Ms Justice Tara Burns, Chairperson of the Referendum Commission, spoke to RTÉ's Morning Ireland ahead of the launch of the commission's public information campaign on the referendum on the regulation of divorce, which takes place on 24 May.
What are the voters being asked to decide upon?
There’s one proposal before the people to vote on, but that has two parts.
The first part of the proposal relates to the removal of the constitutional provision relating to how long people must be living apart before they can apply for divorce.
And the second part of the proposal is in relation to the recognition of foreign divorces.
What’s the current position on the period for which couples must be living apart before they can divorce?
Presently, the Constitution states that a person must be separated from their spouse for four out of the previous five years before they can apply for a divorce. That’s set out in the Constitution, but it’s also set out in an act of the Oireachtas, which is the Family Law Divorce Act (1996), so both the Constitution and the act set out that period.
And the current position in relation to the recognition of foreign divorces?
Well the Constitution sets out that a person who has a foreign divorce which is not recognised in the State cannot remarry. And what the proposal is is to remove that provision of the Constitution and instead insert a provision which will give an express legislative power to the Oireachtas to legislate for the recognition of foreign divorces.
So what happens if we vote Yes in this referendum?
If we vote Yes in the referendum in respect of the first part of the proposal, the constitutional provision in relation to the living apart period will in fact be removed from the Constitution entirely. That will mean that the Oireachtas will have the power to legislate in respect of a time period for persons to have been living apart before they can apply for a divorce.
In respect of the recognition of foreign divorce provision of the C, the proposal is simply to put in an express recognition of the legislative power to legislate for foreign divorces, but in fact the Oireachtas already have that power.
And what happens if we vote No?
If we vote No, matters stay the same way, the Constitution will continue to require that a person applying for a divorce must have been separated from their spouse for a period of four out of the previous five years and the express constitutional provision prohibiting a person to remarry if they have a foreign divorce which is not recognised in the State will continue to apply.
Who’s entitled to vote or to register to vote?
All citizens of Ireland who are 18 years of age at the date of the referendum, which is 24 May, are entitled to vote. However, you must be on the register of electors. The register comes into force on 15 February. If you’re not already on the register, and you can check to see whether you are by going to checktheregister.ie, you still have time to get on the register, because there’s a supplementary register compiled, you must do that by 7 May. It’s quite an easy process. Go onto checktheregister.ie; if you’re not on the register, download the form, you need to bring that into your garda station with identification, and get it back to your local authority by 7 May.
What if I’ve moved address since the last election?
On checktheregister.ie there’s a specific form that allows for a change of address. So download that form; and you don’t need to go into the garda station in respect to that, you just simple need to fill it in and send it to your new local authority area, and they then will include you on the supplemental register that relates to their area.