The Catholic bishop of Limerick has said consideration should be given to establishing an agency specifically dedicated to the promotion of healthy marriages and to support marriages which are in trouble.

In a statement Dr Brendan Leahy lamented there has been too little discussion about next Friday's divorce referendum.

Acknowledging that cohabitation is much more common than in the past, and that there are today many types of families, he underlined that many people still get married.

He said those people value entering into a public pact that essentially says "the two of us will move together from here on, build our life-journey together from here on". 

Dr Leahy added that Friday's referendum "is an occasion to acknowledge that we value marriage and (to) reflect further on this. It would be a pity if we simply passed over this opportunity for conversation."

He said we need to look at why marriages break down, "not least given the family's role in society". 

"Generally, people do not run into a divorce lightly. It is a very painful experience for many," he said.

"I have read one commentator who spoke positively of the current provision of a four-year waiting period before divorce, saying it took them four years to come to terms with their marriage break-up and begin to work their way through it.

"It is also true that divorce rarely definitively settles a fractured marriage, especially when there are children. It certainly needs to be thought through very carefully," Bishop Leahy said.

He said that in voting in the referendum, it would be a shame if electors simply ticked a box without taking the chance to reflect on the social context under analysis.

He cited data from Accord, the Catholic marriage care service, which indicates that couples often make contact with them in year 13 of marriage, and that the average age of clients is the early to mid-40s.