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Debating Divorce

Debating Divorce: Moral Conflict in Ireland

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Debating Divorce
    Book Description:

    In 1986 a national opinion poll indicated that over half of Irish voters favored an upcoming referendum to remove the constitutional ban on divorce. Yet, after nine weeks of vigorous debate during which forces on both sides of the issue presented their cases to the public, the amendment was defeated.

    InDebating Divorce, Michele Dillon uses the divorce referendum debate in Ireland as a base from which to explore the long-standing sociological preoccupation with how societies decide questions of values. Focusing on culture and moral conflict, she examines the stances adopted by the major players in the debate: the government and the political parties, the Catholic church, women, the print and broadcast media, and activists,on both sides.

    Although the issues of moral conflict that Dillon discusses have special relevance in demarcating Irish cultural values, they also apply to how people in general reason about morals and values. The author highlights the nature of moral discourse, the use of contradictory arguments in moral reasoning, the difficulty of trying to shift moral paradigms during non-revolutionary times, and the impossibility of keeping facts and values distinct as people grapple with conflicting moral claims.

    Examining the divorce question within historical themes of economic insecurity and Catholic identity, Dillon argues that the discourses articulated during the debate illustrate a universal tension between the forces of tradition and those of modernity. She dissects Irish opposition to divorce in terms of current challenges to rationality and its association with progress and goodness.

    Debating Divorcewill appeal to sociologists and scholars of Irish studies, communication, culture, and religion, as well as to general readers with an interest in Ireland or moral discourse.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5911-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On April 23, 1986, the Irish prime minister, Garret FitzGerald, called a press conference at which he announced his government’s intention to hold a referendum on divorce. The Irish electorate was being offered the opportunity to acknowledge formally the individual’s legislative right to divorce, an established right in all other Western democratic societies.¹ The constitutional article prohibiting divorce legislation—“No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage”—would be deleted and replaced with the following four-point amendment:

    Where, and only where, such court established under this Constitution as may be prescribed by law is...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Irish Cultural Themes
    (pp. 11-30)

    Why was a ban on divorce inserted into the Irish Constitution of 1937, fifteen years after independence from Britain? How is it possible for Ireland, a member of the European Economic Community since 1973, to remain the only European country along with Malta to continue prohibiting divorce? What specific forces precipitated the attempt to remove the ban on divorce in 1986? The answers to these questions span Irish history, culture, and society.

    Ireland’s is a rich, varied, and complex history extending from pre-Christian times and its Celtic culture of elaborate laws, customs, and rituals. Today, a sturdy reminder of this...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Arguing about Divorce
    (pp. 31-69)

    The debate between the announcement of the divorce referendum and the final vote was a heated one. It involved the entire spectrum of Irish society from the chambers of Parliament to the local parishes. The pro- and anti-divorce arguments were featured prominently in the daily newspapers and were aired on radio and television. Spearheaded by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition government of Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald, the divorce proposals were supported by most, but not all, of the government ministers and Fine Gael parliamentarians¹ and were strongly supported by Labour under the leadership of Dick Spring, whose party had failed in...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Women and the Divorce Campaign
    (pp. 70-90)

    Can anything further be added to our understanding of the debate by looking at the arguments from the perspective of women? We might well expect that the inclusion of women and arguments relating to them would give a different slant to the debate. After all, there is a long tradition of seeing divorce as of special interest to women and central to the cause of women’s equality. Since the early part of the nineteenth century, demands for divorce law reform were prevalent among feminists in Western Europe, who saw divorce as one way of giving legal protection to women’s uncertain...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Catholic Church and the Referendum
    (pp. 91-109)

    It is both easy and tempting to try to explain the failure of the divorce referendum by pointing to the Catholic church’s opposition to divorce. After all, Ireland is among the most Catholic of Western countries, with a well-developed parish system where 87 percent of its predominantly Catholic population attend Mass weekly and participate regularly in other Church rituals and activities.¹ Anyone who has read James Joyce’sPortrait of the Artist as a Young Manwill have no doubt as to the fervor and the vividly this-worldly style of Irish Catholicism.² Yet, to attribute the demise too hurriedly to the...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Newspaper Editorial Opinion
    (pp. 110-126)

    The three Irish national daily newspapers, theIrish Independent, theIrish Press, and theIrish Times, were united in supporting the government’s divorce proposals. The consensus of editorial opinion was that divorce was a necessary response to the problems associated with marital breakdown in Ireland.¹ This position was articulated by the newspapers throughout the campaign and seemed relatively uninfluenced by issues of circulation, economics, or readers’ attitudes, since it was maintained even when it became evident that the pro-divorce case was losing popularity.

    Of the three papers, it was the least surprising that theTimessupported the introduction of divorce....

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Television’s Framing of the Debate
    (pp. 127-143)

    In this chapter, I turn to television’s coverage of the divorce debate, and specifically focus on rte’s preeminent current affairs program, “Today Tonight.” I will bring to life some of the real drama and immediacy of the divorce debate and explore how it was that rte dealt with the regulatory constraints of impartiality, objectivity, and fairness that apply in Ireland, as in other Western broadcast environments, to television’s coverage of controversial public issues.¹

    Anchored by four well-known broadcasting personalities, all of whom have careers independent of the program,² “Today Tonight” programming, in the words of media sociologist, Mary Kelly, "has...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Values in Tension
    (pp. 144-166)

    In modern times, from the secularization of marriage and the introduction of restrictive divorce to the no-fault divorce reforms of the 1960s, the evolving emphasis on marriage as a contract has paralleled economic rationalization. For most Western societies, there was a processual inevitability between changes in the economic, political, and moral domains. Cultural modernization was virtually an invisible process with a trend toward increasing secularization evident only retrospectively. Changes in modern divorce law, occurring in circumstances that did not require constitutional change and electoral approval, were achieved independent of public debate. Framed primarily by legal and political elites, there was...

  12. APPENDIX A. Marriage Breakdown in Ireland
    (pp. 167-172)
  13. APPENDIX B. Divorce and the Protestant Churches
    (pp. 173-174)
  14. APPENDIX C. Interviewees
    (pp. 175-175)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 176-204)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-214)
  17. Index
    (pp. 215-220)