Divorce was prohibited in Ireland under the Constitution until 1995. In that year the people of Ireland voted in a referendum, by a narrow majority, to amend the Constitution and remove the ban on divorce. It was the 15th amendment to the Constitution. The passing of the amendment made Ireland the last country in Europe to permit divorce.
Divorce was available in Ireland under Brehon law. The Statutes of Kilkenny, enacted in 1366, were designed to replace Brehon law with English law. This was followed in 1494 by Poynings law which provided that all laws passed in England applied in Ireland. Despite this English law applied only to a small area of Ireland around Dublin, known as the Pale.
In 1603 a Proclamation of King James 1 brought an end to the Brehon laws. Ireland was divided into counties and English law began to be administered throughout Ireland. One such law was The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 which allowed for divorce under civil law.
Following independence divorce in Ireland was regulated by law passed in 1925, but was not banned under the Constitution of 1922. This continued to be the situation up until 1937. In that year the Fianna Fáil government led by Éamon de Valera introduced a new constitution which was ratified by the people. Article 41.3.2 of the Constitution stated: ‘No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage’. The ban remained in place until the Constitution was amended by the people almost sixty years later.
The first attempt to amend Article 41.3.2 of the Constitution was made in 1986. The people rejected the proposed amendment by a majority of almost two to one. In what was a divisive campaign the final vote saw 63.5% reject the amendment while just 36.5 were in support. Nine years later a new proposal to amend the Constitution was put to the people. This time the vote was narrowly in favour of ending the Constitutional ban on divorce. The final vote was 50.28% in favour and 49.72% against. The removal of the ban was followed fourteen months later by the passing of the Family Law (Divorce) Act. The first divorce following the amendment was granted in the High Court on January 17th 1997.
The people of Ireland voted to remove the Constitutional ban on divorce in the year 1995 On This Day.