The Government is to support a bill put forward by Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan to reduce the waiting time for divorce from four years to two.

Ms Madigan told the Dáil the current system was “punitive” and prevented couples from moving on with their lives.

Currently couples are required to live apart for four years out of the preceding five before initiating divorce proceedings.

There was cross-party support for the proposal, with Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan describing it as 'sensible'.

He also said it should be progressed sooner rather than later.

Sinn Féin Deputy Carol Nolan said her party welcomed Ms Madigan's bill, and said that where marriages break down irreparably, it was simply inhumane to require people to be bound by a legal partnership they both want out of.

Solidarity-AAA Deputy Ruth Coppinger said while her group supported the bill, there should be no time restrictions for divorce in the Constitution.

"These are people's lives and  personal lives and we shouldn't have to have a popular vote to say ‘Do you allow Mary and Jack to have a divorce?'. That's essentialy what we are saying," she told the Dáil

Social Democrat Roisin Shorthall said the provisions of the bill were to be welcomed, but she felt they could go further, asking: "Why not remove this matter from the Constitution entirely? Surely it is more suited to being dealt with by primary legislation, rather than a constitutional provision?"

Minister of State David Stanton said the Government would be supporting the bill and was also open to proposing legislation to facilitate 'clean break' divorces. 

"As a further step, the Government is of the view that it should at this stage be open to proposing the removal of all the conditions for the granting of a divorce set out under Article 41.32 of the Constitution," Mr Stanton said.

He said this was not intended to take away the regulation of divorce, but it would mean the conditions for granting the divorce could be prescribed by an Act of the Oireachtas rather than the Constitution.