Dublin, Republic of Ireland – “Campaign fatigue” is behind the seeming lack of opposition to Friday’s divorce referendum in the Republic of Ireland, according to a leading campaigner.
Seamas de Barra is treasurer for the Alliance for the Defence of the Family and Marriage. “I think it’s largely campaign fatigue from the abortion referendum,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to the lack of debate around the vote compared with last year’s vote on legalising abortion.
Friday’s referendum is being held at the same time as local and European elections in Ireland, and voters are being asked to make two changes to the constitution with regards to divorce. The first is to remove the required separation period before being granted a divorce as enshrined in the Constitution, and the second is to allow for the recognition of foreign divorces.
As the law currently stands, couples seeking a divorce must be living separately for four of the past five years. If this requirement is removed from the constitution, the government plans to introduce legislation reducing the separation period to two years.
Changing the constitution would also allow the government to legislate for the recognition of foreign divorces. Currently, divorces in some jurisdictions are not recognised by the Irish state, which prevents some individuals from remarrying in Ireland while their former spouse is still alive.
Strong ‘yes’ campaign
All political parties in the Irish Houses of Parliament, known as the Oireachtas, are calling for a “yes” vote in the referendum.
Fine Gael, the party in charge of the current minority Government, are campaigning under the slogan Help Reduce Emotional Distress.
The sentiment is echoed by Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland. She also referenced the need for an easier divorce process for those trapped in abusive relationships.
“By voting ‘yes’, we can create a more compassionate process for families,” she told Al Jazeera. “Divorce can also be really important for women leaving an abusive relationship. A shorter divorce process means women will be able to better protect themselves and their children from long term abuse from their former partner.”
Nobody enters into a marriage expecting to get divorced, she said, but relationships can change over time. “A ‘yes’ vote on May 24 means we can create greater certainty and clarity for these families and ease some of the harmful restrictions that are in place,” she added.
“The constitution is not the right place to deal with complex personal relationships.”
But according to de Barra, a “yes” vote will allow couples to give up “too quickly” on their marriages, which he says could be harmful to any children involved.
“Most divorces do not arise from severe marital conflicts,” he said. “The children of low-conflict divorce suffer very much in the long term.” He said he believes divorce was acceptable in abusive relationships.
His Alliance for the Defence of the Family and Marriage is one of the only groups campaigning for a “no” vote in Friday’s referendum. While other conservative groups such as the Iona Institute, a Roman Catholic advocacy group, are also calling for a “no” vote, they are not actively campaigning.
In a press release on Tuesday, the institute’s director, David Quinn, called on the government to “immediately commission research into why couples divorce or separate, how this affects children, and what can be done to prevent divorce or separation in the first place.”
Friday’s vote marks the fourth referendum in Ireland since 2015, following votes that legalised same-sex marriage and abortion, and removed the crime of blasphemy from the Constitution. It also marks the third time the Irish public will vote on divorce, after referendums to legalise the practice in 1986 and 1995.
The 1986 referendum on legalising divorce was defeated, with 63.5 percent of the population voting against. The 1995 referendum passed by a slim majority, with 50.3 percent of voters in favour of legalisation.