Name of State
The Irish Constitution provides that the name of the State is Éire or in the English language, Ireland. The Republic of Ireland Act of 1948 provides for the description of the State as the Republic of Ireland but this provision has not changed the use of ‘Ireland’ as the name of the State in the English language.
Island of Ireland
The geographical island of Ireland contains two separate legal jurisdictions comprising the sovereign independent state of Ireland comprising 26 counties located to the south, east, west and north-west of the island, while Northern Ireland comprises the remaining six counties to the north-east of the island, under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.
Article 8 of the Irish Constitution makes the following affirmation:
- The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.
- The English language is recognised as a second official language.
More information about the Irish Language, is available in the Schools Project Corner .
The national flag is a tricolour of green, white and orange. The flag is rectangular in shape, the width being twice the depth. The three colours are of equal size with the green next to the staff. More information about the Irish Flag, is available in the Schools Project Corner .
The harp has been regarded as the official symbol or coat of arms of Ireland since medieval times. The heraldic harp is used by the Government, its agencies and its representatives at home and abroad. It is engraved on the seal matrix of the Office of the President as well as on the obverse of all coinage. It features on the Irish euro coins. More information about the Irish Emblem, is available in the Schools Project Corner .
The text of Amhrán na bhFiann (Soldiers Song), consisting of three stanzas and a chorus, was written by Peadar Kearney who also composed the music together with Patrick Heeney. The chorus was formally adopted as the National Anthem in
1926. A section of the National Anthem (consisting of the first four bars followed by the last five) is also the Presidential Salute. More information about the National Anthem, is available in the Schools Project Corner .
The National Day
Saint Patrick’s Day, (17 March) is the National Day. Tradition holds that it was the use of the shamrock (a green trefoil) by Saint Patrick when preaching in Ireland, which led to its adoption as an Irish symbol. More information about the National Day, is available in the Schools Project Corner .
Ireland is a parliamentary democracy. Its law is based on common law and legislation enacted by the Irish Parliament under the Constitution. In addition, regulations and directives enacted by the European Union have the force of law in Ireland. EU regulations become part of national law and are enforceable in national courts immediately once they come into force. They do not need to be brought in by any national legislation.
EU Directives require Member States to implement national legislation to achieve a specific result and must, therefore be transposed into Irish legislation.
The Constitution of Ireland sets out the form of government and defines the powers and functions of the President, both Houses of the Oireachtas (National Parliament) and the Government. It also defines the structure and powers of the Courts and outlines the fundamental rights of citizens. The definition of rights covers five broad headings: Personal Rights, The Family, Education, Private Property and Religion.
The President is the Head of State. Where there is more than one candidate for the office, the people elect the President by direct vote. A President may only serve for two terms. President Mary McAleese was elected in November 1997 and began her second seven-year term in November 2004. More information about the President, is available in the Schools Project Corner .
There are fifteen Government Departments each headed by a Minister who collectively form the Government. Executive power is exercised by or on the authority of the Government, which is responsible to the Dáil (House of Representatives). The Head of the Government is the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) while the Tánaiste is the Deputy Prime Minister. More information about the Taoiseach, is available in the Schools Project Corner .
There are two Houses of Parliament, known as Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives) and Seanad Éireann (Senate). The Dáil has 166 members known as Teachtí Dála (TD). They are elected on a system of proportional representation by universal suffrage. Elections take place at least once every five years. The most recent General Election was held in 2007. The political parties represented in the Dáil are Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Progressive Democrats. (The present government, formed in June 2007, is made up of a coalition between Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats, supported by a number of independent members of the Dáil.)
The Seanad has 60 members, eleven of whom are nominated by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) while the rest are elected from a number of vocational panels and by graduates of universities. The Seanad may initiate or revise legislation, but the Dáil has the power to reject any such amendments or proposed legislation.
Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party has 79 elected members in the Dáil (elected in June 2007) and 4 elected Members of the European Parliament. It operates as part of the ‘Union for Europe’ group in the European Parliament. It describes itself as a broadly centrist party whose aims include securing, in peace and agreement, the unity and independence of Ireland, and the development of a distinct national life in accordance with the diverse traditions of the Irish people.
It has been the largest party in Dáil Éireann since 1932, and has formed the government seven times since Ireland gained independence in 1921.
Fine Gael, the second largest party, has 51 elected members in the Dáil (elected in June 2007) and 5 elected Members of the European Parliament. It describes itself as the party of the "progressive centre", with core values focused on fiscal rectitude, free enterprise and reward, individual rights and responsibilities. They are strongly pro-EU integration and operate as part of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament.
The Labour Party is affiliated to the Socialist International Party and is a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the European Parliament. It seeks to build a society free from deprivation and based on the principles of democracy, equity, participation and co-operation.
The Green Party is a political party associated with Green Parties in over 30 other countries. It stands for protection of the environment, community decision-making, freedom of information, open government and peace through disarmament. The Green Party motto is ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’. The Party is represented at local, national and European Parliament level.
Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. Its objectives are the reunification of Ireland, political independence and national sovereignty.
The Progressive Democrats was established with the aim of providing Ireland with a modern, forward-looking liberal party in the European mould and is working to develop the role of the State in the economic and social life of the country.
Government of Ireland
President of Ireland
The local government system is administered by 114 local authorities and is undergoing a process of renewal and reform.
The services provided by the local authorities can be described under eight main headings:
- housing and building;
- road transportation and safety;
- water supply and sewerage;
- development incentives and controls;
- environmental protection and waste management;
- recreation and amenity;
- education, health and welfare, and
- miscellaneous services.
Education, health and welfare services are however primarily delivered at local level by other public agencies. The local government reform programme has seen local government expand its community development role and widen its sphere of influence in locally delivered public services. Local government is funded partly by central government and partly by local sources including motor tax proceeds, rates (on commercial property) and local charges such as refuse, rents and so on.
There are eight regional authorities and two regional assemblies whose members are nominated by local authorities. Their main tasks are to promote public service co-ordination and to monitor and advise on EU structural and cohesion funding programmes.
The regional assemblies in addition are the managing authorities for the Regional Operational Programme under the National Development Plan.
Irish law is based on Common Law as modified by subsequent legislation and by the Constitution of 1937. In accordance with the Constitution, justice is administered in public by courts established by law. The President appoints judges on the advice of the Government. Judges are usually senior practising lawyers. Summary offences and minor civil cases are dealt with by the District Court presided over by a District Judge. More serious cases are heard by the Circuit Court, presided over by a judge who sits with a jury of twelve citizens in criminal cases. The most serious cases are heard by the High Court, presided over by a judge; when trying criminal cases it sits with a jury and is known as the Central Criminal Court. The court of final appeal is the Supreme Court which is also the final arbiter on the interpretation of the Constitution.
Police and Defence Forces
The national police force, An Garda Síochána, was established in 1922. The general direction, management and control of the service is, subject to regulations made by the Minister of Justice, Equality, Law and Reform, vested in a Commissioner appointed by the Government.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which opened its public offices on May 9th 2007, is responsible for receiving and dealing with all complaints made by members of the public concerning the conduct of members of the Garda Síochána. The Garda Ombudsman’s mission is to provide the public with an independent and effective oversight of policing, and to deal with the public’s complaints concerning Gardaí fairly and efficiently so that everyone can have confidence in the complaints system.
An Garda Síochána is unarmed with the exception of some specialized units. The crime detection rate is comparable to that of other European countries. Since 1989, An Garda Síochána have served in numerous United Nations (UN) missions around the world. They have also served under the EU flag in the former Yugoslavia, Macedonia and Eastern Slavonia and have provided monitors for the South African and Palestine elections.
The Permanent Defence Forces, which include the regular Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, operate under the auspices of the Department of Defence. The Department is also responsible for the general planning, organisation and co-ordination of Civil Defence measures. Recruitment to the Permanent Defence Forces is voluntary. The Defence Forces have extensive peacekeeping experience and have served with the UN all over the world since 1958.
The longest-running mission is with UNIFIL in Lebanon where the Army committed in excess of 30,000 tours of duty since 1978. Defence Forces personnel have served, and continue to serve, in a number of other UN and UN led missions in areas such as Cyprus, the Middle East, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Afghanistan and, most recently, Chad.
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
Garda Síochána (Irish Police)
Department of Defence
Irish Defence Forces