By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Because of an upsurge in divorce cases following its introduction last year, Ireland’s Legal Aid Board will get 30 more staff members.
The battle for the divorce went on for 10 years and involved two referenda, two Supreme Court cases and extensive Oireachtas legislation before it came into force in February 1997.
Frank Goodman, the Legal Aid Board chief executive, said last week that 16 percent of all applications for legal aid this year involved people who could not afford to pay for divorce proceedings.
During the campaign to have divorce introduced, government statistics showed there were an estimated 45,000 broken marriages in Ireland. It was expected that up to a quarter of those identified would apply for a divorce in the first 18 months, but the rush didn’t materialize.
"Nobody really knew what to expect with divorce," Goodman said. "People used to say, ‘What sort of numbers do you expect?’ and I always referred to it as the crystal ball question.
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"A lot of people already have judicial separations and other forms of separations and they are not rushing to change them.
"There was a very slow start, but it is now having a major impact on our services."
The board had 2,175 applications for divorce-case legal aid in 1997 and there are still almost 1,000 cases on the waiting list from last year.
So far this year there have been over 1,000 more applications, with three out of four being from women.
Despite the availability of divorce, the number of people seeking legal aid for judicial separations — which do not allow remarriage — has only dropped to 1,211 last year from the pre-divorce level of 1,252 in 1996.
The introduction of domestic violence legislation in 1996 has also increased the workload on the board’s offices.
Its annual report says that family law matters account for 96 percent of court cases and 90 percent of legal aid cases dealt with by the board.