Thursday 26 April 2018

State papers - 1980: Browne mounted bid to force through divorce

Chris Parkin

Former Health Minister Dr Noel Browne mounted a serious bid to force through divorce in Ireland more than 15 years before the reform finally secured referendum approval.

The maverick veteran TD tabled a bill in 1980 seeking all-party support for legislation that would have finally lifted Ireland's long-standing constitutional ban on divorce.

The move prompted strong feelings on both sides of the argument, newly released government documents have made clear.

While organisations like the Irish Council for Civil Liberties lauded and fully backed Dr Browne's bid for change, it immediately ran into opposition from church and traditionalist forces.

Buoyed by an opinion poll showing a 51pc majority in favour of the development, the Civil Liberties Council called on Taoiseach Charles Haughey to take note of the growing public demand for divorce legislation.

But resistance to the Browne bill was personified in a letter to Mr Haughey from Sister Oliver Plunkett, of the Convent of Mercy, in Rosscarberry, Co Cork.

She wrote as "just one of the 95pc of the people of Ireland, who look to you as our strong man, who will say 'thus far and no farther' to the militant atheism and Marxist materialism being spawned by Satan in his diabolical efforts to demoralise and bring about the de-Christianisation of Ireland.

"Divorce, contraception and abortion are abominable crimes against the divine natural laws."

Mr Haughey politely thanked both sides in the argument for contacting him.

But the Browne campaign ended in failure, and it was not until 1995 that Ireland narrowly voted for divorce reform -- by a margin of 9,000 votes out of a total of 1.63 million cast in that year's nationwide poll.

Irish Independent

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