Voting away society’s building blocks in a factual vacuum

Voting away society’s building blocks in a factual vacuum

The deconstruction of marriage continues apace, writes David Quinn.


The divorce referendum has passed by a margin of 82% to 18%. To put it another way, more than 1.3 million people voted in favour of it and about 300,000 voted against. The turnout was 50%.

What exactly did people vote for? In their own minds, they voted to make it quicker and easier for a couple to divorce. We have now given politicians full power to decide what the waiting time prior to divorce should be.

The Government plan to cut the waiting time in half, from four years to two years, but there will be nothing to prevent a future Government reducing it to say, six months.

It’s hard to believe this won’t eventually happen. What we heard during the referendum is that we should not ‘prolong the agony’ by forcing a couple to stay legally married. The clear logic there is that even a two-year wait ‘prolongs the agony’.



I wonder how many people who voted ‘Yes’ took into account the fact that a couple who separate can agree custody arrangements for children long before they divorce? They can also agree on the division of property, and on maintenance payments. They can do so through a legal separation agreement.

In other words, by the time they get around to divorcing, the difficult choices have already been made. The legal wrangling is mostly out of the way. The idea that couples are still fighting over these things by the time they reach the divorce courts was completely overdone by ‘Yes’ campaigners.

In fact, many couples who separate in Ireland never divorce. Why would that be? One reason is precisely because the big legal issues have been sorted out.

Another is that you don’t really need to divorce unless you plan to remarry and most people whose marriages break up never remarry.

In Ireland that are almost 300,000 adults who been through a marriage breakdown but just 60,000 have gone on to remarry.

The referendum was, as usual, an almost entirely fact-free zone”

Are we really to believe that the children of all those parents who have never remarried are more traumatised than the children of parents who have married someone new?

Indeed, children often dislike it when they are introduced to a step-parent. It is one of the reasons why second marriages break up more often than first marriages. There can be severe tensions between a child and a step-father or step-mother that affect the new marriage as a whole.

What we were voting on last Friday wasn’t the right of a couple to separate. It was specifically to reduce the waiting time required before a person can remarry, a very different thing.

Government representatives, plus the likes of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said that research shows children are further traumatised by the waiting time for divorce. But no real evidence was produced to demonstrate this.



There is evidence that high levels of parental conflict can harm children but that is not at all the same as showing that slowing down the right to get married for a second time has any effect on children.

Lawyer Geoffrey Shannon, in response to this newspaper, cited research about inter-parental conflict by Gordon Harold and Mervyn Murch. But this has nothing to say about divorce waiting times and their effects on children, per se.

The referendum was, as usual, an almost entirely fact-free zone.

We have very little research in Ireland into the causes of marriage breakdown, the consequences for children, and what can be done to save marriages.

I put this to Minister Josepha Madigan during the referendum and suggested the Government fund such research. She said in response (on the Pat Kenny Show): “To be honest, David, with you, no research is going to help a lot of families. Marital breakdown is going to happen anyway.”

What an odd position. It’s like saying poor health is going to happen anyway, so why research the causes? Let’s cancel all public health campaigns while we’re at it.

What are we to make of the referendum result? Certainly, it means that Ireland is becoming a more and more liberal country, one that attaches ever more importance to the idea of individual choice. ‘Choice’ is now easily the dominant value in Ireland.

We saw it at work in last year’s abortion referendum as well.

“What we were voting on last Friday wasn’t the right of a couple to separate”


But is this kind of radical individualism really a brilliant recipe for happiness? A decision to break up a marriage might make you happy (it might not, by the way), but supposing it causes great misery to the children? American research shows that most marriages that break up are low conflict, not high conflict. They are ‘good enough’, and it is shocking to the children when they end.

More than 700,000 people voted against repealing the Eighth Amendment last year. Why didn’t they vote against liberalising our divorce laws? I suspect many did not vote at all, and I suspect others believed voting ‘Yes’ was the ‘humane’ thing to do. Also, there was no campaign to speak of against it.

It seems, by the way, that there is to be another referendum on marriage. Last year Leo Varadkar indicated he wants to remove from the Constitution the provision which commits the State to guarding marriage with “special care”. That is ‘discrimination’, you see. The deconstruction of a vital social institution continues apace.