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IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. [...] We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and its exaltation among the nations. The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
Proclamation of the Irish Republic, 1916 (part)

Ireland (Éire, "air-ruh") is a republic consisting of 26 traditional counties of Ireland, which was from 1922-37 called the Irish Free State.


The Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) is composed of a Preamble and fifty Articles. It can only be changed by referendum (a vote of all adult citizens), and it has been changed twenty-four times since its adoption in 1937. Oddities and controversies in the constitution include:

  • the explicitly religious preamble (note that when first drafted, some Roman Catholics wanted "In the name of Our Lady of Lourdes..." while the government settled on a Fair for Its Day "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity" which was acceptable to Roman Catholics, Church of Ireland, Presbyterians, Methodists... who made up probably 95%+ of the population at the time.
  • It also states that "all powers of government derive, under God, from the people", another one for Richard Dawkins to get at.
  • The name of the State is simply Ireland (Irish: Éire). "Republic of Ireland" is a description of the state and a convenient way to tell it apart from the island Ireland and the UK-part Northern Ireland.
  • The Irish language is the "first official language", even though few speak it (is teanga deacair í a fhoghlaim, agus ní mhúintear maith í sa scoil freisin), while English is "a second language", despite being the mother tongue of 95%+ of citizens.
  • Titles of nobility are not awarded by the State, and citizens must gain permission before accepting such titles from a foreign state (e.g. Sir Bono). Oddly enough, many Irish cities have a Lord Mayor/Lady Mayoress but this does not count as a title of nobility.
  • Article 41.2 is seen as sexist:

 Subsection 1: In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

Subsection 2: The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.


However, what few realise is that this is the consitutional guarantee of Children's Allowance.

  • LGBT activists protest that Article 41.3.1˚ states that "The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the Family is founded", which impinges the rights of same-sex unions. It also affects men's rights, such as State (Nicolaou) v. An Bord Uchtála which judged that an unmarried father could not prevent his child's mother from placing their child for adoption, as they were not a "Family".
  • Abortion is a contentious issue in any society: the "pro-life amendment" of 1983 said that "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."
    • This became a thorny issue in Attorney General v. X ("the X case", 1992) in which a 14-year-old, pregnant through rape, claimed to be suicidal and wanted to travel to the UK for an abortion. Two referenda ruled that she (and all other pregnant Irish women/girls) could leave Ireland to get an abortion, and could access information on foreign abortion services. A 2002 amendment to remove the risk of suicide by the mother as grounds for abortion failed narrowly.

A landmark 1987 Supreme Court case, Crotty v. An Taoiseach, ruled that "the state's power to determine its foreign relations was held in trust from the people and could not be alienated by the government", and that therefore any treaty which modified Ireland's foreign relations had to be ratified by referendum. This led to:

  • Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 to ratify the Nice Treaty: No (53.9%)
    • Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 2002 to ratify the Nice Treaty: Yes (62.9%)
  • Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2008 to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon: No (53.2%)
    • Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Act 2009: Yes (67.1%)

Do you notice a pattern here? (Quand elles disent "non, non", elles pensent "Oui Oui"!)


The head of state is the President (Uachtarán) ("ook-ta-rawn"), elected for a seven-year term, who has very limited powers.

  • If the Taoiseach has lost the support of the Dáil, the Taoiseach may request a dissolution of the Oireachtas, which the President could refuse to grant, and instead the Dáil would elect a new Taoiseach without a general election.
  • If a majority of the Senate and one-third of the Dáil disagree with a Bill, the President may refer it to a national vote -- this power has never been used.
  • If (s)he believes a bill is "repugnant" to the Constitution (s)he may refer it to the Supreme Court.

Ireland's presidents have been:

  • Douglas Hyde
  • Seán T. O'Kelly
  • Éamon DeValera
  • Erskine H. Childers (not to be confused with his father Robert Erskine Childers, author of The Riddle Of The Sands)
  • Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh
  • Patrick Hillery
  • Mary Robinson
  • Mary McAleese
  • Michael D. Higgins

Oireachtas (Legislature)

The Oireachtas ("urr-okh-tass"; Parliament) is composed of a lower house entitled Dáil Éireann ("dawl air-rin"; Assembly of Ireland) and an upper house entitled Seanad Éireann ("shannud air-rin"; Senate of Ireland). The Senate (60 Senators) has only delaying powers and is largely powerless; c.f. the House Of Lords.

  • 43 Senators are elected by five "vocational panels" -- Administrative, Agricultural, Cultural and Educational, Industrial and Commercial, and Labour: in theory, these are women and men with special knowledge and abilities in their areas -- in practise, they are almost all party hacks: either failed general election candidates, or young guns who stand a chance of a Dáil seat at the next general election. This is made inevitable by the fact that the electorate for these seats are City and County Councillors, members of the new Dáil and members of the outgoing Seanad.
  • 6 Senators are elected by university graduates: 3 from the University of Dublin, and 3 from the National University of Ireland. (No representation, therefore, for the University of Limerick or Dublin City University)
  • 11 Senators are nominated by the Taoiseach, ensuring a comfortable Government majority. Can lead to obvious jobs-for-the-boys: notably in the 2007 Seanad: Eoghan Harris was nominated having made a heartfelt plea for Bertie Ahern's reelection as Taoiseach 7 days before the election, while Ivor Callely was nominated despite 1) receiving a free paintjob on his house from a business crony, 2) losing a Dáil election in 2007, 3) losing a Seanad election in 2007.

The Dáil contains 166 TDs (Teachta Dála = Assembly Delegate; "chokta dawla"), elected for five-year terms, and is far more important. But due to a very powerful party whip system, virtually all Dáil votes are decided in advance and so debate in the chambers of Leinster House is turgid and minimal. Most TDs are stereotyped as mainly concerning themselves with performing piffling services for their constituents in the hope of re-election and possible promotion to junior minister or minister, while the Taoiseach, Cabinet and various vested interests decide amongst themselves what the country really needs.

Government (Executive)

A majority of TDs elects a Taoiseach ("tee-shokh", Prime Minister) who appoints a Tánaiste ("taw-nish-ta"; deputy PM) and a Cabinet of (currently) 14 Ministers who lead the government departments and form the executive branch. All ministers must be Oireachtas members, no more than two of which can be Senators. There are also 15 Ministers of State ("junior ministers"). The constitution places three limits on executive power: the Cabinet may not declare war or ratify treaties without the Dáil's approval, and, obviously, the Cabinet cannot disobey the constitution.

On the 9th of March 2011 Fine Gael and the Labour Party, the two biggest winners in the late February election, formed a coalition government. Their political differences were well highlighted during the election campaign, and it remains to be seen what compromises they make in government.

Historical Taoisigh:

  • W.T. Cosgrave (Cumann na nGaedhael; previously pro-treaty Sinn Féin) [1]
  • Eamon DeValera (FF; previously Sinn Féin, then anti-treaty Sinn Féin)
  • John A. Costello (FG; previously Cumann na nGaedhael)
  • Seán Lemass (FF; previously Sinn Féin, then anti-treaty Sinn Féin)
  • Jack Lynch (FF)
  • Liam Cosgrave (FG) (Son of W.T. Cosgrave)
  • Charlie Haughey (FF)
  • Garret FitzGerald (FG)
  • Albert Reynolds (FF)
  • John Bruton (FG)
  • Bertie Ahern (FF)
  • Brian Cowen (FF)
  • Enda Kenny (FG)

Political parties

Unlike many other countries, the largest political parties in Ireland are not based in any particular ideology. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the only two parties to have ever provided the Taoiseach, are derived historically from the Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty factions of Sinn Féin during the Irish Civil War, and have since crystallized into what are best described as political machines. Both are characterized as being on the Right, with Fine Gael being slightly more conservative and having developed a more socially-oriented ideology, while Fianna Fáil is identified as being more free-market. Theoretically, anyway.

  • Fine Gael ("finnuh gale"; "Tribe of Gaels") (75 TDs, 19 Sen, 4 MEPs, 556 local) is a right-of-centre Christian Democrat party espousing business interests and neoliberalism. Historically drawn from Sinn Féin members supporting the Anglo-Irish Treaty who called themselves Cumann na nGaedhael ("Society of the Gaels"), who merged with the National Centre Party and the National Guard (the quasi-fascist "Blueshirts") to form Fine Gael in 1933. Swept to power in the 2011 elections on promises of reforms an end to EU-imposed Austerity and stimulus spending to recover the economy. Promptly forgot all about it once they took their seats and arguably made things much worse.
  • Labour Party (Páirtí an Lucht Oibre) (36 TDs, 13 Sen, 3 MEPs, 231 local) is a left-of-centre social democrat party. Affiliated with several trade unions, including Ireland's biggest union SIPTU. Founded in 1912, absorbed Democratic Left in 1999. Widely regarded as having betrayed its core values to keep the comfortable seats in cabinet.
  • Fianna Fáil ("fee-anna fawl"; "Warriors of Ireland") (20 TDs, 14 Sen, 3 MEPs, 407 local) is a right-wing populist republican party which has ruled the country for most of its existence; it was most recently in power from June 1997 to March 2011. Historically drawn from Sinn Féin members opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which established the Irish Free State, in modern times it has become synonymous with the corrupt élite who had an all-too-close relationship with property developers and senior bankers, fuelling the implosion of the Irish property bubble and the near-collapse of the State. Jokes about "fail" are understandably rather common (if memory serves, even The Economist has gotten in on the action). Having a resurgence in popularity, proving the electorate have short memories.
  • Sinn Féin ("shin fane"; "Ourselves") (RoI: 14 TDs, 3 Sen, 127 local; in NI: 5 MPs, 28 MLAs, 1 MEP, 126 local) is a Nationalist, Socialist party with "close ties" to the Provisional IRA. With the reversal of the Green's policy on the EU, Sinn Féin is now the only Eurosceptic political party in the country with representation in the Dáil. Had a remarkably good time of the 2011 elections, picking up nine seats and becoming the fourth-largest party in the Dáil. Knows where the bodies are buried. Because they buried most of them.
  • United Left Alliance (ULA; Comhaontas Aontaithe an Chlé): left-wing alliance consisting of:
    • The Socialist Party (Páirtí Sóisialach) (2 TDs, 1 MEP, 6 local) is a Trotskyist party with considerable support in North Dublin and a Member of the European Parliament.
    • Workers and Unemployed Action Group (1 TD, 7 local): mainly based in Co. Tipperary.
    • People Before Profit Alliance (Comhaontas na nDuine in aghaidh an Brabús) (2 TDs, 5 local) is an electoral coalition with five councillors sitting on the various local government bodies in Dublin. It consists almost entirely of members of the Socialist Workers Party.
  • New Vision: a loose grouping of reformist independents. (1 TD)
  • The Green Party (Comhaontas Glas) (18 local) is an environmentalist party, founded 1981. Until relatively recently it had a vocal eurosceptic wing but is now strongly pro-EU. Widely regarded as having betrayed its core values to keep the comfortable seats in cabinet, they were wiped out entirely in the 2011 election.
  • Workers' Party of Ireland (Páirtí na nOibrithe) (2 local): a Marxist-Leninist party, formerly known as Sinn Féin the Workers Party and historically linked to the Official IRA.
  • South Kerry Independent Alliance (2 local): made up of ex-Labour Party members.
  • Communist Party of Ireland: a Marxist-Leninist party.
  • Seniors Solidarity Party (Páirtí Dlúthpháirtíochta leis an Aosta): a party agitating on behalf of over-60s.
  • Socialist Workers Party (Páirtí na nOibrithe Sóisialacha): another Trotskyist party.
  • Christian Solidarity Party (An Comhar Críostaí): a pro-life Roman Catholic party.
  • Republican Sinn Féin (Sinn Féin Poblachtach): an extremist republican party linked to the Continuity IRA.
  • Independent politicians play a large role in Irish politics, making up 14 TDs, 11 Sen, 1 MEP and 275 local.

Historical parties

  • Progressive Democrats (An Páirtí Daonlathach): the P Ds were a neoliberal group who split from Fianna Fáil in 1984 due to opposition to Charlie Haughey, and disbanded in 2009.
  • Clann na Poblachta ("Family of the People") (1946-69): an extremist republican party.
  • Farmers' Party (1922-32): an agrarian party.
  • Clann na Talmhan ("Family of the Land") (1938-65): an agrarian party.
  • Democratic Left (Daonlathas Clé) (1992-99): Socialist party which split from the Workers' Party and later joined the Labour Party.
  • Irish Parliamentary Party (Páirtí Parlaiminteach na hÉireann) (1874-1921): arguably the most important political party in Irish history. Founded by Isaac Butt and later led by Charles Stuart Parnell, "Uncrowned King of Ireland". Also provided many innovations to British politics, having the first effective whip (Richard Power) and also paid stipends to MPs from party funds, meaning that they didn't have to be independently wealthy to be in the House Of Commons. Led the Land League, then were disastrously split by Parnell's affair with a married women. A reunited party led by John Redmond led the campaign for Home Rule, but after the 1916 Easter Rising the party was eclipsed by Sinn Féin. In 1921, a rump formed the Nationalist Party and gradually disintegrated.
  • Repeal Association (1832-47): led by Daniel O'Connell, aimed to repeal the 1800 Act of Union and create an independent Kingdom of Ireland, separate from the UK but (probably) in personal union with Britain (i.e. sharing the same monarch). The idea would be to return the situation to how they were before the Act of Union, but with minimal British meddling in Irish affairs and (of course) Catholic Emancipation.


Ireland's court system is centralised at the Four Courts (na Ceithre Chúirt) in Dublin -- these originally (in 1802) were the Chancery, King's Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas; today the Four Courts are the Supreme Court, High Court, Central Criminal Court and Dublin Circuit Court.

Judges are appointed by the Government, but once appointed cannot be removed, and the Constitution prevents the Government from cutting their salaries as a punishment for "disobedience".

  • Supreme Court (Cúirt Uachtarach) (9 judges)
    • Court of Criminal Appeal (Cúirt Achomhaire Choiriúil; 3 judges -- one from Supreme Court, two from High Court)
    • Special Criminal Court (Cúirt Choiriúil Speisialta) (used in organised crime and terrorist crimes; 3 judges -- one each from the Supreme, Circuit and District Courts)
  • High Court (Ard-Chúirt) (32 judges max.)
  • Circuit Court (Cúirt Chuarda) (8 circuits, 33 judges)
  • District Court (Cúirt Dúiche) (63 judges)

Local Government

There are county councils representing the 26 traditional counties, except that County Dublin is divided into County Fingal, County Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and County South Dublin; County Tipperary is split into South and North; and the cities of Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford are administrated separately to their counties.

There are also five borough councils (Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo, Wexford) and 67 town councils -- the awarding of "town" status is very haphazard: an extreme example -- Ballybay, Co. Monaghan; Lismore, Co. Longford; and Granard, Co. Waterford all have populations under 1,000 and are all legally towns and have town councils, but Celbridge, Co. Kildare (pop. 17,000) is still legally a village and does not have a town council.

In any case, local government has progressively lost control over services to national and regional bodies. For instance, local control of education has largely been passed to Vocational Education Committees (Coistí Gairm Oideachais), whilst other bodies such as the Department of Education and Science (Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta) still hold significant powers. In 1970 local government lost its health remit, which had been already eroded by the creation of the Department of Health in 1947, to the Health Board system, and later the 2004 creation of the Health Service Executive (Feidhmeannacht na Serbhíse Sláinte). In the 1990s the National Roads Authority (Údarás urn Bóithre Náisiúnta) took overall authority for national roads projects, supported by local authorities who maintain the non-national roads system. In 1993 the Environmental Protection Agency (Gníomhaireacht um Chaomhnú Comhshaoil) was established to underpin a more proactive and co-ordinated national and local approach to protecting the environment. An Bord Pleanála ("the Planning Board") was seen as another inroad into local government responsibilities. Additionally, the trend has been to remove decision-making from elected councillors to full-time professionals and officials. In particular, every city and county has a manager, who is the chief executive but is also a public servant appointed by the Public Appointments Service, and is thus answerable to the national government as well as the local council. Therefore, local policy decisions are often heavily influenced by the TDs who represent the local constituency in the Dáil, and may be dictated by national politics rather than local needs.

Local government bodies now have responsibility for such matters as planning, local roads, sanitation, and libraries. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has responsibility for local authorities and related services.

Fiction depicting Irish politics:

See also:


  1. Technically 'President of the Executive Council' but by convention Taoisigh are numbered to include him - so Kenny is considered the 13th Taoiseach not the 12th.
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