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Politics of the Republic of Ireland
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Politics of the Republic of Ireland

This article is part of the series
Politics of the R. of Ireland
Council of State
Dáil Éireann
Seanad Éireann
Supreme Court
The Republic of Ireland is a sovereign, independent state. It is a representative democracy under a parliamentary system of government, with a president, prime minister and parliament. The capital city is Dublin. While there are a number of important political parties in the state, the two largest are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The state is a member of the European Union.

Table of contents
1 Government
2 Political parties
3 Northern Ireland
4 International organisation participation
5 Related topics



Main article:
Constitution of Ireland

The state operates under the Constitution of Ireland, also known as Bunreacht na hÉireann, adopted in 1937. The constitution falls broadly within the liberal democratic tradition. It defines the organs of government and guarantees certain fundamental rights. The constitution may only be amended by referendum.

Head of state

Main article: President of Ireland

The head of state is the President of Ireland. In keeping with the state's parliamentary system of government the President exercises largely a ceremonial role but does possess certain reserve powers. The presidency is open to all citizens who are at least 35. They are directly elected by secret ballot under the Alternative Vote. A candidate may also be chosen by a consensus among the political parties, in which case it is unnecessary to proceed to a ballot. The President is elected to a seven year term; no candidate may serve more than two terms. In carrying out certain of her constitutional functions, the President is aided by the Council of State.


Main article: Irish Government

Executive authority is exercised by a cabinet known simply as the Government. The Government consists of the Taoiseach (prime minister), the Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and up to thirteen other ministers. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President, after being designated by Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament). The remaining ministers are nominated by the Taoiseach and approved 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 presuade the President to dissolve the Dáil, in which case a general election follows.


Main article: Oireachtas

The parliament of the Republic 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 tier of the legislature. The President may not veto laws in most circumstances and the Senate may only delay legislation.

Dáil Éireann

Main article: Dáil Éireann

The Dáil is directly elected at least once in every five years under the Single Transferable Vote form of proportional representation. Membership of the house is open to all citizens who are at least 18, and the electorate consists of adult Irish and UK citizens. It usually has around 160 to 170 members. Since the early 1990s no single party has had a majority in Dáil Éireann, meaning that coalition governments have been the norm.

Seanad Éireann

Main article: Seanad Éireann

The Senate is a largely advisory body. It consists of sixty members: eleven nominated by the Taoiseach, six elected by certain national universities, and 43 elected from special vocational panels of candidates. 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.


Main article: Courts of the Republic of Ireland

The Republic of 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.

Local government

Local government consists of elected county councils and--in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford--county borough corporations. In practice, however, most authority remains with the national government. Under the constitution local government elections must occur every five years.

North-South Ministerial Council

Main article: 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 co-ordinate 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.

Political parties


The Republic of Ireland is unusual as a developed nation in that politics is not primarily characterised by the left-right political divide. This is because the two largest political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, do not identify themselves first and foremost as either centre-right or centre-left parties. Rather, both parties arose from the great split that occurred in Irish politics at the time of the 1922-1923 Civil War, that followed the foundation of the state. Both are descended from factions of the original Sinn Féin party: Fine Gael from the faction that supported the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and Fianna Fáil from the anti-treaty faction.

While historically Fine Gael has often been viewed as a broadly centre-right party, as the party of farmers and businessmen, such a characterisation is overly simplistic. For a period in the 1960s, for example, with the publication of the famous Just Society document, Fine Gael was identified with the values of social democracy. It is also the case that every past Fine Gael government has involved a coalition with the Labour Party. Fianna Fáil, on the other hand, have at times been associated with the centre-left, but today are accused of right-wing economic policies and have entered several coalitions with the economically right-wing Progressive Democrats.

The centre-left in the Republic's politics is represented by the Labour Party which is the state's third largest political party and has, in the past, participated in coalition governments with each of the two largest parties. Smaller parties of the left are Sinn Féin, the Green Party and the Socialist Party. The right is represented by the small Progressive Democrats who, while right-wing on economic policy, are liberal on many social matters. Many members of the Progressive Democrats were originally dissaffected members of Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have jointly formed a number of coalition governments since the late eighties.

As well as a number of parties Dáil Éireann (the lower house) is also often host to independent TDss (MPs) who play an important role in Irish politics and are sometimes called upon to prop up minority governments, or governments with slim majorities.

List of political parties

Represented in Dáil Éireann

Other parties

Defunct parties

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has been a major factor in Irish politics since the island of Ireland was divided between Northern Ireland and the twenty-six county southern state in 1920. The creation of Northern Ireland led to conflict between northern nationalists (mostly Catholic) who seek unification with the independent southern state and Unionists (mostly Protestant) who wish for Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. This conflict exploded into a violent conflict in the late sixties known as 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 on Great Britain and in the Republic of Ireland.

Since its foundation it has been the stated long-term policy of governments of the state now called the Republic of Ireland 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 conflict 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.

See also: History of Northern Ireland.

International organisation participation

Australia Group, BIS, CCC, CE, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, AEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, 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, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNIKOM, UNITAR, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOP, UNTAET, UNTSO, UPU, WEU (observer), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO, Zangger Committee.

Related topics