Politics of the Republic of IrelandBenedict (Viktor) Gombocz
Geography of the Republic of Ireland Location: Western Europe, taking up five-sixths of the island of Ireland, west ofGreat Britain Area Total: 70,273 sq km Country comparison to the world: 120 Land: 68,883 sq km Water: 1,390 sq km Area – comparative: Slightly bigger thanWest Virginia Land boundaries: Total: 360 km Border countries: UK 360 km Coastline: 1,448 km
Religion in the Republic of Ireland Christianity, with the Roman Catholic Church having the mostfollowers, is the biggest religion in Ireland. The Irish constitution specifies that the state may not support aspecific religion and promises freedom of religion. 84.2% of the population identified themselves as RomanCatholic in 2011; less than 5 years earlier, only 2.6% did so,even though the number of Catholics increased by 179,889. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Methodist Church inIreland are among other important Protestant denominations. The second biggest Christian denomination, the Church ofIreland (Anglican), lost members for most of the twentiethcentury, although it has more recently underwent an increase,as have other small Christian denominations. Ireland’s Hindu and Muslim communities have undergoneenormous growth in recent years, due in large part toimmigration. In the 2011 census, 269,811 people (5.9%) belonged to noreligion, with 3,905 and 3,521 people identifying themselves as“atheist” and “agnostic”, correspondingly. Those Irish citizens who did not claim adherence to a religionnumbered 72,914 (1.6%). Researchers dispute the relative importance of secularism as acommon characteristic of Irish society, the interpratation ofcensus effects, and the degree to which religious syncretism isbecoming more prevalent.
Religion Statistics Roman Catholic 87.4% Church of Ireland 2.9% Other Christian1.9% Other 2.1% Unspecified 1.5% None 4.2%
Introduction to the Republic of Ireland’s politicalsystem The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary, representative democratic republic and a member of the EU. While the popularly elected President of Ireland serves as the head of state, the President’s role is afundamentally ritual post; real power is vested in the indirectly elected Taoiseach (PM) who serves ashead of government. The government, which is made up of no more than 15 cabinet ministers, inclusive of the Taoiseach (PM)and Tánaiste (Deputy PM), exercises executive power. Legislative power is vested in the Oireachtas, the country’s bicameral national parliament, which isgrouped of Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann, and the President of Ireland. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The Chief Justice, who manages the Supreme Court, leads the judiciary. While Ireland has numerous political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, historically opposed and rivalentities which both control the customary centre ground, have ruled the political setting for decades; fromthe 1930s until 2011, they were the biggest and second biggest parties, correspondingly, and the originsof both parties date back to the opposing sides of the Irish Civil War. The Labour Party, historically Ireland’s third political party, has only been in power when in coalition witheither of the two main parties. 2011 saw a significant political shift in Ireland, in which Fine Gael became the biggest party and Labourbecame the second biggest party; Fianna Fáil fell to third as a result of loss of support, whereas Sinn Féinunderwent a considerable increase in support.
Main office holdersOffice Name President Taoiseach Tánaiste Michael D. Higgins (Independent,since 11 November 2011) Enda Kenny (Fine Gael, since 9March 2011) Eamon Gilmore (Labour Party,since 9 March 2011)
Government of Ireland Capital (and largest city): Dublin Official language(s): Irish, English Demonym: Irish Government: Unitary parliamentaryconstitutional republic President: Michael D. Higgins Taoiseach: Enda Kenny Tánaiste: Eamon Gilmore Legislature: Oireachtas Upper house: Seanad Éireann Lower house: Dáil Éireann
Constitution The nation functions under the Constitution of Ireland (Irish: Bunreacht nahÉireann), approved in 1937 through means of a referendum. The constitution falls within the liberal democratic custom, and describes theorgans of government and promises specific basic liberties. The constitution can only be modified through means of a referendum. Significant constitutional referendums have concerned issues including abortion,the status of the Catholic Church, divorce, and the EU.
President The President of Ireland is the head of state. In following the state’s parliamentary structure of government,the President exercises a primarily traditional role, thoughhe/she does have certain definite powers. Irish citizens who are no younger than 35 are eligible for thepresidency. Candidates are elected directly through secret ballot under thealternative vote; a candidate may be named for election asPresident by at least 20 members of the Oireachtas or by fouror more of Ireland’s 34 County and City Councils. A retiring President may name himself/herself as a nominee forre-election. If only one legitimate nominee is appointed for election (e.g., ifthere is agreement among the political parties to appoint asingle nominee), it is not necessary to proceed to a ballot andthat nominee is considered elected. The President is elected to a seven-year term of office; noindividual is permitted to serve more than two terms. In conducting their legitimate duties, the President is assistedby the Council of State; Ireland does not have a VP. In the event that the President cannot conduct his/her duties, orif the office of President is empty, the responsibilities of thePresident are conducted by the Presidential Commission.
Executive Branch A cabinet known simply as the Governmentexercises executive authority. Article 28 of the Constitution specifies thatthe Government may not comprise less thanseven and no more than fifteen members,explicitly the Taoiseach (PM), the Tánaiste(Deputy PM), and up to thirteen otherministers. The President, after being appointed by theDáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament)nominates the Taoiseach. The remaining ministers are named by theTaoiseach and nominated by the Presidentafter their approval by the Dáil. The Government must keep the trust of theDáil Éireann, and in case the Taoiseach nolonger receives support of the lower house,they must either step down or ask thePresident to dissolve the Dáil, in which casea general election is called.
Legislative Branch Article 15 of the Constitution of Irelandmade the Oireachtas Ireland’s nationalparliament. The Oireachtas is made up of thePresident of Ireland and two electedhouses: Dáil Éireann (House ofRepresentatives) and Seanad Éireann(Senate). Because the Oireachtas also comprisesthe President, the formal title of the twolaw making houses is the House of theOireachtas. The legislature’s ruling house isconsiderably the Dáil.
Dáil Éireann Dáil members are elected directly no less than once per five years under the singletransferable vote form of proportional representation from multi-seat constituencies. Irish citizens who are no younger than 21 and permanently live in Ireland are eligible forhouse membership. The electorate comprises all Irish and British citizens in Ireland older than 18. Dáil members are referred to as Teachta Dála or TDs. There are currently 166 TDs, one of which, the Ceann Comhairle (Chairman), is routinelyreturned at an election. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and the Minister for Finance need to be Dáil members; all otherGovernment members also need to be members of the Dáil, though up to two membersmay be members of the Seanad. The Dáil is the only House that may introduce and alter money bills, i.e., financial and taxlegislation. Since the early 1990s, no one party has had a majority in Dáil Éireann; governmentcoalitions have thus been the standard.
Seanad Éireann The Senate is a principally advisory body; it is grouped of sixty members, i.e.,Senators. An election for the Seanad must occur no later than 90 days following a generalelection for Dáil members. The Taoiseach appoints eleven senators; an additional six senators are elected byspecific national universities. The remaining 43 are elected from special vocational section of nominees, for whichthe electorate comprises 60 members of the departing Senate, the 166 TDs of thearriving Dáil, and the 883 members of 5 city and 29 county councils. The Senate exercises the power to interrupt legislative suggestions; it is permitted tojudge and modify bills sent to it via the Dáil (money bills excluded). The Senate is only given 21 days to judge money bills sent to it via the Dáil. While the Senate may not change money bills, they can make suggestions to the Dáilon such bills.
Political parties with elected representation at alocal, national, or international level Fine Gael (“Clan of the Gaels”) Labour Party (Páirtí an Lucht Oibre) Fianna Fáil (“Soldiers of Destiny”) Sinn Féin (“We Ourselves”) Socialist Party (Páirtí Sóisialach) People Before Profit Alliance Workers and Unemployed Action Group Green Party (Comhaontas Glas) Workers’ Party (Páirtí na nOibrithe) Republican Sinn Féin (Sinn FéinPoblachtach) Éirígí (“Rise”)
Michael D. Higgins Born in Limerick, Ireland on 18 April 1941. 9th and current President of the Republicof Ireland, having assumed office on 11November 2011, after his victory in the2011 Irish presidential election. In addition to being a politician, he is apoet, sociologist, writer and announcer. Was a Teachta Dála (TD) and a memberof the Labour Party until he resigned afterthe 2011 presidential election. Was also previously a TD for the GalwayWest constituency; served as Minister forArts, Culture and the Gaeltacht between1993-1997.
Enda Kenny Born in Castlebar, County Mayo on 24 April1951. Current Taoiseach of Ireland since 9 March2011. Has been the leader of Fine Gael since 2002. Served as Minister for Tourism and Tradebetween 1994-1997. Is also a two-term VP of the EPP. Has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for Mayo since1975, having replaced his father Henry Kenny. Is the lengthiest-serving TD currently in DáilÉireann; this makes him the sitting Father of theDáil. Led Fine Gael to victory in the 2011 generalelection; later negotiated a contract with theLabour Party, forming a coalition government on9 March 2011. Is the first member of Fine Gael to serve asTaoiseach since John Bruton between 1994-1997; is also the first Fine Gael leader to win inan election since Garret FitzGerald in 1982.
Eamon Gilmore Born in Caltra, County Galway on 24 April 1955. Holds the posts of Tánaiste (Deputy PM) and Minister for ForeignAffairs and Trade, both since 9 March 2011. Has also been the Leader of the Labour Party since 6 September2007. Has represented the constituency of Dún Laoghaire in Dáil Éireannsince 1989, initially as a member of the Workers’ Party of Ireland,subsequently as a member of the Democratic Left, and most recentlyas a member of the Labour Party. Previously served as a Minister of State at the Department of theMarine between 1994-1997 as part of the “Rainbow Coalition” underthe Government of the 27th Dáil. Born in County Galway; graduated from University College Galway,and became President of the Union of Students in Ireland. Subsequently became involved in local politics as a trade unionorganizer; as a Democratic Left TD, he was vital in arranging thatparty’s union with Labour. Was defeated by fellow ex-TD of the Democratic Left, Pat Rabbitte, inLabour’s 2002 leadership election; was instead nominated as theparty’s Environment, Housing, and Local Government speaker; waselected to the leadership unopposed in 2007. Led the Labour Party to its best performance yet with a record of 37seats during the 2011 general election; this saw Labour come out asIreland’s second biggest party for the first time in its 99-year history. Went on to work out a programme for government with Fine Gael thatsaw the Labour party enter government for the first time since 1997and Gilmore nominated as Tánaiste, with four other Labour TDshaving seats at cabinet.