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Useful Notes: Irish Political System
Oireachtas Logo

"IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. [...] We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and its exaltation among the nations. The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past."
Proclamation of the Irish Republic, 1916 (part)

Ireland (Éire, "air-ruh") is a republic consisting of 26 traditional counties of Ireland, which was from 1922-37 called the Irish Free State.

One will quickly note that they like to name their government things in Gaelic.

Constitution

The Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) is composed of a Preamble and fifty Articles. It can only be changed by referendum (a vote of all adult citizens), and it has been changed twenty-four times since its adoption in 1937. Oddities and controversies in the constitution include:

  • The explicitly religious preamble. When first drafted, some Roman Catholics wanted "In the name of Our Lady of Lourdes". The government settled on a Fair for Its Day "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity" which was acceptable to Roman Catholics, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterians and the Methodists, who made up probably 95 plus percent of the population at the time.
  • It also states that "all powers of government derive, under God, from the people", another one for Richard Dawkins to get at.
  • The name of the State is simply Ireland (Irish: Éire). 'Republic of Ireland' is a description of the state and a convenient way to tell it apart from the island Ireland and the UK part of Northern Ireland. Éire conveniently means the 26 counties of the Republic.
  • The Irish language is the 'first official language', even though few speak it (is teanga deacair í a fhoghlaim, agus ní mhúintear maith í sa scoil freisin), while English is a 'second language', despite being the mother tongue of 95 plus percent of citizens.
  • Titles of nobility are not awarded by the State, and citizens must gain permission before accepting such titles from a foreign state (e.g. Sir Bono). Oddly enough, many Irish cities have a Lord Mayor/Lady Mayoress but this does not count as a title of nobility.
  • Article 41.2 is seen as sexist:
    Subsection 1: In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
    Subsection 2: The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.
    • However, what few people realize is that this is the constitutional guarantee of Children's Allowance.
  • LGBT activists protest that Article 41.3.1˚ states that "The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the Family is founded", which impinges the rights of same-sex unions. It also affects men's rights, such as State (Nicolaou) v. An Bord Uchtála which judged that an unmarried father could not prevent his child's mother from placing their child for adoption, as they were not a 'Family'.
  • Abortion is a contentious issue in any society: the Pro-Life Amendment of 1983 added to the constitution that "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."
    • This became a thorny issue in Attorney General v. X ("the X case", 1992) in which a 14-year-old, pregnant through rape, claimed to be suicidal and wanted to travel to the UK for an abortion. Two referenda ruled that she (and all other pregnant Irish women/girls) could leave Ireland to get an abortion, and could access information on foreign abortion services. A 2002 amendment to remove the risk of suicide by the mother as grounds for abortion failed narrowly.

A landmark 1987 Supreme Court case, Crotty v. An Taoiseach, ruled that "the state's power to determine its foreign relations was held in trust from the people and could not be alienated by the government", and that therefore any treaty which modified Ireland's foreign relations had to be ratified by referendum. This led to:

  • Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 to ratify the Nice Treaty: No (53.9%)
    • Twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 2002 to ratify the Nice Treaty: Yes (62.9%)
  • Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2008 to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon: No (53.2%)
    • Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Act 2009: Yes (67.1%)

Do you notice a pattern here? (Quand elles disent "non, non", elles pensent "Oui Oui"!)

President

The head of state is the President (Uachtarán) ("ook-ta-rawn"), elected for a seven year term, who has very limited powers.
  • If the Taoiseach has lost the support of the Dáil, the Taoiseach may request a dissolution of the Oireachtas, which the President could refuse to grant, and instead the Dáil would elect a new Taoiseach without a general election.
  • If a majority of the Senate and one third of the Dáil disagree with a Bill, the President may refer it to a national vote — this power has never been used.
  • If he/she believes a bill is 'repugnant' to the Constitution, he/she may refer it to the Supreme Court.

Ireland's presidents have been:

    1. Douglas Hyde  
Years: 1938 — 1945 Party: All-party nomination

Douglas Hyde (1860—1949) was Ireland's first president after the office's creation in 1945. A scholar and a leading advocate for the use of the Irish language, he founded Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League), an organisation that supports the use of Irish in Ireland and elsewhere. He appeared on the old Irish £50 banknote.

    2. Seán T. O'Kelly  
Years: 1945 — 1959 Party: Fianna Fáil

Seán Thomas O'Kelly (1882—1962) was Ireland's second president. He had previously served a number of roles in government such as Deputy Prime Minister/Tánaiste (1932—1945) and Ceann Comhairle (1919—1921). O'Kelly was the first Irish president to visit the United States in 1959 and helped get Ireland get recognised by the latter as a new republic.

  • The Alcoholic: De Valera worried about his drinking but O'Kelly managed to remain dignified and avoided any scandals despite his love of drink.
  • Raised Catholic: He was known to be an extremely devout Catholic, even more so than most Irish people at the time. When de Valera himself criticises you for being too pious, you know something's wrong!
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: O'Kelly was a short man and his second wife Phyllis Ryan towered above him. One time when he went to throw in the ball during a football game, someone yelled out to cut the grass, since they can't see the president.

    3. Éamon de Valera  
Years: 1959 — 1973 Party: Fianna Fáil

Éamon de Valera (1882—1975) needs no introduction. A key figure in the independence movement and many-time Taoiseach before he was given the presidency. This may have been his plan; an architect of the republican constitution, he's reported as having said he designed the post of President as "a nice easy job for my old age". More information on him can be found on the Taoisigh page.

  • Permanent Elected Official: It certainly seemed like this after he became president after having been in charge of Ireland as Taoiseach and being involved in politics for nearly 60 years by the time he left office as president in 1973, shortly before he died.

    4. Erskine Hamilton Childers  
Years: 1973 — 1974 Party: Fianna Fáil

Erskine Childers (1905—1974), not to be confused with his father Robert Erskine Childers (author of 'The Riddle of the Sands') was the fourth president of Ireland. He died in office in November 1974. His wife Rita wanted to take over his office but Fianna Fáil didn't support this action. His daughter Nessa has been an MEP for the East Ireland constituency since 2009

  • Raised Catholic: Averted — as in Hyde's case, he was a member of the Church of Ireland. It makes sense, since he was actually born in England although he had Irish ancestry.

    5. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh  
Years: 1974 — 1976 Party: Fianna Fáil

Cearball Ó Dálaigh (1911—1978) took over after Childers died. He was in office for less than two years, since he did not get on well with the Fine Gael/Labour coalition and in particular Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave.

  • Arch-Enemy: Liam Cosgrave, the Taoiseach at the time.
    • Conor Cruise O'Brien, a Labour minister also in office at the time.

    6. Patrick John Hillery  
Years: 1976 — 1990 Party: Fianna Fáil

Patrick Hillery (1923—2008) took over when Ó Dálaigh resigned. A relatively scandal and drama-free president compared to his two predecessors and their short periods in the presidency. He served out two full terms, the first to do so since de Valera. He was also one of the three (alongside Hyde and Ó Dálaigh) to be elected unopposed (without the need to have a popular vote since there were no other candidates).

  • Boring, but Practical: Hillery was seen as somewhat boring and lacklustre but he brought much-needed stability and dignity to the office.
  • The Mistress: There were rumours that he had one living with him in the Áras around the time of the Pope's visit in 1979. They turned out to be false, however.

    7. Mary Robinson  
Years: 1990 — 1997 Party: Labour Party

Mary Robinson (b 1944) was the seventh president and notable for two things: being the first woman to hold the office; and being the first person since Douglas Hyde to be from a party other than Fianna Fáil. Seen as a surprise winner of the election for many, since Brian Lenihan Sr (father of the minister with the same name) had been leading the polls all along. She actually got less first preference votes than Lenihan but under Ireland's election method, when the third candidate Austin Currie (from Fine Gael) was eliminated, his second preferences for Robinson were more than those of Lenihan's, thus winning her the election (yes, it's complicated and most Irish people don't even have a good idea how this works!). She served one term, during which she was known for her liberal views on issues such as immigration and the death penalty in the US. After her presidency, she has continued to be involved in human rights issues. She is also known for being caricatured by David McSavage on The Savage Eye as "Ireland's President for Life".

  • 100% Adoration Rating: She was an immensely popular president. Even her election rival Brian Lenihan Sr said that she was a better president than he ever could have been.
  • All-Loving Hero: As well as being a human rights activist in general, she stood up for and campaigned for the rights of groups such as LGBT people and immigrants.
  • Back from the Dead: For the office of president itself. Before her, it was largely seen as a retirement home for old politicians but she brought enthusiasm and an in-depth knowledge to the post and effectively revived and brought it back to life.

    8. Mary McAleese  
Years: 1997 — 2011 Party: Fianna Fáil

Mary McAleese (b 1951) was the eighth president and the second woman to hold the office. She was also the first president of Ireland to be from Northern Ireland; she was born in Belfast but had moved to Dublin for university and later a career as a barrister; she eventually became Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College, Dublin, succeeding, er, Mary Robinson (same one). Like her predecessor, she concerned herself during her presidency with social justice issues, human rights and LGBT rights. She was known for reaching out to the Unionist people of Northern Ireland and trying to maintain peace between the two main religions in Ireland. She has liberal views regarding female priests and LGBT people despite being a practicing Catholic. She presided over the first visit of a UK monarch to Ireland in a hundred years in 2011 when she welcomed Queen Elizabeth II.

  • 100% Adoration Rating: Like the Mary before her, she was an extremely popular and liked.
  • The Heretic: Some people, such as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin (of course) saw her as this for taking communion in a Church of Ireland cathedral in 1997, even though the majority of Irish people approved of it.
    • The Archbishop of Boston in 1998, Bernard Francis Law criticised her attempts at peace with the protestants and effectively called her a disgrace when he met her back then. They had a heated argument about it at the time.

    9. Michael D. Higgins  
Years: 2011 — Party: Labour Party

Michael Daniel Higgins (b 1941) is the ninth and current president. He won the extremely bitter and divisive election in October 2011 by a large margin. Since coming to office, he has been vocal about a lot of issues. He also met the Queen on the first state visit to the UK of an Irish head of state since independence in 2014.

Oireachtas (Legislature)

The Oireachtas ("urr-okh-tass"; Parliament) is composed of:

  • A lower house entitled Dáil Éireann ("dawl air-rin"; Assembly of Ireland; also referred in English in the Constitution as a 'House of Representatives').
    • This Dáil contains of 166 TDs (Teachta Dála = Assembly Delegate; "chokta dawla"; referred to in English as 'Deputy' eg 'Deputy Martin', 'Deputy Adams') elected for five-year terms and is far more important. Due to a very powerful party whip system, virtually all Dáil votes are decided in advance and so debate in the chambers of Leinster House is turgid and minimal. Most TDs are stereotyped as mainly concerning themselves with performing piffling services for their constituents in the hope of re-election and possible promotion to junior minister or minister while the Taoiseach, Cabinet and various vested interests decide amongst themselves what the country really needs.

  • An upper house entitled Seanad Éireann ("shannud air-rin"; Senate of Ireland)
    • The Senate (60 Senators) has only delaying powers and is largely powerless, comparable to the UK's House Of Lords. There was a referendum in October 2013 by the current government to decide whether or not to abolish it, which was won by the 'No' side; it will remain (although whether or not the Taoiseach will reform it to make it more democratic and relevant remains to be seen).
      • 43 Senators are elected by five 'vocational panels' — Administrative, Agricultural, Cultural and Educational, Industrial and Commercial, and Labour. In theory, these are women and men with special knowledge and abilities in their areas — in practice, they are almost all party hacks; either failed general election candidates or young guns who stand a chance of a Dáil seat at the next general election. This is made inevitable by the fact that the electorate for these seats are City and County Councillors, members of the new Dáil and members of the outgoing Seanad.
      • 6 Senators are elected by university graduates; 3 from the University of Dublin and 3 from the National University of Ireland. There is no representation, therefore, for the University of Limerick or Dublin City University (DCU) since these two institutions didn't exist at the time that the Constitution was written (Other recently created colleges, such as NUI Maynooth, are able to vote thanks to their 'National University of Ireland status' — this 'NUI' doesn't refer to any particular institutions but is a sort of federation that encompasses Galway, UCD, the aforementioned Maynooth and many other universities around the country).
      • 11 Senators are nominated by the Taoiseach, ensuring a comfortable government majority. Can lead to obvious 'jobs for the boys'. Notably, in the 2007 Seanad, Eoghan Harris was nominated having made a heartfelt plea for Bertie Ahern's re-election as Taoiseach seven days before the election whilst Ivor Callely was nominated despite a) receiving a free paint-job on his house from a business crony, b) losing a Dáil election in 2007 and c) losing a Seanad election in 2007.

Government (Executive)

A majority of TDs elects a Taoiseach ("tee-shokh", Prime Minister) who appoints a Tánaiste ("taw-nish-ta"; deputy PM) and a Cabinet of (currently) 14 Ministers who lead the government departments and form the executive branch. All ministers must be Oireachtas members, no more than two of which can be Senators. There are also 15 Ministers of State ('junior ministers'). The constitution places three limits on executive power: the Cabinet may not declare war or ratify treaties without the Dáil's approval, and, obviously, the Cabinet cannot disobey the constitution.

The current senior ministers and junior ministers (in sub-bullets) are:

  • Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
    • Minister of State for Trade and Development
    • Minister of State for European Affairs
  • Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
    • Minister of State for Food, Horticulture and Food Safety
  • Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking part of Ireland)
    • Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs
  • Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
  • Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
    • Minister of State for the NewERA Project (a government economic stimulus plan) (also with the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government)
  • Minister for Education and Skills
    • Minister of State for Research and Innovation (also with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation)
    • Minister of State for Training and Skills
  • Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government
    • Minister of State for Housing and Planning
    • Minister of State for the NewERA Project (a government economic stimulus plan) (also with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources)
  • Minister for Finance
    • Minister of State for Public Service Reform and the Office of Public Works (also with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform)
  • Minister for Health
    • Minister of State for Primary Care
    • Minister of State for Disability, Equality and Mental Health
  • Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
    • Minister of State for Small Business
    • Minister of State for Research and Innovation (also with the Department of Education and Skills)
  • Minister for Justice and Equality
  • Minister for Defence
    • Minister of State at the Department of Defence
  • Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
    • Minister of State for Public Service Reform and the Office of Public Works (also with the Department of Finance)
  • Minister for Social Protection
  • Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
    • Minister of State for Tourism and Sport
    • Minister of State for Public and Commuter Transport

On the 9 March 2011, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, the two biggest winners in the late February election, formed a coalition government. Their political differences were well highlighted during the election campaign and it remains to be seen what compromises they make in government.

Historical Taoisigh:
  • W.T. Cosgrave (Cumann na nGaedhael; previously pro-treaty Sinn Féin) note 
  • Eamon DeValera (FF; previously Sinn Féin, then anti-treaty Sinn Féin)
  • John A. Costello (FG; previously Cumann na nGaedhael)
  • Seán Lemass (FF; previously Sinn Féin, then anti-treaty Sinn Féin)
  • Jack Lynch (FF)
  • Liam Cosgrave (FG) (Son of W.T. Cosgrave)
  • Charlie Haughey (FF)
  • Garret FitzGerald (FG)
  • Albert Reynolds (FF)
  • John Bruton (FG)
  • Bertie Ahern (FF)
  • Brian Cowen (FF)
  • Enda Kenny (FG)

Political parties

Unlike many other countries, the largest political parties in Ireland are not based in any particular ideology. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the only two parties to have ever provided the Taoiseach, are derived historically from the Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty factions of Sinn Féin during the Irish Civil War, and have since crystallized into what are best described as political machines. Both are characterized as being on the Right, with Fine Gael being slightly more conservative and having developed a more socially-oriented ideology, while Fianna Fáil is identified as being more free-market. Theoretically, anyway.

  • Fine Gael ("finnuh gale"; "Tribe of Gaels/Family of the Irish") (69 TDs, 18 Sen, 4 MEPs, 558 local) is a right-of-centre Christian Democrat party espousing business interests and neoliberalism. Historically drawn from Sinn Féin members supporting the Anglo-Irish Treaty who called themselves Cumann na nGaedhael ("Society of the Gaels"), who merged with the National Centre Party and the National Guard (the quasi-fascist "Blueshirts") to form Fine Gael in 1933.
  • Labour Party (Páirtí an Lucht Oibre) (33 TDs, 11 Sen, 2 MEPs, 230 local) is a left-of-centre social democrat party. Affiliated with several trade unions, including Ireland's biggest union SIPTU. Founded in 1912, absorbed Democratic Left in 1999. Historically firm allies of Fine Gael—every Fine Gael government thus far has included Labour as either the sole or the largest junior coalition partner—despite their (theoretically) vast ideological differences; Fine Gael's social orientation tempers disagreements somewhat.
  • Fianna Fáil ("fee-anna fawl"; "Warriors of Ireland") (19 TDs, 14 Sen, 3 MEPs, 406 local) is a right-wing populist republican party which has ruled the country for most of its existence; it was most recently in power from June 1997 to March 2011. Historically drawn from Sinn Féin members opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which established the Irish Free State, in modern times it has become synonymous with the corrupt élite who had an all-too-close relationship with property developers and senior bankers, fuelling the implosion of the Irish property bubble and the near-collapse of the State. Jokes about "fail" are understandably rather common (if memory serves, even The Economist has gotten in on the action).
  • Sinn Féin ("shin fane"; "Ourselves") (RoI: 14 TDs, 3 Sen, 127 local; in NI: 5 MPs, 29 MLAs, 1 MEP, 138 local) is a left-wing republican party with "close ties" to the Provisional IRA. With the reversal of the Green's policy on the EU, Sinn Féin is now the only Eurosceptic political party in the country with representation in the Dáil. Had a remarkably good time of the 2011 elections, picking up nine seats and becoming the fourth-largest party in the Dáil.
  • United Left Alliance (ULA; Comhaontas Aontaithe an Chlé): left-wing alliance consisting of:
    • The Socialist Party (Páirtí Sóisialach) (1 TD, 1 MEP, 6 local) is a Trotskyist party with considerable support in North Dublin and a Member of the European Parliament.
    • Workers and Unemployed Action Group (1 TD, 7 local): mainly based in Co. Tipperary.
    • People Before Profit Alliance (Comhaontas na nDuine in aghaidh an Brabús) (1 TD, 4 local) is an electoral coalition with five councillors sitting on the various local government bodies in Dublin. It consists almost entirely of members of the Socialist Workers Party.
  • New Vision: a loose grouping of reformist independents. (1 TD)
  • The Green Party (Comhaontas Glas) (13 local) is an environmentalist party, founded 1981. Until relatively recently it had a vocal eurosceptic wing but is now strongly pro-The European Union. Had a ridiculously bad time of the 2011 elections; having been Fianna Fáil's coalition partners, they found themselves totally wiped out.
  • Workers' Party of Ireland (Páirtí na nOibrithe) (2 local): a Marxist-Leninist party, formerly known as Sinn Féin the Workers Party and historically linked to the Official IRA.
  • South Kerry Independent Alliance (2 local): made up of ex-Labour Party members.
  • Communist Party of Ireland: a Marxist-Leninist party.
  • Seniors Solidarity Party (Páirtí Dlúthpháirtíochta leis an Aosta): a party agitating on behalf of over-60s.
  • Socialist Workers Party (Páirtí na nOibrithe Sóisialacha): another Trotskyist party.
  • Christian Solidarity Party (An Comhar Críostaí): a pro-life Roman Catholic party.
  • Republican Sinn Féin (Sinn Féin Poblachtach): an extremist republican party linked to the Continuity IRA.
  • Independent politicians play a large role in Irish politics, making up 27 TDs, 13 Sen, and 2 MEPs.

Historical parties

  • Progressive Democrats (An Páirtí Daonlathach): the P Ds were a neoliberal group who split from Fianna Fáil in 1984 due to opposition to Charlie Haughey, and disbanded in 2009.
  • Clann na Poblachta ("Family of the People") (1946-69): an extremist republican party.
  • Farmers' Party (1922-32): an agrarian party.
  • Clann na Talmhan ("Family of the Land") (1938-65): an agrarian party.
  • Democratic Left (Daonlathas Clé) (1992-99): Socialist party which split from the Workers' Party and later joined the Labour Party.
  • Irish Parliamentary Party (Páirtí Parlaiminteach na hÉireann) (1874-1921): arguably the most important political party in Irish history. Founded by Isaac Butt and later led by Charles Stuart Parnell, "Uncrowned King of Ireland". Also provided many innovations to British politics, having the first effective whip (Richard Power) and also paid stipends to MPs from party funds, meaning that they didn't have to be independently wealthy to be in the House Of Commons. Led the Land League, then were disastrously split by Parnell's affair with a married women. A reunited party led by John Redmond led the campaign for Home Rule, but after the 1916 Easter Rising the party was eclipsed by Sinn Féin. In 1921, a rump formed the Nationalist Party and gradually disintegrated.
  • Repeal Association (1832-47): led by Daniel O'Connell, aimed to repeal the 1800 Act of Union and create an independent Kingdom of Ireland, separate from the UK but (probably) in personal union with Britain (i.e. sharing the same monarch). The idea would be to return the situation to how they were before the Act of Union, but with minimal British meddling in Irish affairs and (of course) Catholic Emancipation.

Judiciary

Ireland's court system is centralised at the Four Courts (na Ceithre Chúirt) in Dublin — these originally (in 1802) were the Chancery, King's Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas; today the Four Courts are the Supreme Court, High Court, Central Criminal Court and Dublin Circuit Court.

Judges are appointed by the Government, but once appointed cannot be removed, and the Constitution prevents the Government from cutting their salaries as a punishment for "disobedience".

  • Supreme Court (Cúirt Uachtarach) (9 judges)
    • Court of Criminal Appeal (Cúirt Achomhaire Choiriúil; 3 judges — one from Supreme Court, two from High Court)
    • Special Criminal Court (Cúirt Choiriúil Speisialta) (used in organised crime and terrorist crimes; 3 judges — one each from the Supreme, Circuit and District Courts)
  • Court of Appeal (An Chúirt Achomhairc)
    • A new court which will be formed sometime in the future as a result of the 33rd Amendment. It will hear appeals from the High Court, thus taking some of the burden off the Supreme Court, except in cases of public interest or in the interest of justice.
  • High Court (Ard-Chúirt) (32 judges max.)
  • Circuit Court (Cúirt Chuarda) (8 circuits, 33 judges)
  • District Court (Cúirt Dúiche) (63 judges)

Local Government

There are county councils representing the 26 traditional counties, except that County Dublin is divided into Fingal County, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County and South Dublin County; County Tipperary is split into South and North; and the cities of Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford are administrated separately to their counties.

There are also five borough councils (Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo, Wexford) and 67 town councils — the awarding of 'town' status is very haphazard: an extreme example — Ballybay, Co. Monaghan; Lismore, Co. Longford; and Granard, Co. Waterford all have populations under 1,000 and are all legally towns and have town councils, but Celbridge, Co. Kildare (pop. 17,000) is still legally a village and does not have a town council.

In any case, local government has progressively lost control over services to national and regional bodies. For instance, local control of education has largely been passed to Vocational Education Committees (Coistí Gairm Oideachais), whilst other bodies such as the Department of Education and Science (Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta) still hold significant powers. In 1970 local government lost its health remit, which had been already eroded by the creation of the Department of Health in 1947, to the Health Board system, and later the 2004 creation of the Health Service Executive (Feidhmeannacht na Serbhíse Sláinte). In the 1990s the National Roads Authority (Údarás urn Bóithre Náisiúnta) took overall authority for national roads projects, supported by local authorities who maintain the non-national roads system. In 1993 the Environmental Protection Agency (Gníomhaireacht um Chaomhnú Comhshaoil) was established to underpin a more proactive and co-ordinated national and local approach to protecting the environment. An Bord Pleanála ("the Planning Board") was seen as another inroad into local government responsibilities. Additionally, the trend has been to remove decision-making from elected councillors to full-time professionals and officials. In particular, every city and county has a manager, who is the chief executive but is also a public servant appointed by the Public Appointments Service, and is thus answerable to the national government as well as the local council. Therefore, local policy decisions are often heavily influenced by the TDs who represent the local constituency in the Dáil, and may be dictated by national politics rather than local needs.

Local government bodies now have responsibility for such matters as planning, local roads, sanitation, and libraries. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has responsibility for local authorities and related services.

Fiction depicting Irish politics:

See also:
Irish NewspapersUsefulNotes/IrelandPrime Ministers of Ireland
French Political SystemUseful NotesJapanese Political System

alternative title(s): Irish Political System
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