On this Day: First for Irish Divorce

On January 17, 1997, Barron J in the High Court granted Ireland’s first divorce decree (prior to the formal introduction of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996), 14 months after the people had voted, by a slim majority, in favour of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution (The Irish Times remembers ‘the count’ here and Carol Coulter provides analysis here).  The applicant in R.C. v. C.C., a seriously ill man, had been separated from his wife for several years and sought to regularise his new relationship before his death. This open-access article by Christine James provides a tight discussion of the history of divorce law in Ireland.

Divorce had been banned under the Irish constitution since 1937. An attempt to permit divorce by constitutional amendment had failed in 1986, and though the 1995 attempt succeeded, it was vociferously resisted by conservative and religious groups so that the gap between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ was exceptionally small. As this article by Jenny Burley and Francis Regan notes, although the ‘no’ campaign insisted that the introduction of divorce would ‘open the floodgates’ – that marriage breakdown figures would rise dramatically – this has not come to pass.

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