Family Law Bill 2019: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, lines 27 and 28, to delete “two years during the previous three years” and substitute “six months during the previous twelve months”.

In March, the Minister published the text of the amendments to be proposed for the referendum on divorce and published the draft general scheme of a family law Bill. The proposal in that draft general scheme was to reduce the minimum living apart period specified in section 5 of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996 to two years during the previous three years, from four years during the previous five years. Deputies will recall that, in the discussions relating to the referendum, there was widespread support in both Houses of the Oireachtas and among the general public for providing in legislation for a minimum living apart period of two years during the previous three years. The Government believes that the proposed minimum living apart period of two years, on which there was broad agreement prior to the referendum, is an appropriate minimum period. To move from a minimum living apart period of four years, as the law stands, to six months as proposed by the Deputy would be going too far at this time. I assure the Deputy that the living apart period will be kept under ongoing review once the legislation comes into operation and we see how the new living apart period is working in practice. If the Deputy's amendment were to be accepted it would result in the process for obtaining a divorce becoming faster than the process for judicial separation. This would cause significant difficulties for the operation of the legislation in this area of law and may call into question the compatibility of this Bill with Article 41 of the Constitution, so we are opposing the amendment.

We will not be supporting the amendment. The people who voted last May knew the legislation that this Oireachtas was going to put forward if the amendment was carried. They voted overwhelmingly in favour of the change because they knew the Oireachtas would introduce legislation stating it would be two out of the previous three years. Had the public been informed at that time that there would be a proposal that people could be apart for six months of the previous 12 months, I do not know what the result would have been but it certainly would not have got the victory it got. We need to be consistent with what we said to the public at the time and we should not change as to do so would be a breach of trust with the public. There is nothing to stop a future Oireachtas deciding, if it wishes, to change the time period prescribed in the legislation and this is an advantage of the way the amendment has progressed but, on the first occasion the legislation is enacted, we should all remain loyal to the commitments we gave to the public.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 3 agreed to.
Sections 4 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank Deputies for their constructive remarks and Deputy O'Loughlin and others for their work during the referendum itself. I also pay tribute to the officials who worked very hard on the legislation to get it to where it is today, to the Ceann Comhairle and his office and to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, for her input at the beginning.

Question put and agreed to.