Referendum defeats paved way for move to modernity
Published 20/05/2011 | 05:00
GARRET FitzGerald's liberal crusade suffered two major defeats in the 1980s but he was last night hailed as a "force for modernisation".
The Fine Gael leader's 'constitutional crusade' of 1981 to liberalise family laws hit its first obstacle when he lost an abortion referendum in 1983. He floundered again when he lost a divorce referendum in 1986.
His liberal agenda covered three main areas: divorce, abortion and contraception. While he succeeded in liberalising contraception laws, he was defeated on the other two key issues following conservative and traditionalist opposition.
A pre-election pledge to hold a referendum to make abortion unconstitutional and illegal came back to haunt Mr FitzGerald in 1983.
Despite initially supporting the wording, Mr FitzGerald ended up opposing it following advice from the Attorney General. Many in his own party of Fine Gael voted with the original wording from Fianna Fail, which had been strongly backed by Catholic bishops and pro-life campaigners, and resulted in a two to one majority.
The next referendum defeat on divorce followed in 1986 when conservative campaigners triumphed again. The government sought changes which would allow divorce for couples who could show a court their marriage had been irretrievably broken down for over five years.
The proposal was rejected by 63.5pc to 36.5pc -- creating major pressure for the government, which lost office the following year.
However, the intense debate on divorce cleared the way for Fine Gael to table what would be a successful referendum on divorce again in 1995.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn last night hailed Dr FitzGerald as a "great force for modernisation and tolerance in Ireland".