Bruton makes divorce vote plea

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The Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, yesterday issued a strong appeal for a "yes" vote in this week's referendum on divorce. He said he "trusted" the Irish people to move in favour of change to allow divorce, and described Friday's vote as "more important than the next three general elections put together".

But with an 11th-hour setback in the Supreme Court barring it from spending more public funds promoting a "yes" vote, the Irish government faces an uphill battle to defend its slender lead.

A weekend government poll showed that another three per cent swing would eliminate the remaining pro-divorce majority. Ominously for the government, this is the same percentage to have shifted towards the "no" camp each week since September.

Friday's Supreme Court judgement ruled that the coalition government's use of taxpayers' money interfered in the democratic process and was in breach of the constitution.

The challenge was brought by Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna who, ironically, was only married herself last month and backs the introduction of divorce.

The ruling threw a massive spanner in the government propaganda effort, just as it was poised to deliver pro-divorce literature to every household in the state. While some leaflets were sent out before Friday, law reform minister Mervyn Taylor admitted many voters would not now receive them. Outlay on press advertisements and posters has also been affected.

In contrast, well-funded government opponents have swamped the country, leasing major billboard sites and delivering a stream of leaflets to homes. With blunt slogans such as "Hello Divorce. . . Goodbye Daddy" they have aimed to represent divorce as a threat to the survival of the family unit.

On Saturday, a Dublin rally drew 5,000 ardent and committed anti-divorce campaigners. Some carried candles and knelt in the street. A pro-divorce rally addressed by government leaders yesterday attracted a much smaller turnout.

Admitting the result would be very close, Mr Bruton said the vote would be more important than the next three general elections. "We as a people have a responsibility to show respect for the minority in our own midst. I believe marriage is for life, but I don't believe I need to see the law used to impose my beliefs on others."