Ireland votes to ease divorce laws, back united Ireland | News | DW | 26.05.2019
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Ireland votes to ease divorce laws, back united Ireland

Exit polls have indicated a large majority in favor of easing restrictions on divorce, more than 20 years after it was first permitted. There was also a majority for a united Ireland.

Exit polls published after Friday's constitutional referendum in Ireland indicate 87% in favor and only 12% against two amendments to the constitution on divorce.

National turnout was around 53%, with some constituencies reporting more than 60%.

The large majority indicates a strong shift in opinions since divorce was first introduced in 1995, when a referendum passed by only 9,114 votes, or 50.3% of the vote.

If confirmed, Friday's vote will allow the government to legislate for a shorter period of separation before application for a divorce. The delay is currently four years, and the government has indicated it would be reduced to two years. It will also allow foreign divorces to be recognized.

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Culture Minister Josepha Madigan brought a private member's bill in 2016 to liberalize the divorce law. She welcomed Friday's vote, saying it demonstrated the Irish people's "kindness" and "understanding."

Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council, said a shorter divorce process was important for women who have faced domestic abuse, and the first step to reforming family law. "We are here seeing another referendum where Irish people are showing their compassion and their support for families that are in difficult situations," she said.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said Ireland had taken a major step "towards protecting the rights of people" who needed a divorce.

Support for a united Ireland

A majority of those surveyed by broadcaster RTE News on Friday as they left the polling stations also indicated a vote in favor of a united Ireland.

Voters were asked: "If there was a referendum on a United Ireland tomorrow, would you vote YES in favor, or NO against?" The poll indicated a two-thirds majority in favor.

Southern Ireland was divided from the UK's six counties in the north after the Government of Ireland Act in 1920. It came to be known as the Home Rule Act, after the separate institutions planned for the two parts of Ireland.

Home Rule was superseded by the 1922 Irish Free State in the south, but it continued in the northern counties until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The Northern Ireland Executive then became the devolved government for Northern Ireland, one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. 

Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, referendums should be held in both the Republic and Northern Ireland if a majority would likely vote for reunification.

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jm/cmk (AP, AFP)

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