Financial Resolutions, 1983. - An Bille um an Ochtú Leasú ar an mBunreacht (Colscaradh), 1983: Cead Tabhairt Isteach. (Atógáil). Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Divorce) Bill, 1983: Leave to Introduce. (Resumed).
Tuesday, 15 February 1983
Dáil Eireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy De Rossa moved that leave be given to introduce the Bill and the motion has been opposed by the Government. In accordance with Standing Order 88 (4), the debate has been adjourned until today, being the next day on which Private Members' Business is to be taken. I now call on the Deputy nominated to make a short explanatory statement confined to five minutes.
Mr. De Rossa: I would like to say how short five minutes is to deal with such an important question as divorce. It is fairly clear to most Deputies that there is a growing need for divorce legislation in this State. There is a growing body of statistics indicating that marital breakdown  is on the increase. It does no credit to this House if we continue to ignore this problem. Marital breakdown is a fact of life and the ban on divorce does nothing to protect family life. It simply aggravates the distress of those who find themselves in this situation — the mother, father and children of the marriage.
In accepting this Bill the House would not be committing itself to any precise form of divorce legislation. It would simply enable the House to get down to discussing what type of divorce is required and which would best suit the conditions in this State. The 1967 all-party committee recommended that the constitutional ban on divorce should be removed. For that reason alone, it is pointless referring this aspect of the problem to an all-party committee. If the House agrees that this Bill should proceed to the next stage, it would enable Deputies to express their views on this very important topic and to say precisely what kind of divorce legislation is needed.
In the brief time available to me I would like to mention a number of anomalies that exist under the present situation. Irish people domiciled abroad who get divorces abroad, have those divorces recognised in this State and if they remarry in this State their marriages are recognised as legal. On the other hand there are, I believe, approximately 3,000 marriages in this State which have been annulled by the Roman Catholic Church and when the people involved in this type of situation remarry they are considered by law to be living in a bigamous marriage. On the other hand, the Revenue Commissioners recognise as legitimate the claim by persons involved in a so-called bigamous situation and recognise them as man and wife for the purpose of tax allowances and so on. Clearly that is a very unsatisfactory situation.
Because of a lack of a clear position on this question we have desertions which are running into thousands. There are 15,000 applications for desertion allowances, mostly from women because of the anomaly in the social welfare code and there are 6,000 in receipt of the deserted wife's allowances.
 It is pointless for us to continue to ignore a problem that exists. In view of the fact that many Deputies from all parties have indicated that they consider this matter should be dealt with, I appeal to the parties to allow a free vote tonight. I appeal particularly to the Labour Party who in their recent election manifesto “called for family law reform including civil divorce for marriages irretrievably broken down”. Apart from the Labour Party I appeal to all Deputies to allow this Bill to proceed.
In conclusion I hope Deputies will consider this Bill in the light of the great human suffering of all concerned in marriages that have broken down. I appeal to everyone to take the position that we can no longer bury our heads in the sand. We must recognise that this problem exists, and if this House is to have any relevance we must sit down and tackle it.
The Dáil will be aware that the Programme for Government provides for the setting up of an all-party Oireachtas committee which will examine and make recommendations on the problems of the protection of marriage under modern conditions and of marriage breakdown and on any legislative or constitutional action that may be required. The committee's deliberations must necessarily include consideration of the constitutional prohibition on divorce, and the Taoiseach already made this abundantly clear to the Dáil on 26 January 1983 in reply to a parliamentary question from Deputy De Rossa.
I believe that there is a common concern among Deputies with the increasing incidence of marital breakdown and the overwhelming burden of distress and human misery it causes. It is, however, clear that no political consensus has yet emerged on how best to deal with the problem in a way which properly balances the interests of individuals, both adults and children, with the interest of society as a whole.
 Marriages break down — and some of them break down irretrievably. This is a sad fact of life, and the main purpose of the all-party committee will be to consider how best the State can support marriage and the family, which all of us, in the words of the Constitution, recognise as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of society. To the extent that we can identify how the resources of the State should be mobilised in support of marriage and the family, this will be our primary aim. Without anticipating the findings of the committee anyone concerned with the problem will certainly be aware of the need for greater emphasis on marriage counselling — and this is an area where State support might be improved.
I hope it will be possible for the committee to arrive at a consensus as to how the marriage laws should be reformed in present-day circumstances. The issues involved are very important to the type of society in which we live and we will have to consider them openly and honestly.
The proposed terms of reference of the committee are at present being drawn up, and the Taoiseach has expressed the hope that it will be possible to get all-party agreement in this regard. I believe it is essential that Deputies on all sides come together to see how best we should deal with the problem of marriage breakdown. No party can claim a moral prerogative which enables them to ignore this issue — the people who elect us are entitled to expect that we would at least have the courage to look at the contemporary difficulties of society.
An Ceann Comhairle: Since fewer than ten Members have risen I forthwith declare that the motion is defeated. In accordance with Standing Order No. 59 the names of the Deputies will be recorded in the proceedings of the House as dissenting.
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