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Republic of Ireland

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Politics and government of
the Republic of Ireland



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The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. While there are a number of political parties in the state, the political landscape is dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, historically opposed and competing entities, though both occupy the traditional centre ground. The state is a member of the European Union. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Oireachtas, the bicameral national parliament, which consists of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Contents

Main office holders

Office Name Party Since
President Mary McAleese Apolitical[1] 11 November 1997
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen Fianna Fáil 7 May 2008
Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Mary Coughlan Fianna Fáil 7 May 2008

Constitution

The state operates under the Constitution of Ireland, officially known as Bunreacht na hÉireann, adopted in 1937. The constitution falls 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 referendums have concerned issues such as abortion, the status of the Catholic Church, divorce, and the European Union.

Head of state

The head of state is the President of Ireland. In keeping with the state's parliamentary system of government the President exercises a mainly ceremonial role but does possess certain specific powers. The presidency is open to all Irish citizens who are at least 35. They are directly elected by secret ballot under the Alternative Vote. A candidate may be nominated for election as President by no less than 20 members of the Oireachtas or by four or more of the Ireland's Ireland's 29 County/County Borough Councils. A retiring President may nominate themselves as a candidate for re-election. If only one valid candidate is nominated for election, for example if there is consensus among the political parties to nominate a single candidate, it is unnecessary to proceed to a ballot and that candidate is deemed elected. The President is elected to a seven year term of office and no person may serve more than two terms.

In carrying out certain of their constitutional functions, the President is aided by the Council of State. There is no Vice-President in Ireland. If for any reason the President is unable to carry out his/her functions, or if the Office of President is vacant, the duties of the President are carried out by the Presidential Commission.

Executive branch

Executive authority is exercised by a cabinet known simply as the Government. Article 28 of the Constitution states that the Government may consist of no less than seven and no more than fifteen members, namely the Taoiseach (prime minister), the Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and up to thirteen other ministers. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President, after being nominated by Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament). The remaining ministers are nominated by the Taoiseach and appointed by the President following their approval 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 request the President to dissolve the Dáil, in which case a general election follows.

Public sector

The Government, through the civil and public services and state-sponsored bodies, is a significant employer in the state; these three sectors are often called the public sector. Management of these various bodies vary, for instance in the civil service there will be clearly defined routes and patterns whilst among public services a sponsoring minister or the Minister for Finance may appoint a board or commission. Commercial activities, where the state involves itself, are typically through the state-sponsored bodies which are usually organised in a similar fashion to private companies.

A recent report on public sector employment,[2] shows that at June 2005 the numbers employed in the public sector stood at 350,100; of these by sector they were 38,700 (civil service), 254,100 (public service) and 57,300 (state-sponsored). The total workforce of the state was 1,857,400 that year, thus the public sector represents approximately 20% of the total workforce.

Civil service

The civil service of Ireland consists of two broad components, the Civil Service of the Government and the Civil Service of the State. Whilst these two components are largely theoretical, they do have some fundamental operational differences. The civil service is expected to maintain the political impartiality in its work, and some sections of it are entirely independent of Government decision making.

Legislative branch

The parliament 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 House of the legislature. The President may not veto bills passed by the Oireachtas, but may refer them to the Irish Supreme Court for a ruling on whether they comply with the constitution.

  • Dáil Éireann: Members of the Dáil are directly elected at least once in every five years under the Single Transferable Vote form of proportional representation from multi-seat constituencies. Membership of the house is open to all Irish and UK citizens who are at least 21 and permanently resident in Ireland. The electorate consists of all Irish and UK citizens resident in Ireland over the age of 18. Members of the Dáil are known as Teachta Dála or TDs. Currently there are has 166 TDs, of which one, the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker), is automatically returned at an election. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance must be members of the Dáil. All other members of the Government must be members of the Dáil, however up to two members may be members of the Seanad. The Dáil is the only House which can introduce and amend money bills (e.g. financial and tax legislation). Since the early 1990s no single party has had a majority in Dáil Éireann, so that coalition governments have been the norm.
  • Seanad Éireann: The Senate is a largely advisory body. It consists of sixty members called Senators. A election for the Seanad must take place no later than 90 days after a general election for the members of the Dáil. Eleven Senators are nominated by the Taoiseach while a further six are elected by certain national universities. The remaining 43 are elected from special vocational panels of candidates, the electorate for which consists of the 60 members of the outgoing Senate, the 166 TDs of the recently elected Dáil and the 883 elected members of Ireland's 29 County/County Borough Councils. 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 (excluding money bills). The Senate is only allowed 21 days to consider money bills sent to it by the Dáil. The Senate cannot amend money bills but can make recommendations to the Dáil on such bills.

Judicial branch

Life in Ireland

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.

Public service

The public service is a relatively broad term and is not clearly defined and sometimes is taken to include the civil service. The public service proper consists of Government agencies and bodies which provide services on behalf of the Government but are not the core civil service. For instance local authorities, Vocational Education Committees and Garda Siochána are considered to be public services.

Local government

Local government in Ireland is governed by the Local Government Acts, the most significant of which was in 2001, which established a two-tier structure of local government. The top tier of the structure consists of 29 County Councils. Each of the Republic's 26 traditional counties have councils, with the exceptions of Dublin (divided between three councils), and County Tipperary (divided into two). The five largest cities (Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford) also have City Councils, which have the same status as County Councils.

The second tier of local government consists of the town councils. The towns of Kilkenny, Sligo, Drogheda, Clonmel, and Wexford 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.

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. The Council was suspended from 2002 to 2007. However, with the resumption of devolved government in Northern Ireland in May 2007, the Council has now reassumed its duties.

Political parties

A number of political parties are represented in the Dáil and coalition governments are common. The Irish electoral system has been characterised by the two and a half party system, with two large catch all parties dominating. The current ruling party in the state is Fianna Fáil, a traditionally liberal conservative party founded in 1927 by Éamon de Valera. It first formed a government on the basis of a populist programme of land redistribution and national preference in trade and republican populism remains a key part of its appeal. It has formed government seven times since Ireland gained independence: 1932–48, 1951–54, 1957–73, 1977–81, 82, 1987–94, and since 1997.

Fine Gael is the second largest party currently. It has its origins in the pro-treaty movement of Michael Collins in the Irish Civil War. Traditionally the party of law and order, it is associated with strong belief in pro-enterprise & reward. Today, it is a Christian democratic (though a previous leader, Garret Fitzgerald has claimed it for social democracy), economically liberal party along European lines, with a strongly pro-European outlook. In the 1920s and 1930s it flirted with fascism and had its own uniformed militia. However in recent years it has generally been associated with a liberal social outlook. It has formed government in the periods 1922-1932 (Cumman na nGaedhael), 1948-1951, 1954-1957, 1973-1977, 1981-82, 1982-1987, and 1994-1997.

The third largest party in the state is the centre-left Labour Party which claims its origin from the party founded by James Connolly and Jim Larkin. Labour have a formal link with the trade union movement and have been a minor partner in seven coalition governments - six led by Fine Gael and one by Fianna Fáil. Labour is joined on the left by the Green Party and on the far-left by Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party. The Progressive Democrats were founded in 1985 as a liberal party, though in government they laid a greater emphasis on economic liberalism with issues such as privatization; the party fared poorly in the 2007 election, and voted to disband in November 2008. Independent TDs also play an important role in Irish politics, to the extent that governments often make arrangements with a number of them to form the government.

30th Irish general election – 24 May 2007[3]
Party Leader Seats ±  % of seats First Pref votes  % FPv ±%
Fianna Fáil Bertie Ahern 77 –4 46.6 858,565 41.56 +0.1
Fine Gael Enda Kenny 51 +20 30.9 564,428 27.32 +4.8
Labour Party Pat Rabbitte 20 ±0 12.1 209,175 10.13 –0.7
Green Party Trevor Sargent 6 ±0 3.6 96,936 4.69 +0.9
Sinn Féin Gerry Adams 4 –1 2.4 143,410 6.94 +0.4
Progressive Democrats Michael McDowell 2 –6 1.2 56,396 2.73 –1.3
Socialist Party Joe Higgins 0 –1 0 13,218 0.64 –0.2
People Before Profit N/A 0 N/A 0 9,333 0.45 N/A
Workers Party Seán Garland 0 ±0 0 3,026 0.15 N/A
Christian Solidarity Cathal Loftus 0 ±0 0 1,705 0.08 N/A
Fathers Rights Liam Ó Gógáin 0 N/A 0 1,355 0.07 N/A
Immigration Control Áine Ní Chonaill 0 N/A 0 1,329 0.06 N/A
Irish Socialist Network N/A 0 N/A 0 505 0.02 N/A
Independent N/A 5 –8 3.0 106,429 5.15 –3.8
Ceann Comhairle N/A 1 N/A 0.6 N/A N/A N/A
Spoilt votes 19,435
Total 166 0 100 2,085,245 100

The Ceann Comhairle is a Fianna Fáil member.

Foreign relations

Ireland's foreign relations are substantially influenced by its membership of the European Union, although bilateral relations with the United States and United Kingdom are also important to the country. It is one of the group of smaller nations in the EU, and has traditionally followed a non-aligned foreign policy.

Military neutrality

Ireland tends towards independence in foreign policy, thus it is not a member of NATO and has a longstanding policy of military neutrality.

This policy has helped the Irish Defence Forces to be successful in their contributions to UN peace-keeping missions since 1960 (in the Congo Crisis ONUC) and subsequently in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Lebanon (UNIFIL), Iran/Iraq Border (UNIIMOG), Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR & EUFOR Althea), Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), Liberia (UNMIL), East Timor (INTERFET), Darfur and Chad (EUFOR Tchad/RCA). Irish Defence Forces do not deploy in Missions

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has been a major factor in Irish politics since the island of Ireland was divided between Northern Ireland and what is now the Republic in 1920. The creation of Northern Ireland led to conflict between northern nationalists (mostly Roman Catholic) who seek unification with the Republic and Unionists (mostly Protestant) who wish for Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. This conflict exploded into violence in the late sixties with the beginning of 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 in England and the Republic.

Since its foundation it has been the stated long-term policy of governments of what is now the Republic 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 tension 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 Féin have long organised in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, Fianna Fáil have recently opened a cumann'(branch) in Derry and begun recruiting members at Queen's University, Belfast.

See also: History of Northern Ireland.

International organisation participation

The Republic is member of the Australia Group,[4] BIS, British-Irish Council, CE, Celtic League, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ITUC, 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, and the Zangger Committee.

See also

References

  1. ^ A president may be nominated by a political party, but on election represents the entire community and becomes apolitical
  2. ^ Central Statistics Office Public Sector Employment and Earnings (June 2005)
  3. ^ "30th Dáil general election May, 2007 – Election Results and Transfer of Votes". Houses of the Oireachtas. http://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/publications/Electoral_Handbook1.pdf. Retrieved 10 March 2009.  
  4. ^ AustraliaGroup.net - Participants

Further reading

  • John Coakley & Michael Gallagher (Editors) Politics in the Republic of Ireland (Routledge, 2004) [1] [2]
  • Sean Dooney & John O'Toole Irish Government Today (Gill & Macmillan Ltd., 1998) [3]
  • Neil Collins & Terry Cradden Irish Politics Today (Manchester University Press, 2001) [4]
  • Noel Whelan Politics, Elections and the Law (Blackhall Publishing, 2000) [5]

External links








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