THE only surprise about the fact that Cheryl and Ashley Cole are finally going their separate ways is that it was so long in coming. Because, after all, that's what the Brits do, isn't it? They get divorced all the time, especially if they're rich and famous and the husband is as big a prat as Ashley Cole.
But we're not a bit like that in this country, are we? We don't get divorced half as much as they do. And it's true, we don't. In fact, we divorce and separate only about a third as often as the Brits.
But before we pat ourselves on the back and decide that marriage in Ireland is in rude health, we should realise that the break-up rate is not the only measure of the health of marriage in any given country.
Nor, for that matter, is the number of people getting married.
What also matters is the number of people cohabiting, the number of children who are raised outside marriage, and the number who are born outside marriage.
Earlier this week, the ESRI published a major report on the Irish family that had been commissioned by the Family Support Agency. We've seen the headline figures before.
For example, the amount of divorce and separation is indeed still low by Western standards. Marriage remains popular, even though people are now more likely to delay getting married until they're in their 30s.
But the rate of cohabitation is on a par with US levels and not far behind Britain. The number of children born outside marriage each year is also closing in on American and British levels, as is the number of children who are not being raised by their two married parents.
If you want the single biggest indicator of the health of marriage in any given society, it is this last one, because the fewer children being raised by their two married parents, the worse off children will be in general, and the worse off society will be.
For example -- and whisper it -- children are much less likely to be abused in the married family than in any other type of family. If you doubt this, then check out a new American report called the 'Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect'.
AS recently as 1986, only 12pc of children were being raised outside the marital family. As of 2006, that figure stood at 26pc.
We're told not to be judgmental about this. But we should be worried because the evidence tells us that we should be worried.
Child Trends, a widely respected US organisation, summarises that evidence as follows: "Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage . . .
"There is thus value in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents."
Every politician in Ireland, starting with Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin, should take that statement and nail it to their walls of their offices. Too many politicians -- although Hanafin isn't one of them -- are terrified to highlight the importance of marriage in case they're accused of being judgmental.
But if they really care about child welfare, then they have to care about marriage and its future in this country. They have to talk it up and they have to actively promote it.
So do child-welfare groups, who unfortunately seem rather more interested in campaigning for a possibly needless and counter-productive children's rights referendum.
In fact, most child-welfare organisations are so steeped in left-wing group-think that instead of promoting marriage, they praise and promote its opposite, 'family diversity'.
But what family diversity means in practice is more and more children being raised without the benefit of their two married parents. It is extremely difficult to see what we are supposed to be celebrating.
Being raised by married parents greatly reduces the chances of a child being raised in poverty. It also reduces the chances of abuse occurring. Furthermore, it enhances a child's chances of getting a good education.
The ERSI report pussy-foots around the topic of marriage. Despite all the evidence, it won't come out in favour of marriage, and even suggests there's little point pursuing pro-marriage policies because they don't really work. Well, most anti-poverty programmes don't really work either, but that has never stopped the Government pouring billions of euro into them each year.
Nor has it deterred governments from trying to devise new and better anti-poverty programmes.
So why should it stop them devising new and better pro-marriage policies?
The real reason the Government won't do this is that it is surrounded by people -- civil servants, lobbyists and academics -- who don't believe in marriage, who do believe in family diversity and who couldn't care less if the institution of marriage goes down the toilet.
But as marriage goes, so go children and so goes society. Therefore, if the Government is really sincere about helping children, then it needs to promote marriage as much as it attempts to fight poverty.
Because in the end, doing both of these things will help children far more than any children's rights referendum.