The Republic of Ireland (Irish: Poblacht na hÉireann) is the official "description" of an independent state which covers approximately five-sixths of the island of Ireland, off the coast of north-west Europe. It is the westernmost state of the European Union, and has a developed economy and an approximate population of slightly more than four million. The remaining sixth of the island of Ireland is known as Northern Ireland and is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Under the Irish constitution the state's official name is simply Ireland (Irish: Éire).
Main article: Names of the Irish state
The constitution provides that the name of the state is "Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland". However the state is commonly referred to as the 'Republic of Ireland' in order to distinguish it from the island of Ireland as a whole. The name Republic of Ireland came into use after the Republic of Ireland Act defined it as the official 'description' of the state in 1949 (the purpose of the act being to declare that the state was a republic rather than a form of constitutional monarchy), it is also the accepted legal name in the United Kingdom of the state as per the Ireland Act 1949. Today while Republic of Ireland is an accepted term for the state, Ireland is used for official purposes such as treaties, government and legal documents and membership of international organisations.
The state is also referred to, in English, by many other names such as the South, Éire and the Twenty-six Counties. Historically the state has had more than one official title. The revolutionary state established by nationalists in 1919 was known as the 'Irish Republic', while when the state achieved de facto independence in 1922 it became known as the 'Irish Free State', a name that was retained until 1937.
Main article: History of the southern Irish state
The partition of Ireland came about because of complex constitutional developments in the first half of the twentieth century.
From 1 January 1801 until 6 December 1922, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. From 1874, but particularly from 1880 under Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish Parliamentary Party moved to prominence with its attempts to achieve Home Rule, which have given Ireland some autonomy without requiring it to leave the United Kingdom. It finally seemed possible in 1911 when the House of Lords lost their veto, and John Redmond secured the Third Home Rule Bill. The unionist movement, however, had been growing since 1886 among Irish Protestants, fearing that they would face discrimination, and lose economic and social privileges if Irish Catholics were to achieve political power. Though Irish unionism existed throughout the whole Ireland, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century unionism was particularly strong in parts of Ulster, where industrialisation was more common in contrast to the more agrarian rest of the island. (Any tariff barriers would, it was feared, most heavily hit that region.) In addition, the Protestant population was more strongly located in Ulster, with unionist majorities existing in a number of counties. Under the leadership of the Dublin-born Sir Edward Carson and the Northerner Sir James Craig they became more militant. In 1914, to avoid rebellion in Ulster, the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, with agreement of the leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party leadership, inserted a clause into the bill providing for home rule for 26 of the 32 counties, with an as of yet undecided new set of measures to be introduced for the area temporarily excluded. Though it received the Royal Assent, the Third Home Rule Act's implementation was suspended until after the war. (The war at that stage was expected only to last for a few months, not the four years it did ultimately last.)
In 1919, 73 of Ireland's 106 MPs elected in the 1918 British general election declined to take their seats in the British House of Commons. Instead they set up an extra-legal Irish parliament called Dáil Éireann. This Dáil in January 1919 issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence and proclaimed an Irish Republic. This Declaration of Independence was mainly a restatement of the 1916 Proclamation with the additional provision that Ireland was no longer a part of the British Empire. Despite this, the new Irish Republic remained unrecognised internationally except by Lenin's Russian Republic. Nevertheless the Republic's Áireacht (ministry) sent a delegation under Ceann Comhairle Sean T. O'Kelly to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. However it was not admitted. After the bitterly fought War of Independence, representatives of the British government and the Irish rebels negotiated the Treaty in 1921 under which the British agreed to the establishment of an independent Irish state with dominion status. The Dáil narrowly ratified the treaty.
The Treaty however was not entirely satisfactory to either side. It gave more concessions to the Irish than the British had intended to give but did not go far enough to satisfy Irish concerns. A new internationally recognised Irish state called the Irish Free State (in the Irish language Saorstát Éireann) was created. The new Free State was in theory to cover the entire island, subject to the proviso that Northern Ireland (which had been created as a separate entity under the Government of Ireland Act 1920) could opt out and choose to remain part of the United Kingdom, which it duly did, to no-one's surprise. The remaining 26 counties of the island became the Irish Free State, a constitutional monarchy over which the British monarch reigned (from 1927 with the title King of Ireland). It had a Governor-General, a bicameral parliament, a cabinet called the 'Executive Council' and a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council.
Irish Civil War was the direct consequence of the creation the Irish Free State. Anti-Treaty forces, led by Eamon de Valera, objected to the fact that acceptance of the Treaty abolished the republic of 1919 to which they had sworn loyalty, arguing in the face of public support for the settlement that the "people have no right to do wrong". They objected most to the fact that the state would remain part of the British Commonwealth and that TDs would have to swear an oath of fidelity to King George V and his successors. Pro-Treaty forces, led by Michael Collins, argued that the Treaty gave "not the ultimate freedom that all nations aspire and develop, but the freedom to achieve it".
At the start of the war, the IRA split into two opposing camps. However, through the lack of an effective command structure by its opponents, the anti-treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA), and IRA units' defensive stand through out the war, Collins and his commanders were able to build up an army which was able to overwhelm them on the battlefield. British supplies of artillery, aircraft, machine-guns and ammunition were much help to Pro-Treaty forces. The lack of public support for the Irregulars and the determination of the government to defeat them also contributed to their defeat.
The National Army suffered 800 fatalities and perhaps as many as 4000 people were killed altogether. As their forces retreated, the Irregulars showed a major talent for destruction and the economy of the Free State suffered a hard blow in the earliest days of its existence as a result.
On the 29 December 1937 a new constitution, the Constitution of Ireland, came into force. It replaced the Irish Free State by a new state called simply 'Ireland'. Though this state's constitutional structures provided for a President of Ireland instead of a king, it was not technically a republic. The principal key role possessed by a head of state, that of representing the state symbolically internationally remained vested in statute law in the King as an organ. On 1 April 1949 the Republic of Ireland Act declared a republic, with the functions previously given to the King given instead to the President of Ireland.
The Irish state remained a member of the then British Commonwealth until the declaration of a republic in April 1949. Under Commonwealth rules declaration of a republic automatically terminated membership of the association. Only in 1950 were the rules changed to allow India as a republic to remain in the Commonwealth. Although the Irish state ceased to be a member and chose not to re-apply for membership, it retained many of the privileges of Commonwealth membership. To this day, for example, Irish citizens resident in the United Kingdom enjoy all the rights of citizenship, including the right to stand for office in local and parliamentary elections and to serve in the British forces. British subjects also enjoy these rights in Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland joined the United Nations in 1955 and the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful unification of Ireland and have usually cooperated with the British government in containing the violent conflict in Northern Ireland known as the 'Troubles'. A peace settlement for Northern Ireland, the Belfast Agreement, was approved in 1998 in referenda north and south of the border, and is currently being implemented, albeit more slowly than many would like.
Main article: Politics of the Republic of Ireland
The state is a republic, with a parliamentary system of government. The President of Ireland, who serves as head of state, is elected for a seven year term and can be re-elected only once. The president is largely a figurehead but can still carry out certain constitutional powers and functions, aided by the Council of State, an advisory body. The Taoiseach (prime minister), is appointed by the president on the nomination of parliament. The Taoiseach is normally the leader of the political party which wins the most seats in the national elections. It has become normal in the Republic for coalitions to form a government, and there has not been a single party government since the period of 1987-1989.
The bicameral parliament, the Oireachtas, consists of a Senate, Seanad Éireann, and a lower house, Dáil Éireann. The Seanad is composed of sixty members; eleven nominated by the Taoiseach, six elected by two universities, and 43 elected by public representatives from panels of candidates established on a vocational basis. The Dáil has 166 members, Teachtaí Dála, elected to represent multi-seat constituencies under the system of proportional representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote. Under the constitution, parliamentary elections must be held at least every 7 years, though a lower limit may be set by statute law. The current statutory maximum term is every 5 years.
The Government is constitutionally limited to fifteen members. No more than two members of the Government can be selected from the Senate, and the Taoiseach, Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and Minister for Finance must be members of the Dáil. The current government is made up of a coalition of two parties; Fianna Fáil under Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the Progressive Democrats under Tánaiste Mary Harney.
The main opposition in the current Dáil is made up of Fine Gael and Labour. Smaller parties such as the Progressive Democrats, Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party also have representation in the Dáil.
Main article: Counties of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland has 26 counties, and these are used in political, cultural and sporting contexts. Dáil constituencies are required by statute to follow county boundaries, as far as possible. Hence counties with greater populations have multiple constituencies (e.g. Limerick East/West) and some constituencies consist of more than one county (e.g. Sligo-Leitrim), but by and large, the actual county boundaries are not crossed. As local government units, however, some have been restructured, with County Dublin distributed between three new county councils in the 1990s and County Tipperary having been administratively two separate counties since the 1890s, giving a present-day total of 29 administrative counties and 5 cities. The five cities - Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford - are administered separately from the remainder of their respective counties. Five boroughs - Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford - have a level of autonomy within the county:
Main article: Geography of Ireland
The island of Ireland extends over 84,421 km² of which five-sixths belong to the Republic, with the remainder constituting Northern Ireland. It is bound to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the northeast by the North Channel. To the east is found the Irish Sea which reconnects to the ocean via the southwest with St. George's Channel and the Celtic Sea. The west-coast of Ireland mostly consists of cliffs, hills and low mountains (the highest point being Carrauntoohil at 1,041 m). In from the perimeter of the country is mostly relatively flat farmland, traversed by rivers such as the River Shannon and several large lakes or loughs. The center of the country is part of the River Shannon watershed, containing large areas of bogland, used for peat production.
The local temperate climate is modified by the North Atlantic Current and is relatively mild. Summers are rarely very hot, but it freezes only occasionally in winter. Precipitation is very common, with up to 275 days with rain in some parts of the country. Chief cities are the capital Dublin on the east coast, Cork in the south, Galway and Limerick on the west coast, and Waterford on the south east coast (see Cities in Ireland).
Main article: Economy of the Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland is a small, modern, trade-dependent economy with growth averaging a robust 10% in 1995-2000. Agriculture, once the most important sector, is now dwarfed by industry, which accounts for 38% of GDP, about 80% of exports, and employs 28% of the labour force. Although exports remain the primary engine for the state's robust growth, the economy is also benefiting from a rise in consumer spending and recovery in both construction and business investment. On paper, the Republic is the largest exporter of software-related goods and services in the world. In fact, a lot of foreign software, and sometimes music, is filtered through the Republic to avail of the state's non-taxing of royalties from copyrighted goods.
Over the past decade, the Irish government has implemented a series of national economic programmes designed to curb inflation, ease tax burdens, reduce government spending as a percentage of GDP, increase labour force skills, and promote foreign investment. The state joined in launching the euro currency system in January 1999 (leaving behind the Irish pound) along with ten other EU nations. This period of high economic growth led many to call the Republic the Celtic Tiger. The economy felt the impact of the global economic slowdown in 2001, particularly in the high-tech export sector – the growth rate in that area was cut by nearly half. GDP growth continued to be relatively robust, with a rate of about 6% in 2001 and 2002 – but this was expected to fall to around 2% in 2003. Since 2001, GNP growth has been much worse, with an almost three-fold decrease in 2001 from the previous year. After a near stagnant year in 2002, growth picked up in 2003. Growth for 2004 was over 4% and it is expected to be 5% or higher for 2005. It has the 4th highest GDP per capita in the world after Luxembourg, Norway, and the U.S.A. thus, making it an incredibly wealthy nation.
Main article: Demographics of the Republic of Ireland
The official languages are Irish (Gaeilge), the native Celtic language, and English, which is constitutionally described as a secondary official language. Learning Irish is compulsory in education, but English is by far the predominant language. Public signs are usually bilingual and national media in Irish also exist. People living in predominantly Irish speaking communities (the Gaeltacht) are limited to the low tens of thousands in isolated pockets largely on the western seaboard.
The Republic of Ireland is 92% nominally Roman Catholic, but there has been a massive decline in full adherence among Irish Catholics. In 1972 the 'special position' of the Catholic Church in Ireland was deleted from the Irish constitution. Between 1996 and 2001, regular Mass attendance, already previously in decline, declined from 60% to 48% (it had been 90%+ in 1973), and all but two of its seminaries have closed. The Catholic Church was also hit in the 1990s by a series of sexual scandals and cover-up charges against its hierarchy. In 1995, after a seventy year ban (70 years in law, 58 years in the constitution) a constitutional amendment allowed divorce in the Republic. In 1983 the Irish constitution was amended to recognise what it called "the right to life of the unborn" subject to qualifications concerning the rights of the mother. In the 1990s the Supreme Court interpreted the qualifications in the amendment as allowing abortion in limited circumstances. However the Oireachtas controversially still has not introduced a law enabling abortion to take place in those circumstances allowed by the court. A subsequent series of constitutional amendments allow Irish citizens access to information about abortion and to travel freely to get abortions outside Ireland.
The second largest Christian denomination, the Church of Ireland (Anglicanism), having been in decline for most of the twentieth century, has now experienced an increase in membership, according to the 2002 census, as have other small Christian denominations and Islam. However, the very small Jewish community in the state has continued to decline in numbers.
Main article: Culture of Ireland
The island of Ireland has produced the Book of Kells, Irish traditional music, and writers such as George Berkeley, James Joyce, Bernard Shaw, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Séamus Heaney, Herminie T. Kavanagh, and others. Shaw, Yeats, Beckett and Heaney are Nobel Literature laureates. Ernest Walton of Trinity College Dublin shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics for "splitting the atom".
Cultural figures of the late twentieth century include Christy Moore, Pat Ingoldsby, Shane MacGowan, and Sinéad O'Connor. Successful entertainment exports in the late twentieth century included the rock group U2 (Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen), Sinéad O'Connor, Bob Geldof, The Corrs, The Frames, and the dance show Riverdance.
- Bunreacht na hÉireann (the 1937 constitution)
- The Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922
- J. Anthony Foley and Stephen Lalor (ed), Gill & Macmillan Annotated Constitution of Ireland (Gill & Macmillan, 1995) (ISBN 071712276X)
- FSL Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine
- Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition: Responsible Government and Modern Ireland 1782-1992 (Irish Academic Press, 1994) (ISBN 0716525283)
- Some of the material in these articles comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.
- OECD Information Technology Outlook 2004
Last updated: 10-12-2005 02:17:16