Browse the listing below to find government information for Ireland, including flags, leaders,
and constitution information. Factrover also has complete information on Ireland at its
Ireland Country Page.
Area: 70,282 sq. km. (27,136 sq. mi.); slightly larger than West Virginia.
Cities: Capital--County Dublin (pop. 1,122,821) of which City of Dublin (pop.495,101). Other cities--Cork (123,338), Galway (65,774), Limerick (54,058), Waterford, (44,564).
Terrain: Arable 10%, meadows and pastures 77%, rough grazing in use 11%, inland water 2%.
Climate: Temperate maritime.
Government of Ireland
Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state with a parliamentary system of government. The president, who serves as chief of state in a largely ceremonial role, is elected for a 7-year term and can be re-elected only once. In carrying out certain constitutional powers and functions, the president is aided by the Council of State, an advisory body. On the Taoiseach's (prime minister's) advice, the president also dissolves the Oireachtas (Parliament).
The prime minister is elected by the Dail (lower house of Parliament) as the leader of the political party, or coalition of parties, which wins the most seats in the national elections, held approximately every five years (unless called earlier). Executive power is vested in a cabinet whose ministers are nominated by the Taoiseach and approved by the Dail.
The bicameral Oireachtas (Parliament) consists of the Seanad Eireann (senate) and the Dail Eireann (house of representatives). The Seanad is composed of 60 members--11 nominated by the prime minister, 6 elected by the national universities, and 43 elected from panels of candidates established on a vocational basis. The Senate has the power to delay legislative proposals and is allowed 90 days to consider and amend bills sent to it by the Dail, which wields greater power in parliament. The Dail has 166 members popularly elected to a maximum term of 5 years under a complex system of proportional representation.
Judges are appointed by the president on nomination by the government and can be removed from office only for misbehaviour or incapacity and then only by resolution of both houses of parliament. The ultimate court of appeal is the Supreme Court, consisting of the Chief Justice and five other justices. The Supreme Court also can decide upon the constitutionality of legislative acts if the president asks for an opinion.
Local government is by elected county councils and--in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford--by county borough corporations. In practice, however, authority remains with the central government.
Irish politics remain dominated by the two political parties that grew out of Ireland's bitter 1922-23 civil war. Fianna Fail was formed by those who opposed the 1921 treaty that partitioned the island. Although treaty opponents lost the civil war, Fianna Fail soon became Ireland's largest political party. Fine Gael, representative of the pro-treaty forces, remains the country's second-largest party. This party system, however, is evolving. Fine Gael's core vote collapsed in the May 2002 general election, perhaps signalling an end to the civil war divide. A feature of recent general elections has been the emergence of "Independent" TDs as a political force. In the 2002 general election, 14 "Independent" TDs were elected to the Dail.
The May 2002 national elections returned Fianna Fail and its coalition partner, the Progressive Democrats, to power. Fianna Fail increased its seats in the Dail to 81 while the Progressive Democrats doubled their representation to 8 seats. Fine Gael lost a total of 23 seats, primarily to a number of smaller parties and independents. Sinn Fein increased its representation in the Dail from 1 to 5 seats in the May 17 election. Prime Minister Ahern was re-elected Taoiseach on June 6, and organized the government with very few changes in the ministerial appointments; Mary Harney was reappointed as Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister).
Ireland enjoyed more than 6 years of impressive economic growth from 1996-2002--the fastest growing in economy in the OECD during the period. With large budget surpluses during these boom years, it also expanded public spending, at rates approaching 20% per year in 2000-01. Beginning in 2002, however, the worldwide economic downturn brought new challenges to the Government as the surpluses evaporated and tough government cut-backs are now necessary.
Consolidating the peace process in Northern Ireland and encouraging the full implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) remain priority U.S. goals in Ireland. The conflict in Northern Ireland stems from a history of British rule and the various armed and political attempts to gain independence. "Nationalist" and "republican" communities seek a united Ireland, while "unionists" want Northern Ireland to remain part of the U.K. After decades of violence by republican paramilitaries, most notably the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the British and Irish governments negotiated an IRA cease-fire in 1997, which was followed by the U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998.
The landmark GFA established a power-sharing legislative assembly to serve as the autonomous local government of Northern Ireland. The 108-member Northern Ireland Assembly is led by a First Minister and Deputy First Minister, one from each of the two communities, and a 10-Minister Executive. The GFA also provided for changes in both the British and Irish Constitutions. Ireland ceded territorial claim to Northern Ireland, and the U.K. agreed that Northern Ireland could become part of Ireland if a majority (north and south) so voted in the future. Finally, the GFA provides the blueprint for "normalization," to include the eventual removal of British forces, devolution of police and justice functions, and guarantees of human rights and equal opportunity for all individuals. The Agreement was approved in a referendum by 71% of Northern Ireland voters and 95% of Irish voters.
The major political parties in Northern Ireland are the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Sinn Fein. From the time the Assembly was created in 1998, up until October 2002, the governing parties were the pro-Agreement UUP and the nationalist party SDLP.
In October 2002, the British Government suspended (for the fourth time) the Assembly, following a breakdown in trust between unionists and republican party Sinn Fein. The British and Irish government began discussions with the parties to try to resolve longstanding unresolved differences between the communities, and to secure a commitment from Sinn Fein that republicans would divest themselves of all paramilitary activities and capabilities.
Efforts to restore the political process in time to stage new elections to the Assembly in May 2003 broke down when the two governments concluded they did not have sufficient assurances from republicans. However, the governments proceeded to publish a Joint Declaration, mapping out the timetable to full implementation of the GFA. The governments also announced, in September 2003, the creation of an International Monitoring Commission that will serve as a forum to hear complaints of alleged breaches of GFA commitments by the political parties and/or by British authorities. The four-member Commission includes a representative from the United States.
As of October 2003, negotiations had been renewed to try to secure a commitment from republicans to sever all paramilitary ties, and to pave the way for Assembly elections in the fall, which are scheduled to take place November 26, 2003.
The United States supports the efforts of the British and Irish Governments to restore the democratic process in Northern Ireland and to fully implement the GFA, which the United States believe is the only viable blueprint for a lasting peace. The United States remains engaged in dialogue with all parties, in coordination with its embassies in Dublin and London, its consulate in Belfast, and the office of the President's Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. U.S. goals are a demonstrated commitment by republicans to a peaceful and political solution, and an equally clear commitment by unionists to a full and equal partnership with nationalists. As the United States urges an end to paramilitary activities, it seeks to strengthen the democratic rule of law, to include a reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland with representation by both communities.
The United States also continues to provide funding ($25 million annually) for projects administered under the International Fund for Ireland, created in 1986 to generate economic opportunity and cross-community engagement in the border areas, both north and south.