19. A ‘Festive’ Anti-Divorce Pamphlet from 1980s Ireland

By Kate Collins

The 1980s saw divorce, long prohibited in Ireland, become a topic of national debate. Article 41.3.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, the country’s 1937 Constitution, explicitly stated that ‘No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage’, meaning that a national referendum was needed to provide for legalisation.[1] The governing Fine Gael-Labour coalition initiated such a process in 1985, with the question being put to the electorate on 26 June 1986.[2] Despite multiple polls showing a majority for the amendment during the nine-week campaign, when the votes were counted just 36.3 per cent were in favour of allowing divorce, and 63.1 per cent were against.[3]

This pamphlet, sent by the Dublin T.D. Alice Glenn to her constituents in the run-up to the referendum, became one of the most famous of the entire 1986 campaign. Its headline, ‘A woman voting for divorce is like a turkey voting for Christmas’, was widely quoted by both supporters and critics; it neatly summed up the arguments of the anti-divorce side that a ‘Yes’ vote would only hurt, not help, women experiencing marital problems. Glenn was one of the loudest voices on the ‘No’ side despite being a Fine Gael T.D. herself, meaning the amendment was actually being proposed and supported by her own party. She had previously declared that she would not follow the party line where she felt it violated Catholic teaching, breaking with Fine Gael the year before to oppose a government bill allowing unmarried adults to buy contraceptives. The economic arguments against divorce made by her throughout this pamphlet were mirrored in many of the other leaflets and posters produced by the ‘No’ side, who focussed in on the powerful idea that divorced women and their children would be at risk of destitution.[4]

Following the defeat of the divorce referendum, Glenn’s position within Fine Gael became untenable, as she continued to disagree with what she saw as the party’s efforts to undermine the primacy of the family. After it came to light that she had once referred to multiple groups, including the leaders of non-Catholic churches, as ‘enemies of the people’, she resigned from the party before she could be expelled. She lost her Dáil seat in the next election and retired from politics altogether after losing her council seat in the 1991 local elections. She was absent from the subsequent 1995 divorce referendum, which saw a victory for the removal of the ban on the right to remarry by the narrowest of majorities — just 9,000 votes.[5]

[1] ‘Constitution of Ireland (original text)’ (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Ireland_(original_text)#THE_FAMILY) (12 Dec. 22);

[2] See John Coakley, ‘Moral Consensus in a Secularising Society: The Irish Divorce Referendum of 1986’ in West European Politics, x, no. 2 (1987), pp 291-6 and Chapter 11 in Diane Urquhart, Irish Divorce: A History (Cambridge, 2020).

[3] Urquhart, Irish Divorce, pp 218, 223.

[4] ‘Dictionary of Irish Biography: Glenn, Alice’ (https://www.dib.ie/biography/glenn-alice-a9909) (12 Dec. 22). For other ‘No’ pieces making similar arguments, see ‘Divorce is a Human Tragedy. Vote No’ (https://irishelectionliterature.com/2021/03/04/divorce-is-a-human-tragedy-vote-no-anti-divorce-campaign-1986-divorce-referendum/) (12 Dec. 22); ‘Inform Your Conscience – Vote No to Divorce’ (https://irishelectionliterature.com/2012/03/20/inform-your-conscience-vote-no-to-divorce-1986-divorce-referendum-marriage-for-life/) (12 Dec. 22) and ‘Protect the Family – Vote No to Divorce’ (https://irishelectionliterature.com/2011/10/28/from-1986-protect-the-family-vote-no-to-divorce/) (12 Dec. 22).

[5] Dictionary of Irish Biography: Glenn, Alice’ (https://www.dib.ie/biography/glenn-alice-a9909) (12 Dec. 22); Urquhart, Irish Divorce, p. 233.

Image Credits

‘The Alice Glenn Report May 1986’ (https://irishelectionliterature.com/2009/09/10/the-alice-glenn-report-may-1986/) (12 Dec. 22)

‘Protect the Family – VOTE NO TO DIVORCE’ (https://irishelectionliterature.com/2011/10/28/from-1986-protect-the-family-vote-no-to-divorce/) (12 Dec. 22).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close