Ireland votes overwhelmingly to relax strict divorce law

A Divorce Referendum poster in Dublin. Source: Getty

The law will be changed in Ireland to make it easier for couples to divorce after voters overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to liberalise the country's constitution.

Ireland voted by an overwhelming majority to relax its constitutional restriction on divorce, results showed Sunday, the latest in a series of reforms to modernise the charter of the once devoutly Catholic nation.

Some 82 per cent of voters cast their ballots in favour of removing a provision requiring couples to live separately for four out of the previous five years before dissolving their marriage.

The Irish government has signalled it will bring forward new legislation shortening the requirement to two out of the prior three years.

Counting begins in the Local and European Elections and divorce referendum in Dublin.
Counting begins in the Local and European Elections and divorce referendum in Dublin.

At present Irish divorce law is regarded as among the most restrictive in Europe.

It is thought to be responsible for the republic having the lowest separation rate of any EU member state, according to 2015 figures from the country's Central Statistics Office.

The outcome of Friday's referendum will also see Irish lawmakers granted powers to recognise foreign divorces once it is signed into law by the president.

The mandated separation period was a hangover condition from the 1995 referendum which granted Irish couples the right to divorce by a slim majority of 50.3 per cent.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar casts his vote.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar casts his vote.

Campaigners said it placed an unfair emotional and financial burden on couples and families at a time when Irish rental and property prices are spiking.

The result of the vote comes one year on from the day when 66 per cent of voters cast referendum ballots in favour of repealing the republic's constitutional ban on abortion.

While the result of that vote was hailed by crowds in jubilant scenes in Dublin Castle, Sunday's result was announced without fanfare.

In October of last year voters also chose to lift a rarely enforced - and oft ridiculed - constitutional ban on blasphemy.

A further referendum to excise or alter the constitutional article referring to the "woman's life within the home" is expected to be brought forward soon.

The turnout in the referendum, which took place alongside EU elections, was 51 per cent.

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