Saturday 25 May 2019

Public urged to vote in divorce referendum on May 24


Jessica Farry

It's fallen somewhat under the shadow of the local and European elections which are taking place on the same day, but the public are being urged to read up on what exactly they are voting for in the divorce referendum.

Ms Justice Tara Burns, a Sligo native, and Chairperson of the Referendum Commission, visited town last week to inform people about the upcoming referendum, and the details.

She told The Sligo Champion: "One of our functions is not only to provide independent, accurate information but also to make people aware that there is a referendum happening and to encourage people to vote.

"There's a lot happening on May 24th. You have local elections, European elections and there will be voting in plebiscites on whether to have mayors in Limerick and Cork.

"There's this regulation of divorce referendum. It's important that people hear it's on, what it's about.

"There has been some media publicity about it but we don't have a huge amount of time to go, our guide is just being published at the minute.

"The booklet is going up on the website and that contains the information that we see as important and reflecting what the issues are in terms of what the proposal is, the present legal position, the change of it if it is affected, how the situation will be if it is not affected and a section in relation to FAQs."

The Referendum Commission acts as an impartial, unbiased body providing information on a referendum.

The Hight Court judge explained exactly what we are voting for.

"It's in respect of the constitution provisions that deal with divorce.

"That was enacted on foot of the referendum in 1995. Article 41.3.2, in that there are specific conditions that are set out as to when a court can grant a divorce.

"One of the conditions is that at the date of the institution of the divorce proceedings, the spouses have lived apart from one another for a period of at least four years out of the last five.

"The proposal is to take that out of the constitution entirely. There has been some media reporting that it's inserting a different time period but no it's just to remove it.

"The Family Law Divorce Act also sets out the conditions to reflect what's in the constitution, that act also sets out the exact same time period. That will still continue to apply, but the Government has said it proposes to amend that in due course.

"The proposal that has been made in terms of a bill being presented, is that the time period will be reduced to two years out of three.

"It will then be the Government or the Oireachtas who will decide that, and it will no longer feature in the constitution. That's the first change."

Voters will also be voting on 'foreign divorces' in this referendum.

"The second one relates to foreign divorces.

"Foreign divorces can be recognised within this jurisdiction already.

"What the constitution says is that anybody who has a foreign divorce cannot re-marry unless that foreign divorce is recognised within this jurisdiction.

"What the Government are proposing is that that clause will be taken out and instead what will be inserted is that the Oireachtas has power to legislate to recognise foreign divorces.

"A foreign divorce is a divorce obtained outside the state, people who are living in Ireland, anybody who is living here who wishes to marry here and has a foreign divorce in another jurisdiction, that divorce can be recognised here.

"The proposal is simply that the Oireachtas can legislate, the Oireachtas can legislate already in any event but that's the proposed change.

"The important thing that people need to know is that while there are two questions being put forward, you must say yes or no to both.

"You can't choose yes for one and no for the other, there isn't a provision for that.

"It's yes to both and no to both. It's one question. There are two changes and the question will be 'do you approve of both changes' and yes or no."

The Heatherview native was nominated to act as Chairperson in February of this year.

"Our role is to be completely neutral and completely independent. Whatever it is that the proposal will be.

"The Referendum Commission here in Ireland isn't continuous, it is established when a referendum is called. I change, it's a Ex Officio basis, the other members don't change as frequently as the judge will change."

Sligo Champion