi pay restoration legislation

The Cabinet also agreed yesterday to increase the number of judges at the Court of Appeal from six to nine due to the workload facing the system.

A Government spokesperson said while the positions have been agreed, the appointments will not be made immediately and will instead be made under a new appointments process being sought by the Independent Alliance.

It is understood that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also told Cabinet members yesterday that the judge overseeing the long-running IBRC commission has formally asked for more time and money to complete the investigation.

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