Ireland (Irish: Éire) is a sovereign state located in northwestern Europe. The modern state occupies five-sixths of the island of Ireland, which was partitioned in 1921. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and by the Irish Sea to the east, and shares a land border with Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) to the north. Ireland has one of the fastest growing and youngest populations in Western Europe, at 4.2 million. The capital is Dublin. A 1948 act provides that the term Republic of Ireland may be used as "the description of the State."
The state is a republic, with a written constitution and a bicameral parliament. The President of Ireland, currently Michael D. Higgins, is elected for a seven-year term and is largely a figurehead but can still carry out certain constitutional powers and functions, aided by the Council of State, an advisory body. The head of government is the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and 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 a general election. 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 (called by its Irish name, 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 the graduates of two universities, and 43 elected by public representatives from panels of candidates established on a vocational basis. Dáil Éireann (usually just called "the Dáil") has 166 members, Teachtaí Dála ("Teachta Dála" is the singular form, abbreviated to "TD"), each elected to represent multi-seat constituencies under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote process.
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. The current government consists of a coalition of two parties, Fine Gael and Labour, under Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The main opposition parties are Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.
Since the ratification of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937, Irish politics have been dominated by Fianna Fáil. This party has been in power for the majority of this period and has evolved throughout the years, slowly changing from a moderately left wing, mainly populist platform, into a centrist political position.
See also: Catalog of Irish political parties
Ireland traditionally was divided into four provinces and 32 counties, which are still used in cultural and sporting contexts. The Republic of Ireland consists of 26 of the counties. Three of the provinces of the island are entirely within the Republic's borders, as are three of the nine counties that form the province of Ulster.
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-North Leitrim), but by and large, the actual county boundaries are not crossed.
As local government units, however, some counties have been restructured, with the now-abolished County Dublin distributed among 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 twenty-nine counties and five cities. The cities - Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway 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 their respective counties.
Each county and city elects a council in local elections, which must be held every seven years.
Ireland has officially pursued a policy of political neutrality since independence.
During World War II (known in Ireland as "The Emergency"), despite official neutrality, and a refusal to close the embassies of Germany and Japan, covert aid was provided to the Allies. Ireland participated in the Marshall Plan, 1948-51, receiving $146 million from the U.S.
Ireland joined the United Nations in 1955. Over 40,000 Irish soldiers have participated in UN peace-keeping operations around the world, being deployed in the Congo, Cyprus, Lebanon, the East Timor and Liberia.
Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 but has chosen to remain outside the Schengen Treaty travel regime because of the Common Travel Area. Northern Ireland is aligned with the EU for goods rules, so there are no checks on the land border.
A recent controversy is the permission given to U.S. military forces to use Shannon Airport as a stopover while en route to Iraq. Critics claim that this is a weakening of Ireland's neutrality, and protests are common. In addition, concerns have been raised about the possible use of Shannon for extraordinary rendition flights.
The education systems are largely under the direction of the government via the Minister for Education and Science (currently Batt O'Keefe TD).
The education systems in Ireland are complex due to a confusion of ownership, control and curricular assessment. This has arisen because the systems developed over long periods of time, with variable influence by several key players, including the state and church.
The majority of Ireland's primary and secondary schools are owned by the Roman Catholic parishes. Historically, parishes established schools, where the local Catholic Church provided the land under the ownership of a Board of Management, composed of various community interests, including (but not exclusively so) the local Catholic priest. With the decline in numbers of priests, this has proven more and more problematic. With increasing numbers of non-Catholics in Ireland, the question of a Catholic school ethos has become contested.
The state provides and pays for the teachers, organises the curriculum and provides examinations and other centralised services for schools. A state owned secondary school - generally called a community or comprehensive school - is wholly controlled by the State through the Department of Education and Science. A small number of other denominational schools exist such as those organised by the Islamic communities. The church ownership model extends to these groups too. A recent phenomenon has been the establishment of non- or multi-denominational primary schools, usually set up by members of Educate Together, who are also being called upon to establish secondary schools. The first state-controlled multi-denominational primary schools opened in September 2008.
The economy of Ireland has transformed in recent years from an agricultural focus to one dependent on trade, services, construction, industry and investment. Economic growth in Ireland averaged an exceptional 10% from 1995–2000, and 7% from 2001–2004. However, with a combination of the global economic turndown and an over reliance on the construction sector, Ireland was the first eurozone country to enter recession, in 2008. In November 2010, the collapse of Ireland's banking sector and continuing budget deficit led to Ireland requesting a multi-billion euro financial rescue deal from the EU and IMF.
Industry, which accounts for 46% of GDP, about 80% of exports, and 29% of the labour force, now takes the place of agriculture as the country's leading sector. Exports play a fundamental role in the state's robust 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.
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 for 2005 was 4.7%.
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.
Ireland possesses the second highest GDP (Purchasing power parity) per capita in the world (US$43,600 as of 2006), the fourth highest Human Development Index, and, as of 2005, the best quality of life in the world.
Poverty figures show that as of 2004, 6.8% of Ireland's population suffer "consistent poverty".
Ireland's armed forces are organised under the Irish Defence Forces (in Irish, Óglaigh na hÉireann). The Irish Army is relatively small compared to other neighbouring armies in the region, but is well equipped and trained, with 8,500 full-time military personnel (13,000 in the reserve army).. This is principally due to Ireland's policy of pursuing a policy of neutrality, and its "triple-lock" rules governing participation in conflicts. Deployments of Irish soldiers cover UN peace-keeping duties, protection of the Republic's territorial waters (in the case of the Irish Naval Service) and Aid to Civil Power operations in the state. There are also reserves: the Irish Air Corps, Reserve Defence Forces and Naval Service Reserve under the Defence Forces. The Irish Army Rangers is a special forces branch which operates under the aegis of the army.
Over 40,000 Irish servicemen have served in UN peacekeeping missions around the world earning plaudits for their professionalism and bravery.
Today, Irish people are mainly of Gaelic ancestry, and although some of the population is also of Norse, Anglo-Norman, English, Scottish, French and Welsh ancestry, these groups have been assimilated and do not form distinct minority groups. Gaelic culture and language forms an important part of national identity. The Irish Travellers are an ethnic minority group, politically (but not ethnically) linked with mainland European Roma and Gypsy groups.
- Fertility rate- 133rd most fertile in the world at 1.86 per woman
- Birth rate - Joint 136th most births in the world at 14.45 per 1000 people
- Infant mortality - 196th most deaths in the world at 5.39 per 1000 live births (2005)
- Birth rate - Joint 136th most births in the world at 14.45 per 1000 people
- Death rate - Joint 110th highest death rate in the world at 7.85 per 1000 people
- Life Expectancy - 32nd highest in the world at 77.56 years
- Suicide Rate - 33rd highest suicide rate in the world at 21.4 for males and 4.1 for females
- HIV/AIDS rate 122nd most cases in the world at 0.10%
Recent population growth
Ireland's population has increased greatly in recent years. Much of this population growth can be attributed to the arrival of immigrants and the return of Irish people (often with their foreign-born children) who emigrated in large numbers in earlier years during periods of high unemployment. Approximately 10% of Ireland's population is now made up of foreign citizens.
The Central Statistics Office has published preliminary findings based on the 2006 Census of Population. These indicate:
- The total population of Ireland on Census Day, April 23, 2006, was 4,234,925, an increase of 317,722, or 8.1% since 2002
- Allowing for the incidence of births (245,000) and deaths (114,000), the derived net immigration of people to Ireland between 2002 and 2006 was 186,000.
- The total number of non-nationals (foreign citizens) resident in Ireland is 419,733, or around 10% (plus 1,318 people with 'no nationality' and 44,279 people whose nationality is not stated).
- The single largest group of immigrants comes from the United Kingdom (112,548) followed by Poland (63,267), Lithuania (24,628), Nigeria (16,300), Latvia (13,319), China (11,161), and Germany (10,289).
- 94.8% of the population was recorded as having a 'White' ethnic or cultural background. 1.1% of the population had a 'Black or Black Irish' background, 1.3% had an 'Asian or Asian Irish' background and 1.7% of the population's ethnic or cultural background was 'not stated'.
- The average annual rate of increase, 2%, is the highest on record – compared to 1.3% between 1996 and 2002 and 1.5% between 1971 and 1979.
- The 2006 population was last exceeded in the 1861 Census when the population then was 4.4 million The lowest population of Ireland was recorded in the 1961 Census – 2.6 million.
- All provinces of Ireland recorded population growth. The population of Leinster grew by 8.9%; Munster by 6.5%; and the long-term population decline of the Connacht-Ulster Region has stopped.
- The ratio of males to females has declined in each of the four provinces between 1979 and 2006. Leinster is the only province where the number of females exceeds the number of males. Males predominate in rural counties such as Cavan, Leitrim, and Roscommon while there are more females in cities and urban areas.
A more detailed breakdown of these figures is available online: Census 2006 Principal Demographic Results
The official languages are Irish and English. Teaching of the Irish and English languages is compulsory in the primary and secondary level schools that receive money and recognition from the state. Some students may be exempt from the requirement to receive instruction in either language. 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. Road signs are usually bilingual, except in the Gaeltacht, where they are in Irish only. The legal status of place names has recently been the subject of controversy, with an order made in 2005 under the Official Languages Act changing the official name of certain locations from English to Irish (e.g. Dingle is now officially named An Daingean), sometimes despite local opposition, and, in Dingle's case, a plebiscite requesting a name change to a bilingual version. Most public notices are only in English, as are most of the print media. Most Government publications and forms are available in both English and Irish, and citizens have the right to deal with the state in Irish if they so wish. National media in Irish exist on TV (Telefís na Gaeilge), radio (e.g. Raidió na Gaeltachta), and in print (e.g. Lá and Foinse).
According to the 2006 census, 1,656,790 people (or 39%) in the Republic regard themselves as competent in Irish; no figures are available for English-speakers, but it is thought to be almost 100%.
The Polish language is one of the most widely spoken languages in Ireland after English and Irish, due to the number of recent immigrants. There are over 63,000 Poles resident in Ireland, according to the 2006 census.
Religion has historically been important in Ireland, but religiousity has sharply declined since 1990.. Ireland's people, history, identity and national politics are infused with religious meaning. The country is 88.4% nominally Roman Catholic, and previously had one of the highest rates of regular and weekly church attendance in the Western World. However, there has been a major decline in this attendance among Irish Catholics in the course of the past 30 years. Between 1996 and 2001, regular Mass attendance, declined further from 60% to 48% (it had been above 90% before 1973, and all but two of its sacerdotal seminaries have closed (St Patrick's College, Maynooth and St Malachy's College, Belfast). Following the Roman Catholic child sex abuse scandal, many thousands have officially resigned (or "defected") from the church.A number of theological colleges continue to educate both ordained and lay people.
The second largest Christian denomination, the Church of Ireland (Anglican), declined in number for most of the twentieth century, but has more recently 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 small, long standing Jewish community in the state also recorded a marginal increase in the same period. Irish Jews have been influential in both Ireland and the broader Jewish world (see History of the Jews in Ireland).
According to the 2006 census, the number of people who described themselves as having "no religion" was 186,318 (4.4%). An additional 1,515 people described themselves as agnostic and 929 as atheist instead of ticking the "no religion" box. This brings the total nonreligious within the state to 4.5% of the population. A further 70,322 (1.7%) did not state a religion.
Religion and politics
The 1937 Constitution of Ireland gave the Roman Catholic Church a "special position" as the church of the majority, but also recognised other Christian denominations and Judaism. As with other predominantly Roman Catholic European states (e.g., Italy), the Irish state underwent a period of legal secularisation in the late twentieth century. In 1972, the articles mentioning specific religious groups, including the Catholic Church were deleted from the Irish constitution by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland.
Article 44 remains in the Constitution. It begins:
- The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.
The article also establishes freedom of religion (for belief, practice, and organisation without undue interference from the state), prohibits endowment of any particular religion, prohibits the state from religious discrimination, and requires the state to treat religious and non-religious schools in a non-prejudicial manner.
Catholic doctrine prohibits abortion in all circumstances, putting it in conflict with the pro-choice movement. In 1983, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland recognised "the right to life of the unborn", subject to qualifications concerning the "equal right to life" of the mother. The case of Attorney General v. X prompted passage of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, guaranteeing the right to travel abroad to have an abortion performed, and the right of citizens to learn about "services" that are illegal in Ireland but legal outside the country (see Abortion in Ireland).
The Catholic Church was hit in the 1990s by a series of sexual abuse scandals and cover-up charges against its hierarchy (see Roman Catholic sex abuse cases). In 2005, a major inquiry was made into child sexual abuse allegations. The Ferns report, published on 25 October 2005, revealed that more than 100 cases of child sexual abuse, between 1962 and 2002, by 21 priests, had taken place in the Diocese of Ferns alone. The report criticised the Garda and the health authorities, who failed to protect the children to the best of their abilities; and in the case of the Garda before 1988, no file was ever recorded on sexual abuse complaints.
A judicial investigation (the Murphy report) into child sex abuse claims in the Dublin diocese was published in November, 2009. It likewise disclosed a culture of abuse, cover-ups and denials. Even in conducting the investigation, since 2006, the inquiry claimed to have been hindered by church authorities, with the Papal Nuncio and the Vatican failing to respond to correspondence.
Despite most schools in Ireland being run by religious organisations, a general trend of secularism is occurring within the Irish population, particularly in the younger generations. Many efforts have been made by secular groups, to eliminate the rigorous study of prayer in the first and sixth classes, to prepare for the sacraments of holy communion and confirmation. However religious studies as a subject was introduced into the state administered "Junior certificate" in 2001.
Ireland has produced the Book of Kells, and writers such as George Berkeley, Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Samuel Beckett, John Millington Synge, Seán O'Casey, Séamus Heaney, Bram Stoker and others.
Shaw, Yeats, Beckett and Heaney are Nobel Literature laureates. Other prominent writers include John Banville, Roddy Doyle, Séamus Ó Grianna, Dermot Bolger, Maeve Binchy, Frank McCourt, Edna O'Brien, Joseph O'Connor, John McGahern and Colm Tóibín.
In classical music, the island of Ireland was also the birthplace of the notable composers Turlough O'Carolan, John Field (inventor of the nocturne), Gerald Barry, Michael William Balfe, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Wood.
In science, Robert Boyle was a seventeenth-century physicist who discovered Boyle's Law. Ernest Walton of Trinity College Dublin shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics for "splitting the atom". William Rowan Hamilton was a significant mathematician.
Ireland is known for its traditional music, but has produced many internationally influential artists in other musical genres, such as the alternative rock group The Cranberries, blues guitarist Rory Gallagher, folk singer Christy Moore, the Wolfe Tones, Sinéad O'Connor, Horslips, U2, Thin Lizzy, The Boomtown Rats, The Pogues, Ash, The Corrs, Clannad, Boyzone, Ronan Keating, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Westlife and Enya, and the internationally acclaimed dance shows Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, which put a modern spin on traditional Irish dance. In the early twenty-first century, Damien Rice and The Thrills rose to international fame. The Frames and Bell X1 are popular bands in Ireland who are on the rise world-wide.
Notable Hollywood actors from Ireland include Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Maureen O'Sullivan, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Day Lewis (by citizenship), Colm Meaney, Colin Farrell, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Cillian Murphy.
Ireland has two national sports. Gaelic football is a team field sport, similar enough to Australian rules football that test matches and tours have regularly taken place featuring teams from both codes. Hurling is an exciting team field sport - said to be the fastest in the world in terms of game play - played with sticks and a small ball. It is very similar to the Scottish game Shinty. When played by women's teams, the game is called Camógie but has almost identical rules. Both sports are administered by the Gaelic Athletics Association, or G.A.A., which also administers the sport of handball - a two- or four-player game played in courts and similar to Squash, but where the ball is struck with the hand rather than with a racquet or bat. All Gaelic sports are strictly amateur, in that players may not be paid to play. Recently, though, players have formed the Gaelic Players' Association, which has organised benefit schemes and income for players through advertising and sponsorship deals.
Gaelic athletic clubs are very common in Ireland and are organised at parish level. While the G.A.A. organises national club championships in both football, hurling and camógie, there is more focus on the National Football League and National Hurling League, and even more on their respective cup competitions (known as the Championships), which are organised at county level. Each county team's players are selected from among the best players in the clubs based in that county. Interestingly, while still described as national competitions, the growth of Gaelic sports outside Ireland has seen the entry of a team from London in both competitions.
Ireland has produced a number of talented sportsmen and women. In soccer, former players include Roy Keane, Johnny Giles, Liam Brady, Denis Irwin, Packie Bonner, Niall Quinn, Frank Stapleton and Paul McGrath, while footballers whose careers are ongoing include Shay Given, Damien Duff, and Robbie Keane. In rugby, Ireland has produced Ronan O Gara, Brian O Driscoll, Paul O Connell, David Wallace and Keith Wood. Ireland has reached the quarter-final stages of both the soccer and Rugby Union world cup competitions (though it should be noted that in rugby, there is a single island-wide team representing both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland).
In athletics, Ronnie Delaney, Eamon Coghlan, Sonia O Sullivan and Derval O Rourke have had international success. Ken Doherty is a former world champion Irish snooker player. Barry McGuigan and Steve Collins were world champion boxers. In golf, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley have competed on Ryder Cup teams. In motorport, Eddie Jordan led his Jordan Grand Prix team to success. They became the only independent Formula One team in the 1990s to win multiple races. In cycling, both Seán Kelly and Stephen Roche have won the prestigious Tour de France.
Ireland's state broadcaster is Radio Telefís Éireann, usually referred to as RTÉ. It is funded by advertising and a television licence fee. RTÉ broadcasts two television channels, RTÉ One and RTÉ Two, and four radio channels: Radio 1, a talk-radio station, 2fm, for popular music and light entertainment, Lyric FM, a classical music station, and Radio na Gaelteacta, an Irish-language station.
Today FM is an independent nationwide radio station. Newstalk 106 was recently granted a licence to expand its talk-radio station to cover most of the country (it had previously been limited to Dublin). In addition, there are many licensed local radio stations. Around the country, these tend to provide a mix of popular music and items of local and national interest. In Dublin, due to its larger listenership, there is more diversification, resulting in speciality stations such as Phantom 105.2, a rock and alternative music station.
There are three Irish national daily broadsheet newspapers - the Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, and The Irish Times, which is regarded in Dublin as the "paper of record". There are also several daily Irish editions of UK tabloids published.
The Republic of Ireland has three main international airports (Dublin, Shannon, and Cork) that serve a wide variety of European and intercontinental routes with scheduled and chartered flights. The national airline, Aer Lingus, was partly privatised in 2006. Low cost airline Ryanair is the largest airline. The route between Dublin and London is one of the busiest international air routes in the world. There are several regional airports, and Aer Arann and others operate regular scheduled internal flights.
Railway services are provided by Iarnród Éireann. Dublin is the centre of the network, with two main stations (Heuston and Connolly) linking to the main towns and cities. The Enterprise service, run jointly with Northern Ireland Railways, connects Dublin with Belfast. A Western Rail Corridor, linking Limerick and Galway, is under construction.
Recent years have seen much growth in the transport infrastructure. Many roads have been upgraded to motorway standard. A light tram system, the Luas, has been introduced on two routes in Dublin, and a light train system is also planned for the capital.
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- According to the Irish constitution of 1937, "The name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland." (Article 4) Available: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/attached_files/html%20files/Constitution%20of%20Ireland%20(Eng)Nov2004.htm Accessed: 16th May, 2007.
- Article 2, The Republic of Ireland Act, 1948, Government of Ireland.
- Since 11th November 2011.
- Overseas service - the Irish Defence Forces Retrieved 6th May, 2007.
- Anti-war peace camp at Shannon
- Amnesty concerns over Shannon airport use
- Council of Europe support for IHRC position
- Republic of Ireland confirms EU financial rescue deal. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11807730 Accessed: 22nd November 2010. BBC News.
- CSO, 2006. "Consumer Prices: Bi-annual Average Price Analysis, Dublin and Outside Dublin." Available: http://www.finfacts.com/Private/bestprice/irishconsumerprices.pdf Accessed: 16th May, 2007.
- The world in 2005: The Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index, page 4. Available: http://www.economist.com/media/pdf/QUALITY_OF_LIFE.pdf Accessed: 16th May, 2007.
- CSO, 2004. EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC). Available: http://www.cso.ie/releasespublications/documents/labour_market/current/eusilc.pdf Accessed: 16th May, 2007.
- Irish Defence Forces, Army (accessed 15 June 2006)
- Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan only. Remaining Ulster counties are in Northern Ireland
- Foster (2008)
- Weekly Mass Attendance of Catholics in Nations with Large Catholic Populations, 1980-2000 World Values Survey (WVS)
- Catholic World News June 1, 2006: Irish Mass attendance below 50% 
- See the Count Me Out website - http://www.countmeout.ie - for further details.
- Final Principal Demographic Results 2006
- 30 years of church and State cover-up of child sex abuse Available: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1127/1224259546515.html Accessed: 28112009.
- Ireland's national broadcaster, RTÉ