It’s 20 years since Ireland voted for divorce. An Irish Times series, Divorced Ireland, explores the effects of that vote on Irish life, then and since. To read the full series click hereWith nearly one in ten marriages here ending in separation or divorce, Ireland has the lowest rate of divorce in Europe and the third lowest in the world, after Mexico and Chile.

It is almost 20 years since the country voted, by 51 per cent to 49, to remove its constitutional ban on divorce. The referendum was in November 1995; legislation followed in June 1996. Years of debate had preceded the referendum, and the campaign was a divisive one, with the No side narrowing the gap in the days before the poll.

In a last-ditch effort to persuade women to vote Yes, Joan Burton, who was then the Labour Party’s minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs, pleaded for “the small voice of honesty and truthfulness, however painful” and said that civil divorce was “a more honourable and honest process” than annulment, which declared that the marriage had never existed at all.

Prof William Binchy, arguing for a No vote at the Anti-Divorce Campaign’s final press conference before the ballot, warned that “the proposed amendment would remove constitutional protection from the first family in favour of the second partner following a divorce”.

Binchy added that “the amendment would reward deserters, leaving abandoned wives in a perilous financial position; that it would require the premature sale of the family home or business; and that it would enable quickie divorces by allowing a divorce to be obtained when the spouses were still living in the same home”, allowing these deserters to “scoop the pool of the family assets”, resulting in poverty for abandoned wives, who were better protected under the existing law covering separation.

via Divorce, Irish style.