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D Day: Couples and courts await divorce, Irish style

February 21, 1997

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ For 14 years, Mags O’Brien has been married against her will, to a husband who has already divorced her and married again. Now her day is finally at hand.

``The first time I got married in Rome. This time it’ll just be in a Dublin registry office. The difference is, this time I know what I’m doing _ I think,″ she said.

O’Brien, 45, led the grass-roots Divorce Action Group for a decade in a successful effort to amend the Irish constitution, which decreed marriage was for life. The payoff comes on Thursday, the effective date of a new law permitting divorce and remarriage after four years of separation.

An estimated 90,000 people stuck in failed marriages will have the chance to make a break, and perhaps marry again.

O’Brien hopes to be granted a divorce by June from Con Brogan. They married in 1976 and split in 1982.

``Things were fine in the first flush of love. They always are,″ she said with a slight smile.

``But he got involved in transcendental meditation. He’d meditate for 20 minutes in the morning, and again in the evening. Then he got into an advanced course and it started to snowball. He became a vegetarian, and he quit smoking and drinking. He started going to bed at 7 o’clock every night as part of his regime.″

Oddly enough, Brogan has already divorced her _ though not in the eyes of the Irish Republic.

He took up residence in England long enough to qualify for a divorce there, and 12 years ago he remarried under British law in Northern Ireland. Now he lives in Dublin again with his second wife and two children.

``Some people here say my marriage is kosher, and some don’t. It’s been good enough for me,″ said Brogan, 47.

``Now Mags is going to petition an Irish court for a divorce _ and obviously I will agree. She insisted that it was very important for her to marry in Ireland rather than abroad.″

Voters in this predominantly Roman Catholic country of 3.5 million narrowly approved divorce in a 1995 referendum. Opponents went all the way to the Supreme Court before accepting that the battle was lost _ that Catholic Ireland would be like any other European country.

So far, Dublin’s lawyers have demonstrated more enthusiasm for divorce than their potential clients.

``People are reluctant to be the first to test the waters,″ said Brian Gallagher, senior counsel in the largest of 10 Dublin firms specializing in family law.

``But when the Bar Association organized a seminar last Wednesday night on the ins and outs of the divorce law, more than 300 lawyers came.″

Even if more people decide to untie the knot, they may have a wait in store. Ireland has only three family law judges _ two in Dublin and one in Cork.

The courts are already backed up with separation cases, which typically take six months. Separations can be contentious, because that’s when couples have to work out a property settlement. Couples must have lived apart for at least four years to qualify for a divorce.

Among the hesitant is Jim Cullinan, who is separated and has just started to consider the possibility of marrying his partner of five years, Maria Mulraney.

Cullinan wed in 1985, but the marriage broke down within a year. ``She wasn’t a one-man woman, basically,″ he said, recalling the time he caught her in bed with a good friend of his.

Mulraney says a wedding is not her top priority. There are more pressing demands on their funds: medical bills for their 3-year-old boy, a fix-up job on the three-bedroom home they bought in 1994, insurance for their car, and college tuition for Mulraney, who is three months pregnant.

But Cullinan said cutting old ties makes sense.

``I would like to have a divorce, just to finally kill it off,″ he said. ``It’s dead, but I’d like to bury it.″

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