Republic of Ireland

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For an explanation of often confusing terms like Ulster, (Republic of) Ireland, (Great) Britain and United Kingdom see British Isles (terminology) .
Flag of the Republic of Ireland Coat of Arms of the Republic of Ireland
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Motto: none
Anthem: Amhrán na bhFiann
Location of the Republic of Ireland
Capital Dublin
53°26′ N 6°15′ W
Largest city Dublin
Official languages Irish, English
Government Parliamentary democracy
Mary McAleese
Bertie Ahern
 - Declared
 - Recognised
From UK by treaty
21 January 1919
6 December 1921
 • Total
 • Water (%)
70,273 km² (117th)
 • August 2005 est.
 • 2002 census
 • Density
4,130,000 (122nd)
57/km² (143rd)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2005 estimate
$164,190 million (50th)
$40,003 (4th)
Currency Euro (€)1 (EUR)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
Internet TLD .ie
Calling code +353
1 Prior to 1999: Irish pound

The Republic of Ireland (Irish: Poblacht na hÉireann) is the official description of the sovereign state which covers approximately five-sixths of the island of Ireland, off the coast of north-west Europe. The state's official name is Ireland (Irish: Éire), and this is how international organisations and citizens refer to the country. It is a member of the European Union, has a developed economy and a 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.



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 Éire and the Twenty-six Counties. The use of Éire, in the English language, in Ireland has become increasingly rare, not least due to past condescending connotations. 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 jure independence in 1922 it became known as the "Irish Free State" (in the Irish language Saorstát Éireann), a name that was retained until 1937.


Main article: History of the Republic of Ireland

The partition of Ireland came about because of complex constitutional developments in the early 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 would 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 Act 1914. 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 real political power. Though Irish unionism existed throughout the whole of Ireland, in 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 about four 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 1914's implementation was suspended until after the Great War. (The war at that stage was expected to be ended by 1915, not the four years it did ultimately last.) For the prior reasons Redmond and his Irish National Volunteers supported the Allied cause, and tens of thousands joined the British Army.

In January 1919, after the December 1918 general elections, 73 of Ireland's 106 MPs elected were Sinn Fein members who refused 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 United Kingdom. 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 Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 under which the British agreed to the establishment of an independent Irish State whereby the Irish Free State (in the Irish language Saorstát Éireann) with dominion status was created. 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 Republican concerns. The new Irish 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.

The 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 Irish 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 to and develop, but the freedom to achieve it".

At the start of the war, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) split into two opposing camps: a pro-treaty IRA and an anti-treaty IRA. However, through the lack of an effective command structure in the anti-treaty IRA, and the pro-treaty IRA's defensive tactics throughout the war, Collins and his pro-treaty commanders were able to build up an army capable of overwhelming the anti-treaty forces on the battlefield. British supplies of artillery, aircraft, machine-guns and ammunition boosted pro-treaty forces, and the threat of a return of Crown forces to the Free State removed any doubts about the necessity of enforcing the treaty. The lack of public support for the anti-treaty Irregulars, and the determination of the government to overcome them, contributed significantly 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.

Irish population through the 20th century.

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 had remained a member of the then British Commonwealth after independence until the declaration of a republic in April 1949. Under Commonwealth rules declaration of a republic automatically terminated membership of the association, consequently Ireland ceased to be a member.

The Republic of Ireland joined the United Nations in 1955 and the European Community (now the European Union) in 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful reunification of Ireland and have usually cooperated with the British government in the violent conflict with the Provisional IRA 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 19871989.

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 seven years, though a lower limit may be set by statute law. The current statutory maximum term is every five years.

Leinster House, the seat of the Oireachtas Éireann (Parliament of Ireland)
Leinster House, the seat of the Oireachtas Éireann (Parliament of Ireland)

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.

Ireland has been in the European Union since 1973. Although it has less than 1% of the Union's population, it has received 16% of all "first warnings" issued on environmental issues.

Role of the Catholic church in national affairs

As mentioned in the Demographics section, church attendance has declined rapidly in Ireland in recent years. As with other European states (eg, Italy) that were predominently Roman Catholic, the Irish state has undergone a period of secularisation and legal de-Catholicisation. In 1972 the "special position" of the Catholic Church in Ireland was deleted from the Irish constitution. The Catholic Church was hit in the 1990s by a series of sexual scandals and cover-up charges against its hierarchy. In 1995, after a seventy-year ban, a constitutional amendment allowed divorce in the Republic. In 1983, the Irish constitution was amended to recognise "the right to life of the unborn", subject to qualifications concerning the "equal right to life" of the mother. In the 1990s the Supreme Court interpreted the qualifications in the amendment as allowing abortion in limited circumstances. However, the Oireachtas 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.


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 five 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:


Map of Ireland
Map of Ireland

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 economy of the Republic of Ireland has transformed in recent years from an agricultural focus to one dependent on trade, industry and investment. While still small compared to its European neighbors, its growth is averaging a robust 10% in 19952000, and 7% in 1995-2004. Industry, which accounts for 46% of GDP, about 80% of exports, and 29% of the labor force, now takes the place of agriculture as the country's leading sector.

Exports play a fundamental role in the state's rampant growth, but the economy also benefits from the accompanying rise in consumer spending, construction and business investment. On paper, the country 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 country to avail of the state's non-taxing of royalties from copyrighted goods.

One key reason for the country's economic surge might be her government's role in the past ten years. A number of programs to address the problems of high inflation (with poor results in recent years), large tax burdens, government spending, lack-luster foreign investment and low job skills have been introduced.

A key part of economic policy, since 1987, has been Social Partnership which is a neo-corporatist set of voluntary 'pay pacts' between the Government, employers and trades unions. These usually set agreed pay rises for three-year periods.

The state joined in launching the euro currency system in January 1999 (leaving behind the Irish pound) along with ten other EU nations. The 1995 to 2000 period of high economic growth led many to call the country 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. Growth for 2004 was over 4% and it is expected to be 5% or higher for 2005.

With high growth came high levels of inflation, particularly in the capital city. Prices in Dublin, where nearly 30% of Ireland's population lives, are considerably higher than elsewhere in the country [1], especially in the booming property market.

Ireland has the fourth-highest GDP (based on PPP) per capita in the world after Luxembourg, Norway, and the United States [2], but lies 8th in the 2005 UN Human Development Index, which counts GDP per capita as a factor. This indicates that life expectancy (77.36 in 2004) and literacy (98% in 1981), which both place Ireland at about 40th in the world, currently trail behind economic growth.

Poverty figures show that 10% of Ireland's population live below the poverty line (1997 [3]). UNICEF figures show Ireland has the 6th highest child poverty rate in the developed world at 16.8% ([4]).


Main article: Demographics of the Republic of Ireland

The Irish people are mainly of indigenous origin, with the country's only significant minorities having descended from the Vikings and Anglo-Normans. Some of them are also of English, Scottish, and Welsh descent.

St. Patrick's Cathedral in DublinThe National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland.
St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin
The National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland.

The official languages are Irish (Gaeilge), the native language, and English. Although learning Irish is not compulsory in education, most schools insist on teaching it to all of their pupils who are not exempt from needing it to qualify for National University of Ireland universities. English is by far the predominant language spoken throughout the country. 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. Roads signs are usually bilingual, except in the Gaeltachts, where they are in Irish only. The legal status of placenames has recently been the subject of controversy, with an order made in 2005 under the Official Languages Act (2003) changing the official name of certain locations from English to Irish (e.g. Dingle is now officially named An Daingean). Most public notices are only in English, as is most of the print media. National media in Irish exists on TV and radio.

The Republic of Ireland is 92% nominally Roman Catholic, but there has been a massive decline in full adherence among Irish Catholics. 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 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. The largest other Protestant denominations are the Presbyterian Church in Ireland , followed by the Methodist Church in Ireland. The very small Jewish community in the state has continued to decline in numbers.

Ireland is also home to a variety of small immigrant populations. According to the 2002 census, conducted by the Central Statistics Office, the largest EU groups are from: the UK, Germany and France; the largest non-EU groups are from: the USA, Nigeria and Romania.


U2The most successful Irish band of all time and one of the biggest bands internationally in the 1990s and 2000s.
The most successful Irish band of all time and one of the biggest bands internationally in the 1990s and 2000s.

Main article: Culture of Ireland

The island of Ireland has produced the Book of Kells, Irish traditional music, and writers such as George Berkeley,Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, John Millington Synge, Séan O'Casey, Séamus Heaney, Bram Stoker and others. Shaw, Yeats, Beckett and Heaney are Nobel Literature laureates. Other prominent writers include Dermot Bolger, Frank McCourt, Edna O'Brien, John McGahern and Colm Tóibín.

Ernest Walton of Trinity College Dublin shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics for "splitting the atom". William Rowan Hamilton was a significant mathematician.

Rory GallagherGallagher's musical skills won plaudits  from Eric Clapton and were credited with influencing many top guitarists in the rock idiom.
Rory Gallagher
Gallagher's musical skills won plaudits from Eric Clapton and were credited with influencing many top guitarists in the rock idiom.

Figures influential in music included Blues guitarist Rory Gallagher, folk singer Christy Moore, Shane MacGowan with his band The Pogues and singer Sinéad O'Connor. Successful entertainment exports in the late twentieth century include the rock group U2, Thin Lizzy, Bob Geldof, The Corrs, The Cranberries and the internationally success stage dance show Riverdance.


  • Bunreacht na hÉireann (the 1937 constitution) (PDF version)
  • 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

See also

External links

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