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Republic of Ireland

This article deals with the Republic of Ireland. The island as a whole is dealt with at Ireland; there is also Northern Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland is a state which covers approximately five-sixths of the island of Ireland, off the coast of northwest Europe. The remaining one sixth of the island of Ireland is known as Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The country's official constitutional name is Éire, and it is commonly called Ireland, a name which is sometimes controversially used as its diplomatic name. In this article, unless otherwise indicated Ireland refers to the Republic of Ireland.

Éire / Republic of Ireland
(In Detail)
National motto: None
Official languages Irish, English secondary
Capital Dublin
PresidentMary McAleese
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 117th
70,280 km²
 - Total (2002)
 - Density
Ranked 121st
 - Date
Anglo-Irish Treaty
December 6, 1921
Currency Euro¹, Irish euro coins
Time zone UTC
National anthem Amhrán na bhFiann
Internet TLD .IE
Calling Code353
(1) Prior to 1999: Irish Punt

Table of contents

History Main articles: History of Ireland, History of the Republic of Ireland

From 1 January 1801 until 6 December 1922 Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Historically it had for centuries been governed as one all-island unit. This changed with the the introduction of partition in the British Government of Ireland Act, 1920. This created two states, Southern Ireland (of 26 counties) and Northern Ireland (of 6 counties), both of which were to remain part of the United Kingdom. While Northern Ireland became a political reality, Southern Ireland initially existed only on paper, its governing institutions never having come into being.

From 1919 to 1922 a UDI all-island state called the Irish Republic nominally existed, having been declared by the First Dáil, an illegal 'Assembly of Ireland' set up by Irish politicians who had been elected to sit in the British House of Commons but who had declined to do so, setting up a rival parliament instead. Though unrecognised internationally, the Irish Republic functioned in a haphazard manner as a rival government with its own prime minister (later upgraded to become President of the Republic) and a cabinet. Its army, the Irish Republican Army, waged a guerrilla war against the British Army and police force, in what came to be known as the Anglo-Irish War (also known as the Irish War of Independence).

Anglo-Irish Treaty

In December 1921, the British Government and Irish Republican plenipotentiaries[?] negotiated a peace treaty, known as the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It created a whole new system of Irish self government, known as dominion status[?], with a new state, to be called the Irish Free State (in the Irish language Saorstát Éireann). The new Free State was in theory to cover the entire island, subject to the provisio that Northern Ireland could opt out and choose to remain part of the United Kingdom, which it duly did. For one year, Southern Ireland, which had previously existed only on paper, was resurrected and governed by a cabinet under Michael Collins. (After his assassination in August 1922 W.T. Cosgrave assumed control.) The Irish Republic in theory continued to exist, with both Southern Ireland and Irish Republic disappearing similtaneously and being replaced by the new Irish Free State on 6 December 1922. In the absence of the six counties of Northern Ireland, the new state, which was independent of the United Kingdom, covered twenty-six of the island's thirty-two counties.

The Irish Free State (1922-1937)

The Irish Free State was a constitutional monarchy over which the British monarch reigned (from 1927 with the title King of Ireland). The Representative of the Crown was known as the Governor-General of the Irish Free State. It had a bicameral[?] parliament and a cabinet, called the Executive Council answerable to the Chamber of Deputies, which was known as Dáil Éireann. The prime minister of the Free State was called the President of the Executive Council. The constitution was called the Irish Free State Constitution.


On the 29 December 1937 a new constitution came into being. It replaced the Irish Free State by a new state called Éire. The Governor-General was replaced by a President of Ireland. A new more powerful prime minister, called the Taoiseach came into being, while the Executive Council was renamed the Government. Though it had a president, the new state was not a republic. The British monarch continued to reign as King of Ireland and was used as an "organ" in international and diplomatic relations, with the President of Ireland relegated to symbolic functions within the state but never outside it.

The Republic of Ireland (1949- )

On 1 April 1949, the Republic of Ireland Act, came into force. The new state was unambiguously described as a republic, with the international and diplomatic functions previously vested in or exercised by the King now vested in the President of Ireland who finally became unambiguously the Irish head of state. Though the official name of the state remained Éire, the term Republic of Ireland though officially just the description of the new state, came to be used as its name. While the Republic often chose to use the word Ireland to describe itself, particularly in the diplomatic sphere, many states avoid using that term because of the existence of a second Ireland, Northern Ireland, and because the 1937 constitution claimed that the south had jurisdiction over the north. Using the word 'Ireland' was taken as accepting that claim and so caused offence in Northern Ireland. That claim, in what was known as Articles 2 and 3 of the 1937 constitution, was repealed in 1999.

The Irish Free State/Éire remained a member of the British Commonwealth until the declaration of a republic in April 1949. Under Commonwealth rules, declaration of a republic automatically terminates membership of the Commonweath. Unlike India, which became a republic at the same time, the Republic of Ireland chose not to reapply for admittance to the Commonweath.

Ireland has been a member of what would become the European Union since 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful unification of Ireland and have cooperated with Britain against the violent conflict between paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. A peace settlement for Northern Ireland, known as the Good Friday Agreement and approved in 1998, is currently being implemented.

Politics Main article: Politics of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland is a republic, with a parliamentary system of government. The President of Ireland (Uachtaráin na hÉireann), who serves as head of state, 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. The prime minister, the Taoiseach, is appointed by the president on the nomination of parliament. The Taoiseach is normally the leader of the political party, or a coalition, which wins the most seats in the national elections.

The bicameral parliament, the Oireachtas, consists of a Senate, the Seanad Éireann, and a House of Representatives, the Dáil Éireann. The Seanad is composed of 60 members; 11 nominated by the Taoiseach, 6 elected by the national universities, and 43 elected from panels of candidates established on a vocational basis. The Dáil has 166 members, Teachtaí Dála or Deputies, elected to represent multi-seat constituencies under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. Under the Irish constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann), parliamentary elections must be held at least every 7 years, though a lower limit may be set by statute law. The current statutory maximum term is every 5 years.

The Government (An Rialtas) is constitutionally limited to 15 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 Sinn Féin and the Green Party also have representation in Dáil Éireann.

Counties Main article: Counties of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland is traditionally described as having 26 counties, which continue to be in use in e.g. a cultural, historical and sporting context. As local governmental units some have been restructured, with County Dublin broken up into four new counties in the 1990s, while County Tipperary has in fact been two separate counties for generations, producing a total of 30 administrative counties:

Geography 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). The centre of the country is relatively flat farmland, traversed by rivers such as the Shannon and several large lakes or loughs.

The local temperate climate is modified by the North Atlantic Current and 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, and Galway and Limerick on the west coast.

Economy Main article: Economy of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland is a small, modern, trade-dependent economy with growth averaging a robust 9% in 1995-2001. Agriculture, once the most important sector, is now dwarfed by industry, which accounts for 38% of GDP, about 80% of exports, and employs 28% of the labour force. Although exports remain the primary engine for Ireland's robust growth, the economy is also benefiting from a rise in consumer spending and recovery in both construction and business investment.

Over the past decade, the Irish government has implemented a series of national economic programs designed to curb inflation, reduce government spending, increase labour force skills, and promote foreign investment. Ireland joined in launching the euro currency system in January 1999 along with 11 other EU nations. This period of high economic growth came to be called 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 was cut by nearly half. Growth in 2002 is expected to fall in the 3%-5% range.

Demographics Main article: Demographics of Ireland

Most Irish are either of Celtic or English ethnicity. The official languages are Irish (Gaelic), the native Celtic language, and English, which is constitutionally described as a secondary official language. Learning Irish is compulsory in education, but English is by far the predominant language. Public signs are usually bilingual and national media in Irish also exist. 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.

The Republic of Ireland is officially 92% Roman Catholic. However there had been a massive decline in adherence to Roman Catholicism 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 priest-training seminaries have either closed or are expected to close soon. The Church was also hit in the 1990s by a series of sexual scandals and cover-up charges against its hierarchy. In 1995, after an approx. 58-year ban, voters chose to re-legalize divorce in the Republic.

The second largest religion, the Church of Ireland (Anglican), is itself in decline, with a largely elderly membership. In recent years, it has been forced to close down many of its rural churches, and some even in urban areas. A similar phenomenon is also affecting the very small Jewish Congregation in Ireland. The only religions showing a major growth are Islam and small born again Christian faiths associated with Ireland's growing immigrant community.

Culture Main article: Culture of Ireland[?]

The island of Ireland has produced the Book of Kells, Guinness, Irish traditional music, and writers such as George Berkeley, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Séamus Heaney, and others. Shaw, Yeats, Beckett and Heaney are Nobel Literature laureates.

The most famous Irish exports in the late twentieth century included the rock group U2, Sinéad O'Connor, Bob Geldof, The Corrs[?] and the dance show Riverdance[?]. Its most prominent world figure was Mary Robinson, from 1997 to 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights[?].

Miscellaneous topics


  • Bunreacht na hÉireann (the 1937 constitution)
  • 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.

External Links

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