Ireland Government and Politics

State and politics

Ireland Country Flag

Reference: Ireland Flag Meaning

According to the Constitution (from 1937), Ireland is a “sovereign, independent, democratic state”. Officially, Ireland became a Republic in 1949 when the country left the Commonwealth and thus broke the ties with the British Crown.

According to, Irish politics has long been dominated by two center – right parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Through various coalition governments they have alternately ruled Ireland since 1932.

The country’s president is elected for seven years and has mainly ceremonial duties. The Irish Parliament consists of the President and two chambers. Its Senate has 60 members elected for five years. The legislative power is exercised by the Chamber of Deputies. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of IE and its meanings of Ireland.


When the Constitution was adopted in 1937, it was stated to cover the whole of Ireland, but pending reunification with Northern Ireland “for the time being” would only apply to the Republic of Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Peace Agreement 1998 (The Good Friday Agreement) meant that the Republic gave up the requirement for Northern Ireland to be incorporated into its territory. In a referendum in May of the same year, 90 per cent of the Irish supported their constitutional change. A number of joint institutions for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (“Good Friday Institutions”) coordinate the activities in a variety of social sectors. Officially, Ireland became the republic only in 1949 when it left the Commonwealth and thus broke the ties with the British crown. Ireland has been a member of the European Union since 1973.

The President of Ireland is elected for seven years and can only stand for re-election once more. The head of state has mainly representation tasks but can, among other things, request that the Supreme Court decide whether a bill is compatible with the constitution. In 2011, former Social Democratic politician Michael D. Higgins was elected president. He also ran for re-election in 2018 and then received 56 percent of the vote, which is the highest vote count in Irish presidential elections.

The legislative power is held by the Irish Parliament, Oireachtas, which consists of the president and two chambers. The main legislative power lies with the elected Chamber of Deputies, Dáil Éireann. Its 158 members (or 157 because the President can exercise his right to remain in office) are elected for a term of five years. Distribution of mandates takes place according to the system “single transferable vote”, which means that the voter can rank candidates in the order of preference. The voter ranks the candidates regardless of their party affiliation. Persons without party names are also eligible.

In the voting summary, the vote is primarily given to the candidate who is ranked highest. If they have already received enough votes to be elected, or have not passed a percentage block and have been eliminated, the vote is transferred to the candidate in place two and so on. As the Irish electoral system means that election elections are held when a member resigns during the term of office, Parliament’s composition can be changed during the term of office. This may affect the basis for the government.

The voting rights age is 18 years, but discussions on a reduction to 16 years have been held.

In addition to Irish citizens, British citizens also have the right to vote in elections to local parishes and Dáil Éireann. However, the rights are limited and British citizens are not allowed to take part in presidential elections and referendums.

At the 2016 parliamentary elections, a new quota system was tried for the first time in order to increase equality in the political sphere. The condition was that at least 30 percent of the members of a particular party would be women and men respectively. If that condition was not met, the party could lose half of its state party support. The demand was effective and the proportion of women in the new parliament increased from 15 percent to 22 percent.

The Senate, Séanad Éireann, has 60 members appointed for five years at a time. The Prime Minister nominates eleven members. The country’s university appoints six candidates. Others are nominated by various corporate interest groups in areas such as language, culture, education and business and others. These are in turn appointed by an electoral assembly consisting of former members of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, as well as representatives of city and regional councils. To be a candidate you must be at least 21 years old. No later than 90 days after Dáil Éireann is dissolved before a new election, a new Senate shall be elected.

The country’s government has the executive power. The government is led by the Prime Minister (Taoiseach). The government may consist of at least seven and a maximum of fifteen ministers. Of these, at least thirteen must be members of the Chamber of Deputies. At the local level, politics is shaped by elected parishes. The system has been reformed to provide more economically and administratively efficient units.

As all constitutional amendments must be approved by voters, Ireland has conducted a series of referendums. The turnout in a parliamentary election is usually about 70 percent. In referendums, the variation is greater.


The fundamental difference between the country’s dominant parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael was previously the view on how the Irish would wage the freedom struggle against Britain in the early 1900s. Fianna Fáil’s followers wanted to break the relationship completely, while Fine Gael’s sympathizers wanted a smoother transition to self-government. They also accepted that the Northern counties continued to be British. Today, the parties’ politics are closely related to most issues.

Fine Gael (‘The tribe of Celts’) is a center-right party with clear elements of Christian democracy and economic liberalism. They are also EU positive. Voter support is strongest among entrepreneurs, officials, intellectuals and big farmers.

Fianna Fáil (‘Fighter’s Fate’) is a liberal/ conservative and Republican party that has historically had the strongest support in the countryside and among the working class of cities. However, more and more voters from the middle class dare to join the party.

The Labor Party (Irish Páirti and Lucht Oibre) is a traditional social democratic party with strong links to the trade union movement. The party has its main support among industrial workers.

Sinn Fein (‘We ourselves’) has been seen as closely linked to the IRA’s political branch. The party mainly has support from left-wing supporters in cities and rural areas. Sinn Fein is not only found in Ireland. The party also has representatives in the British lower house, in the Northern Ireland Parliament and in several local parishes in Northern Ireland.

A number of smaller parties regularly make more or less successful attempts to enter the established political arena. Worth mentioning is the left-wing party AAA-PBP (Anti-Austerity Alliance – People Before Profit; Irish Chomhghuaillíocht in Aghaidh na Déine-Daoine Roimh Brabús) which has achieved some success.

The political green movement has historically not been great in Ireland but support has increased in recent elections. The Green Party (Irish Comhaontas Glass) got two seats in parliament in 2016 and increased in the 2020 election to 12, thus becoming the fourth largest party.

In the 2011 election, the political map changed when the Socialist Party, the Labor Party, became the second largest party after Fine Gael. In addition, support for Sinn Fein increased significantly. Fine Gael and the Labor Party formed a new government. The 2016 election provided a much reduced voter support for both government parties. Opposition parties Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, on the other hand, received increased voting rights, which complicated the work of forming a new government-capable coalition.

As insufficient support was provided for any of the government alternatives presented, an expedition government was appointed, pending the parties to negotiate a solution to the government crisis. Only after just over two months and in the fourth vote could Parliament, supported only by Fine Gael’s 50 members and 9 independent members, approve a minority government led by Enda Kenny.

Single Kenny continued as prime minister until June 2017 when, after harsh criticism both within his own party and from the political opposition, he chose to step down. He was replaced both as party leader and prime minister by Leo Varadkar, who thus became Ireland’s youngest head of government. His main task was to lead the government’s work to reduce any negative economic, political and social consequences of the neighboring UK decision to leave cooperation within the EU (compare Brexit).

The 2020 election to Dáil Éireann meant a departure from the dominance of the two center-right parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in Irish politics. Left-wing parties received more than 40 percent of the vote, and left-wing nationalist Sinn Féin received the most votes (24.5 percent) from all parties. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael received 22.2 percent and 20.9 percent of the votes respectively. Since none of the parties were given enough mandate to form a majority government, government formation was expected to be complicated. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been skeptical about collaborating with Sinn Féin, in part because of the party’s historical links to the IRA.

Despite Sinn Fein’s success, Fianna Fáil was ultimately assigned the most MPs (38). This is because Sinn Fein has not registered enough candidates in each electoral district to be able to take maximum advantage of the party’s voting success. Sinn Féin received 37 MPs while Fine Gael received 35. The election was also a success for The Green Party, which went from 2 MPs to 12.

The gender representation in Dáil Éireann was still skewed after the election. After the 2020 elections, just over 20 percent of the MPs were women (36 out of 160). Of the government’s fifteen ministers, four are women.

As all constitutional amendments must be approved by voters, Ireland is conducting a series of referendums. In 2015, the Irish voted in favor of the right to enter into same-sex marriage, which went through. It was also voted to lower the age limit for those who are running for office, a proposal that was not approved. The current age limit is 35 years.

In 2018, another referendum was held to modernize the country’s restrictive abortion legislation. The country had hitherto allowed abortion only in danger of women’s lives. The issue of abortion is controversial in the country, not least because of the strong position and moral authority of the Catholic Church. Jasidan won the election with just over 66 percent of the vote against the no-side’s just under 34 percent.

Parliamentary elections Ireland

Party 2020 2016 2011 Number of seats in 2020 (out of 160) Number of seats in 2016 (out of 158) Number of seats in 2011 (out of 166)
Fine Gael 20.9% 25.5% 37.1% 35 50 76
Fianna Fáil 22.2% 24.3% 17.4% 38 44 19
Labor Party 4.4% 6.6% 19.4% 6 7 37
Feel fine 24.5% 13.8% 9.9% 37 23 14
PBP AAA/Sol * 2.6% 3.9% 2.2% 5 6 0
Indep4Change 0.4% 1.5% 0 1 4 0
Socialdemocrats 2.9% 3% 0 6 3 0
Green Party 7.1% 2.7% 1.8% 12 2 0

* Former PBP-AAA.


The legal system in Ireland is closely related to the English. The judicial organization consists mainly of small court courts called District Courts, Circuit Courts, a High Court and a Supreme Court (Supreme Court). The jurisdiction of the two aforementioned bodies is, in principle, limited to less serious offenses and disputes where the value of the process object is less than certain amount limits. The decisions of the small-scale courts can be appealed to the district courts, whose judgments can be appealed to the High Court.

The latter court has unlimited jurisdiction as the first instance, and its decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court. For very serious criminal cases correspond to the High Court of the Central Criminal Court, with the possibility of appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal. In more important cases, the courts use a jury. Since 1973, the legal system in Ireland has been affected by EU membership. The death penalty was abolished in 1990; the last execution took place in 1954.

Heads of State


1938-45 Douglas Hyde
1945-59 Seán Ó Ceallaigh (O’Kelly)
1959-73 Eamon De Valera
1973-74 Erskine Childers
1974-76 Cearbhall Oh Dálaigh
1976-90 Patrick John Hillery
1990-97 Mary Robinson
1997-2011 Mary McAleese
2011- Michael D. Higgins

Prime Ministers

1922 Michael Collins *
1922-32 William Cosgrave
1932-48 Eamon De Valera
1948-51 John A. Costello
1951-54 Eamon De Valera
1954-57 John A. Costello
1957-59 Eamon De Valera
1959-66 Sean Lemass
1966-73 John (Jack) Lynch
1973-77 Liam Cosgrave
1977-79 John (Jack) Lynch
1979-81 Charles James Haughey
1981-82 Garret FitzGerald
1982 Charles James Haughey
1982-87 Garret FitzGerald
1987-92 Charles James Haughey
1992-96 Albert Reynolds
1996-97 John Bruton
1997-2008 Bertie Ahern
2008-11 Brian Cowen
2011-17 Only Kenny
2017- Leo Varadkar

* Chairman of the Provisional Government

Ireland Head of Government

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