Referendum 1995 - Divorce (Dissolution of Marriage)

In 1986 the Irish electorate voted overwhelmingly to reject the introduction of divorce to Irish law. Nine years and several changes of government later, the voters were asked to consider the issue again by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government led by Taoiseach John Bruton. Bruton's motive for the measure was the same as that of his predecessor Garret FitzGerald - to allow for a more inclusive Irish society that wasn't so rigidly adherent to Catholic principles as to prove the old "Home Rule is Rome Rule" slogan nothing short of reality.

Proponents of divorce in Ireland also viewed it as a rights issue. Whether divorce was legal or not, marital breakdown had always been an issue in Ireland, and the existing law made it legally impossible for people in such a marriage to separate (though many did so in practice). Campaign groups such as the Galway For Divorce Group took out ads making the case for the introduction of divorce, citing examples of situations in which a spouse might find themselves requiring legal separation. Opponents took the same line as they did in 1986: divorce was contrary to Catholic social teaching and to traditional Irish values, and it would result in the fragmentation of families across the state. Most famously, the No Divorce Campaign produced billboards with the slogan "Hello Divorce... Bye Bye Daddy" (which in itself raises the curious question of whether the NDC believed Irish women nationwide were just biding their time). The Government published an information booklet which presented arguments both for and against the proposals.

Contrary to the rather sensationalist claims of some elements of the anti-divorce campaign, the form of divorce being introduced by the amendment was in fact quite limited. A divorce would only be granted if a Court found that the petitioning couple had lived apart for at least four of the previous five years, that there was no reasonable possibility of a reconciliation and that proper provision is made for each of the spouses and their dependents.

Red indicates that a constituency voted no, blue indicates that it voted yes.
The winning side's total is shown in each constituency.
The amendment was put to a referendum on 24 November 1995. Unlike the last time, when the Irish electorate voted 2:1 against divorce, this time the amendment was successful - though just barely, with 50.3%. Only 9,114 votes separated the two sides. The pro-divorce vote was strong only in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow, though it managed slight victories in Cork South Central, Limerick East and Louth as well. The remainder of the state largely voted No. The pro-divorce campaign's best victory was in DĂșn Laoghaire, with 68.2% in favour, while the anti-divorce campaign triumphed most in Cork North West, where 66.1% of the electorate rejected the amendment.

Ireland was becoming considerably more liberal in the mid 1990s, but as these results show, the conservatism that marked its previous decades was still very much in evidence. Already in the past 15 years the Irish electorate had voted twice on divorce, and in four different ballots on abortion. Social issues wouldn't appear in a referendum again until the next decade, but what would that reveal about the changing nature of Irish society?

Total Yes: 50.3%
Total No: 49.7%
Turnout: 62.2%