Politics of the Republic of Ireland

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The Republic of Ireland is a sovereign, independent state. It is a representative democracy under a parliamentary system of government, with a president, prime minister and parliament. The capital city is Dublin. While there are a number of important political parties in the state, the two largest are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The state is a member of the European Union.




Main article: Constitution of Ireland

The state operates under the Constitution of Ireland, also known as Bunreacht na hÉireann, adopted in 1937. The constitution falls broadly within the liberal democratic tradition. It defines the organs of government and guarantees certain fundamental rights. The constitution may only be amended by referendum. Important constitutional referenda have concerned issues such as abortion, the status of the Catholic Church, divorce and the European Union.

Head of state

Main article: President of Ireland

The head of state is the President of Ireland. In keeping with the state's parliamentary system of government the President exercises largely a ceremonial role but does possess certain reserve powers. The presidency is open to all citizens who are at least 35. They are directly elected by secret ballot under the Alternative Vote. A candidate may also be chosen by a consensus among the political parties, in which case it is unnecessary to proceed to a ballot. The President is elected to a seven year term; no candidate may serve more than two terms. In carrying out certain of her constitutional functions, the President is aided by the Council of State.


Main article: Irish Government

Executive authority is exercised by a cabinet known simply as the Government. The Government consists of the Taoiseach (prime minister), the Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and up to thirteen other ministers. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President, after being designated by Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament). The remaining ministers are nominated by the Taoiseach and approved by the Dáil. The Government must enjoy the confidence of Dáil Éireann and, in the event that they cease to enjoy the support of the lower house, the Taoiseach must either resign or persuade the President to dissolve the Dáil, in which case a general election follows.


Main article: Oireachtas

The parliament of the Republic of Ireland is the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas consists of the President and two houses: Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann (also known as the Senate). The Dáil is by far the dominant tier of the legislature. The President may not veto laws in most circumstances and the Senate may only delay legislation.

  • Dáil Éireann: The Dáil is directly elected at least once in every five years under the Single Transferable Vote form of proportional representation. Membership of the house is open to all citizens who are at least 18, and the electorate consists of adult Irish and UK citizens. It usually has around 160 to 170 members. Since the early 1990s no single party has had a majority in Dáil Éireann, meaning that coalition governments have been the norm.
  • Seanad Éireann: The Senate is a largely advisory body. It consists of sixty members: eleven nominated by the Taoiseach, six elected by certain national universities, and 43 elected from special vocational panels of candidates. The Senate has the power to delay legislative proposals and is allowed 90 days to consider and amend bills sent to it by the Dáil.


Main article: Courts of the Republic of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland is a common law jurisdiction. The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, the High Court and many lower courts established by law. Judges are appointed by the President after being nominated by the Government and can be removed from office only for misbehaviour or incapacity, and then only by resolution of both houses of the Oireachtas. The final court of appeal is the Supreme Court, which consists of the Chief Justice and seven other justices. The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review and may declare to be invalid both laws and acts of the state which are repugnant to the constitution.

Local government

Local government in the Republic of Ireland is governed by the Local Government Act, 2001, which established a two-tier structure of local government. The top tier of the structure consists of 29 County Councils. 24 of the Republic's 26 traditional counties have councils: Dublin has three (for the areas of Fingal, South Dublin, and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown) while Tipperary has two (for North Tipperary and South Tipperary). Five large cities (Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford) have City Councils, which have the same status as County Councils.

The second tier of local government consists of the town councils. The city of Kilkenny and four towns which had borough corporation status before 2001 (Sligo, Drogheda, Clonmel, and Wexford), are allowed to use the title of "Borough Council" instead of "Town Council", but they have no additional responsibilities.

Local government bodies have responsibility for such matters as planning, roads, sanitation, and libraries. Each council area has an official Manager, who is the chief executive of the council, but is also a civil servant appointed by the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission.

Following the abolition of domestic property rates (council tax) in the late 1970s, councils have found it extremely difficult to raise money. The shortfall from the abolition of property rates led to the introduction of service charges for water and refuse, but these are highly unpopular in certain areas and have led in certain cases to large scale non-payment. Councils have become dependant on central government funding, leading to charges that the Republic has an overly centralised system of local government.

North-South Ministerial Council

Main article: North-South Ministerial Council

Under the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) and Article 3 of the constitution a North-South Ministerial Council and six North-South Implementation Bodies coordinate activities and exercise a limited governmental role within certain policy areas across the whole island of Ireland. The Implementation Bodies have limited executive authority in six policy areas. Meetings of the Council take the form of meetings between ministers from both the Republic's Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.

Political parties

Main article: Political parties in the Republic of Ireland

A number of political parties are represented in the Dáil and coalition governments are common. Neither of the two largest parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, strongly identifies itself as either a left or right-wing group. The third largest party in the state is the centre-left Labour Party. Labour is joined on the left by the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party. The right is represented by the Progressive Democrats who, while liberal on economic policy, are left-wing on social matters. Independent TDs (MPs) also play an important role in Irish politics.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has been a major factor in Irish politics since the island of Ireland was divided between Northern Ireland and the twenty-six county southern state in 1920. The creation of Northern Ireland led to conflict between northern nationalists (mostly Catholic) who seek unification with the independent southern state and Unionists (mostly Protestant) who wish for Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. This conflict exploded into a violent conflict in the late sixties known as the 'Troubles' involving groups such as the Provisional IRA, loyalist paramilitaries, the police and the British army. The Troubles have caused thousands of deaths in Northern Ireland but have also spilled over into bombings and acts of violence on Great Britain and in the Republic of Ireland.

Since its foundation it has been the stated long-term policy of governments of the state now called the Republic of Ireland to bring an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland and to bring about a united Ireland. Northern Ireland has also, in the past, often been a source of conflict between the Irish Government and the government of the United Kingdom. In order to find a solution to the Troubles the Irish Government became a partner in the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in 1998.

While Sinn Fein have long organised in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, Fianna Fail have recently opened cumainn'(branches) in Derry and Queen's University, Belfast.

See also: History of Northern Ireland.

International organisation participation

Australia Group, BIS, CE, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, AEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO, ITU, MINURSO, NAM (guest), NEA, NSG, OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNIKOM, UNITAR, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOP, UNTAET, UNTSO, UPU, WCO, WEU (observer), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO, Zangger Committee.

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