The Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland repealed the constitutional prohibition of divorce. It was effected by the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1995, which was approved by referendum on 24 November 1995 and signed into law on 17 June 1996.

Changes to the textEdit

  • Deletion of the entirety of Article 41.3.2:
No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage.
  • Substitution of new Article 41.3.2:
A Court designated by law may grant a dissolution of marriage where, but only where, it is satisfied that—
i. at the date of the institution of the proceedings, the spouses have lived apart from one another for a period of, or periods amounting to, at least four years during the previous five years,
ii. there is no reasonable prospect of a reconciliation between the spouses,
iii. such provision as the Court considers proper having regard to the circumstances exists or will be made for the spouses, any children of either or both of them and any other person prescribed by law, and
iv. any further conditions prescribed by law are complied with.


An absolute ban on divorce had been present in the constitution since its adoption in 1937. The prohibition reflected the religious values of the document's Roman Catholic drafters, but was also supported by senior members of the Anglican Church of Ireland. In the 1930s some other nations had similar bans, such as Italy, which would not repeal its ban until the 1970s. By the 1980s, however, many saw the prohibition on divorce as illiberal or as discriminating against those who did not share the Christian attitude to divorce.

The first attempt to remove the ban on divorce was the 1986 divorce referendum, held by the Fine Gael government of Garret FitzGerald. However, the proposal was rejected by voters by a substantial margin. Shortly before its collapse, the 1989–92 government published a white paper on marriage breakdown, which proposed "to have a referendum on divorce after a full debate on the complex issues involved and following the enactment of other legislative proposals in the area of family law". When Fine Gael returned to government in 1994 under John Bruton an amendment bill was introduced and, after much controversy and public debate, the referendum was ultimately carried by a slim margin. The Fifteenth Amendment altered Article 41.3 of the constitution, which provides for a number of fundamental rights of the family. The amendment removed the absolute prohibition on divorce but imposed a number of restrictions on its occurrence. The Catholic Church was strongly against the amendment, but stated that Catholics could vote for the amendment in good conscience, and that it would not be a sin to do so.


Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland referendum
Choice Votes Percentage
Referendum passed Yes 818,842 50.28%
No 809,728 49.72%
Valid votes 1,628,570 99.67%
Invalid or blank votes 5,372 0.33%
Total votes 1,633,942 100.00%
Voter turnout 62.15%
Electorate 2,628,834
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