- 27 May 19
Twenty years ago, divorce was allowed in Ireland by a referendum majority of just .6%. Last Friday, over 82% voted to reduce the waiting time involved before a divorce can be sought. And that represents an astonishing turnaround...
Ireland has voted overwhelmingly to liberalise its divorce laws. In a result which signals an even greater erosion of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, 82.1% of those who voted said ‘Yes’ to proposal to reduce from four to two years, the amount of time required for a couple to have been living apart before either can seek a divorce.
The final tally in numbers was: 1,384,192 voted ‘Yes'; and 302,319 voted ’No’ to the proposal.
The change was opposed by the Catholic Church. In the referendum, Irish people also accepted that the Dáil can enact legislation recognising foreign divorces in Ireland – and therefore allowing people who have been divorced elsewhere, to marry in Ireland.
The result is further confirmation of just how much Ireland has changed over the past few decades, writes Hot Press editor Niall Stokes.
People who supported the so called liberal agenda through the dark times here, during which the 8th Amendment was introduced, in 1983, and the first divorce referendum was rejected, in 1986, will be most acutely aware of this. In fact, as late as 1995, the margin of victory in the Referendum which allowed divorce in Ireland for the first time since the inception of the State was tiny, with just 50.3% voting in favour. It is astonishing just how completely this country has moved on in the interim.
Part of it is that the lies which were told at the time about the floodgates being opened were proven to be wrong. In 2015, Ireland still had the lowest rate of divorce in all of Europe at 0.7 per thousand. The other is that, the relatively low number of divorces notwithstanding, everyone knows someone who has been in the position of seeing their marriage break down irretrievably. And there are very few of us, it turns out, who would put an outdated religious stricture ahead of the ordinary human needs that we all have, to be able to move on and rebuild our lives, if things do go badly wrong in a relationship or a marriage.
The truth is that, overall, the intervening 20 years have seen a dramatic change in the relationship of Irish people to the Roman Catholic Church. In effect, the Church has lost the iron grip that it once exerted over people’s freedom to think for themselves. Twenty years ago, the vote for Same Sex Marriage that happened in 2015 would have been unthinkable. Even more so, the decisive result in the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment last year would have seemed like a crazy pipe-dream.
What happened in the meantime involved a gradual erosion of the authority of the bishops and the clergy that gathered momentum, till it turned into a tsunami. Of course the revelations about child sex abuse, and the reckless behaviour and cover-ups engaged in by the hierarchy and the religious orders, contributed enormously to that. People simply did not trust, and therefore did not believe them any more. But something else was happening too. The long process of reasoning, and persuading people of the common sense arguments against the influence of Church on the laws of the land, paid dividends. Irish citizens began to question why they had ever accepted the narrow, dark, shame-based culture imposed on us as a nation by the dominant figures of the bishops and the clergy – and they could come up no good answer.
The battle for people's hearts and minds goes on. Ten years ago, few would have predicted that the restyled Le Front National (now National Rally) in France would top the poll in an election, or that a Brexit Party which is utterly bereft of ideas, integrity or answers, but functions only as a destructive force, would humiliate the Conservatives – and indeed the Labour Party – so totally in the UK.
So there is no room for complacency. But for now, it is a wonderful thing to see Irish people voting in such huge numbers for compassion – and for a greater level of mutual understanding and personal freedom.
Go n-éirí and bóthar libh go léir. May the road rise with you...
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