THE Irish electorate has voted overwhelmingly to liberalise the current access to divorce in a referendum that reflects the ongoing rejection of the once-conservative nation of traditional Roman Catholic influence.
Every constituency in the Republic voted in favour of the proposal to amend the 2016 Thirty Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Dissolution of Marriage) Bill which stipulated that a couple could apply for divorce only if they had spent four of the previous five years living apart.
The government proposals to legislate for a reduction of this period to two years, and to clarify recognition of foreign divorces, were approved by 82.07 per cent.
Reacting to the result, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, said: “This will really assist vulnerable citizens in reducing legal expenses, as it may help avoid the need for separate judicial separation proceedings, with the added benefit of reducing the trauma caused to children by protracted family-law proceedings.”
The Chairman of the Council for Marriage and Family for the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Rt Revd Denis Nulty, said that the changes sought to “expedite the dissolution of marriage”.
In local-government elections to county councils across the Republic, the big winners were the Green Party, who also shone in the European Elections. Although the main Opposition party, Fianna Fáil, retains its status as the largest party in local government, beating Labour and the present incumbents Fine Gael, the Greens, once written off, gave a strong showing in both local and European votes.
The big losers were, to the surprise of many, Sinn Féin, whose vote collapsed at local and national level, leaving the party to ponder how, after some years with a strong if variable showing, its vote could collapse, losing council seats all over the country.
Another shock, and an indicator of societal change, was in Northern Ireland, where three European seats were up for contention: two were traditionally taken from DUP and UUP camps, and the third went to Sinn Féin.
On this occasion, however, the middle-ground Alliance Party leader Naomi Long defeated a UUP candidate, Danny Kennedy. Diane Dodds (wife of Nigel Dodds MP) for the DUP and Martina Anderson for Sinn Féin held on to the two other seats.
The question now being asked is whether Ms Long’s election is a symptom of a growing disillusionment among voters with the old status quo of Unionist versus Nationalist, and a tired brand of politics in which the electorate is becoming increasingly fed up with wrangling between parties and a collapsed Legislative Assembly showing no signs of resolution.
Should the Alliance continue to grow, there will be challenging times for Northern Ireland’s political landscape.