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Family Law Solicitors

Polls ‘tinkering at edges’ of vision of family life in Constitution

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Irish Times

Gordon Deegan

The referendums that introduced divorce and marriage equality have only been tinkering at the edges of the vision of family life in the Irish Constitution, the Merriman Summer School in Ennis has heard.

UCC law lecturer Dr Conor O’Mahony said that, when looked at in isolation, it could be tempting to think the votes brought a sea change to Irish society.

“However, in many ways, these changes were only tinkering at the edges. While divorce and marriage equality are hugely important to people seeking to access them, relatively few people are directly affected,” he said.

Births outside marriage

Dr O’Mahony noted that by contrast, one out of every three births takes place outside marriage. “And yet the Constitution excludes these families from its protection, and there are no proposals to change this,” he said.

In his address, ‘Family and the Constitution: so much change, so much still the same’, Dr O’Mahony said the family provisions of the Constitution remained conservative and out of touch with the reality of family life for hundreds of thousands of people.

“We cannot become complacent in thinking that recent reforms have catered for the full diversity of family forms in Ireland,” he said.

Low divorce rate

In her address on ‘Reflections on Marriage and the Family 20 years after the Divorce Referendum’, journalist Dr Carol Coulter said that, as predicted by campaigners for change, the Irish divorce rate remained lower than that in most European countries.

She said it was significantly lower than the rates in the UK and the US, the countries from which many of the anti-divorce arguments had been drawn.

“There has been no epidemic of middle-aged and middle-class men abandoning their wives for ‘more attractive’ women,” said Dr Coulter, director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project and former Irish Times journalist.

“Indeed, the figures for judicial separation, often the first step towards divorce, show that two-thirds of the applications are made by women, as are half of those for divorce.”