A FEW YEARS BACK some friends and I discussed the question of divorce in Ireland over lunch in a restaurant in Dun Laoghaire, the port just outside Dublin. At one point, I said: "Divorce should be made easy, but marriage should be made very difficult."
That remains my view. Last week's narrow referendum vote in Ireland to remove the Prohibition on divorce in the Constitution had very little to do about divorce. It won't alter the trend for the breakdown of marriages in Ireland. This looks set to continue. It will allow for civil remarriage (if divorced Irish Catholics want to be married by a priest, they will have to go to Northern Ireland where Fr Wilson in Larne defies Cardinal Daly and provides such service) but, in effect, there has been divorce in Ireland for some time.
What the vote was about was the sort of society that the Irish people wish to live in and what has emerged is that they don't agree. It is clear that there are in the Republic two Irelands. The first, the traditional rural, agrarian-based Ireland, voted to retain the prohibition on divorce. The second, the population of Dublin and the Pale, voted to scrap it. This is a division which is likely to become exacerbated as time goes on.
have spent six of the past seven-and-a-half years living in Dublin. My home is far, far way to the south-west in North County Cork. In Dublin, I would tell friends that theirs was "my favourite English city" and I would add that "most people who live there have never been to Ireland and wouldn't know how to get there if they wanted to." My Ireland voted against divorce, just as it had voted against all three abortion propositions in that referendum. Had I been voting last week, I would probably have voted No. But, having said that, I am not that bothered that the Yes side won. As the Bishop of Cork, Dr Murphy, so bravely pointed out, this was a civil matter. The Catholic Church has the right to have its views aired but no right to have those views prevail against the Wishes of the people.
The Church as an institution does not have the power it once had in Ireland. But the Christian values for which it has stood in my country for a millenium and a half arc deeply ingrained in the people and will not swiftly go away. The world is changing and Ireland is part of that changing world. When my four grandparents married more than a century ago in North Cork, the world was a different place. Hannah Carroll and Denis I.ehane were not in love when they married, no more than Mary Ann Hurlihy and Con O'Connell were. Both marriages were arranged, which is how marriages in rural Ireland had always come about. Both couples lived together for more than half a century and produced, between them, almost 40 children. Both marriages were ended by the death of each wife.
It was to preserve that way of life which motivated most of those who voted No last week. It is why probably I would have voted No. The problem is not divorce, it is marriage. It was brought home to me by a young girl of 20 I saw on television. She lives in Dublin and was married briefly for ten months. Her husband repeatedly physically beat her and she left him. She later had his child. She wants a divorce so that she can remarry. She talked in the modem way of "a relationship that is over" and said she wanted to "move on with my life." She sees marriage and divorce as a solely personal issue. She is wrong.
Marriage and divorce are primarily social issues. They arc part of the framework with which individuals are bound together to form society. Throughout human history, the essential building block of society has been the family unit. Any radical change in the nature of the family must change the society.
We see this in Britain with the growth of single parent families, families where the mother and father are not married and have no Miendon of doing so and in the frequency and social acceptability of divorce. The Irish value their Irishness and the last thing they want is to be like England. Yet, the truth is that in many parts of the country, and certainly in Dublin and its environs, the similarities are considerable.There are large numbers of men and women living together without getting married, there has been a huge
explosion of young women having children outside wedlock and, however "conservative" the new laws on divorce may seem to be, they are likely to lead to an explosion of divorces. Dublin too, has a far worse drugs problem than other cities in Ireland or in any city in Britain.
And yet, there are differences. Most of the men and women living together outside marriage or the unmarried mothers dutifully attend Mass each Sunday and lead moral lives. Irish society will not change because of divorce and remarriage. How could it? People have been divorcing
and remarrying in Ireland increasingly for years. All that has been involved has been the need to move to Northern Ireland or Britain for a brief period of time.
The world into which my grandparents were born is no more. They didn't see Marriage as "a relationship" which might fail. They didn't expect to be happy or fulfilled by marriage. To them it was for life. Everybody knew what marriage was and everybody knew the rules. I think that we have lost something today that my grandparents' generation had. I don't believe that last week's vote helps us recapture what we have lost.