Divorce referendum: Ireland votes to liberalise laws

Votes are counted in DublinImage copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Divorce was only made legal in Ireland in 1995 following a tight referendum vote

People in the Republic of Ireland have voted overwhelmingly in favour of liberalising divorce laws, in a referendum held on Friday.

The proposal passed with 82.1% of voters backing a change to the law.

The constitution currently states that spouses must be separated for four of the previous five years to divorce.

But that clause will now be removed, allowing the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) to decide a new separation period before divorce is allowed.

Divorce was legalised in Ireland in 1995, after a referendum that approved the measure by 50.28% to 49.72%.

Any change to the Irish constitution must be supported by a majority of voters in a referendum.

Prior to the vote on divorce laws on Friday, the government indicated that it believed a two-year separation was long enough.

Image copyrightNiall Carson/PAImage caption Local and European elections were held on the same day as the referendum

Ireland has recently held constitutional referendums on other social issues - leading to the scrapping of the country's ban on abortion and the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

The main political parties in Ireland all supported the liberalisation of divorce laws. Opposition to the vote came from Catholic pressure groups such as the Iona Institute.

Image copyrightAFPImage caption Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar cast his votes in Dublin

The Iona Institute's director, David Quinn, said he had no particular objection to the four-year waiting time for divorce being reduced to two years, but did not want to see divorce laws removed from the constitution completely.

According to Eurostat, the crude divorce rate in the Republic of Ireland is 0.6% a year for every 1,000 people compared with 1.9% for the UK and 3.2% for the US.