Ireland is a stable democracy in which political rights and civil liberties are respected and defended. There is some limited societal discrimination, especially against the traditionally nomadic Irish Travellers. Corruption scandals have plagued the police force, and domestic violence remains a problem.
- The Electoral Reform Bill, which will establish Ireland’s first independent Electoral Commission, became law in July.
- A government action plan to tackle corruption within Ireland’s police force, An Garda Síochána, was published in September.
- The January murder of Ashling Murphy led to urgent calls to address violence against women.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The Taoiseach, or prime minister, is nominated by the House of Representatives (Dáil Éireann) and formally appointed by the president. Thus, the legitimacy of the prime minister is largely dependent on the conduct of Dáil elections, which historically have been free and fair. As agreed in the 2020 Programme for Government by the parties in the governing coalition—Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party—Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael took over as Taoiseach from Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil in December 2022.
The president is elected to up to two seven-year terms, and as chief of state has mostly ceremonial duties. Michael D. Higgins was reelected in 2018. Voting in presidential elections has historically been free and fair.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The Dáil’s 160 members are elected in multimember districts through a proportional representation system, and their terms last five years. The Senate (Seanad Éireann) contains 60 seats; 43 members are indirectly chosen through an electoral college, while 11 are selected by the Taoiseach and 6 are selected from constituencies that represent some higher education institutions.
The February 2020 Dáil election saw no major irregularities or unequal campaigning. Sinn Féin won 37 seats (24.5 percent), its best result ever, and Fianna Fáil won 38 seats (22.2 percent). Fine Gael won 35 seats (20.9 percent), and the Green Party 12 (7.1 percent).
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Ireland’s electoral framework is strong and government bodies hold credible polls. In July 2022, the government enacted the Electoral Reform Bill 2022, which establishes an independent Electoral Commission. The law also contains new measures to improve voter registration mechanisms, regulate online political advertising, and strengthen regulations around political donations.
Ireland frequently holds referendums, especially on European Union (EU) treaties.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties in Ireland are free to form and compete. Among the main parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not differ widely in ideology, despite their long history as rivals; they represent the successors of opposing sides in the nation’s 1922–23 civil war. Other key parties include Sinn Féin—a left-wing republican party that leads the opposition—the Labour Party, and the Green Party.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties generally do not encounter restrictions or harassment that affects their ability to gain power through elections, and most of the main parties have been part of government at some point in the history of the state.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, and other powerful groups.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Women are underrepresented, holding 23.1 percent of the Dáil’s seats. Women are visible in electoral politics, however, with Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats both having female leaders.
Taoiseach Varadkar is gay and the son of an Indian immigrant.
While ethnic minority and marginalized groups are generally free to participate in politics, Irish Travellers and Roma have little representation. Travellers were formally recognized as an Indigenous ethnic group in 2017, the same year a National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) was launched. A review of the NTRIS was due in 2021 but remained uncompleted at the end of 2022.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Elected officials freely determine government policy.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Ireland has a recent history of problems with political corruption but has introduced anticorruption legislation in recent years. The Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 modernized and consolidated existing anticorruption laws, though critics claimed that the legislation did not adequately address bribery.
Scandals involving An Garda Síochána have raised concerns about a lack of safeguards against police corruption. In September 2022, in conjunction with the Justice Department, An Garda Síochána published an action plan to tackle corruption in the police force, building on work done by the Garda Anti-Corruption Unit.
A new law protecting whistleblowers, the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022 was enacted in July 2022.
A multiagency review group examining anticorruption and antifraud structures was established after the government completed a 2017 study of white-collar crime. In April 2021, the Justice Department published an implementation plan based on the group’s recommendations, which included the establishment of an anticorruption advisory council.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
The public has broad access to official information under the 2014 Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, though partial exemptions remain for the police and some other agencies. A Transparency Code requires open records on the groups and individuals that advise public officials on policy. A comprehensive review of FOI legislation is ongoing.
In June 2022, the government enacted the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022, which provides survivors and their relatives with access to birth and other records of people who lived in abusive, Church-run “Mother and Baby Homes” during the 20th century.
The government has been criticized for failing to consult meaningfully with civil society groups and relevant stakeholders in policy formulation, particularly regarding the Roma, Travellers, and people living with disabilities.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Irish media are free and independent, and present a variety of viewpoints. However, the media sector is highly concentrated, with one company—Independent News and Media—controlling much of the newspaper market.
Ireland’s restrictive defamation laws continue to receive criticism. In March 2022, the Justice Minister received government approval to reform the Defamation Act 2009; an amendment bill was in preparation late in the year. Sinn Féin has been accused by rival parties of the strategic use of defamation cases against broadcast outlets to quash negative press, and in May 2022, the Index on Censorship issued a media freedom alert with the Council of Europe (CoE) regarding one such case.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed. Although religious oaths are still required from senior public officials, there is no state religion, and adherents of other faiths face few impediments to religious expression. In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has notably declined in the public eye, following a series of sexual abuse and other scandals involving the Church and its clergy.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is respected. The Roman Catholic Church operates approximately 90 percent of Ireland’s schools, most of which include religious education from which parents may exempt their children. The constitution requires equal funding for schools run by different denominations.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
There are no significant impediments to open and free private discussion, including in personal online communications. However, Ireland’s national identity card, the Public Services Card (PSC), has elicited controversy due to data storage and privacy concerns. In December 2021, the government acceded to a finding by the Irish Data Protection Commission that the PSC could not be made a mandatory requirement for accessing services. The government also agreed to make changes to the way it processes card data.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The right to assemble freely is respected, and peaceful demonstrations are held each year.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of association is upheld, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can operate freely.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Labor unions operate without hindrance, and collective bargaining is legal and unrestricted.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
Ireland has a generally independent judiciary and a legal system based on common law. The Judicial Council, a body which promotes judicial excellence, good conduct, and judicial independence, began operating in 2020 and adopted judicial conduct and ethics guidelines in February 2022.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
Due process generally prevails in civil and criminal matters. However, the police force has been affected by repeated corruption scandals in recent years.
A Special Criminal Court (SCC) has functioned since 1972 to hear cases related to paramilitary violence committed during the period of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has called for the SCC’s abolition, noting that it does not employ a jury and can consider secret evidence, as has the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
Irish prisons and detention facilities are frequently dangerous, unsanitary, overcrowded, and ill-equipped for prisoners with mental illness. In its most recent annual report, published in September 2022, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons reported that COVID-19-related periods of isolation negatively affected prisoners via a lack of family contact and limited access to rehabilitation and educational services. A prisoner died in August 2022 following an attack by a group of inmates at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison. The killing was investigated by the Irish Prison Service and An Garda Síochána, and in November four prisoners were arrested in the case.
A series of official inquiries in recent years have detailed decades of past physical, sexual, and emotional abuse—including forced labor—of women and children in state institutions and by Catholic priests and nuns from the early 20th century until 1996, as well as collusion to hide the abuse. The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes reported “appalling level[s] of infant mortality” and discrimination against residents when it published its final report in January 2021. Then Taoiseach Martin offered an official apology that month. An €800-million ($950-million) redress scheme for survivors was announced in November 2021, but 24,000 survivors who spent less than six months in homes or were “boarded out” were excluded. In 2022, both the Children’s Committee of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) and the UN Human Rights Committee called on the government to remove this exemption.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
While existing legislation bans hate speech, Ireland lacks comprehensive hate-crime laws, and NGOs have criticized existing laws as dated and ineffective. The government proposed much-anticipated legislation in April 2021, which was working its way through parliament at the end of 2022.
Supranational bodies have criticized ethnic discrimination within Ireland. In 2020, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that two-thirds of Irish Travellers and Roma face discrimination. The CoE called a 2017–21 inclusion strategy for both groups ineffective in a 2019 report. A 2020 survey of Gardaí (police officers) revealed that not a single respondent had a favorable view of the Traveller community. Another study released in June 2022 alleged institutional racism against Travellers within the force.
A new action plan to widen Traveller and Roma participation in higher education was announced in 2022, with the detailed plan published in August. In July 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee urged the government to develop further specific action plans on Traveller and Roma mental health, employment, and enterprise.
People with disabilities face housing issues, are persistently institutionalized, and have suffered a severe reduction of social benefits in recent years. The 2021 Annual Report from the IHREC, released in July 2022, showed that the most common reason that people contacted the commission related to services and employment was to raise concerns about disability discrimination.
Irish law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but some social stigma against LGBT+ people persists. Several alleged hate crimes against members of the LGBT+ community took place in 2022. They included the murders of two men in their Sligo homes in separate incidents in April 2022, and an apparent homophobic assault on a man in Dublin the same month.
The asylum application process is complex, and asylum seekers can be housed for lengthy periods in poor living conditions in a system known as Direct Provision. In February 2021, the government published a white paper on replacing Direct Provision with a new model by the end of 2023.
The 2015 International Protection Law expedites asylum procedures but focuses on enabling deportations rather than identifying and processing cases. In a July 2021 report, the Irish Refugee Council highlighted extensive delays for protection-process applicants.
Discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender is illegal, though there is still a substantial gender pay gap.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
There are ordinarily no restrictions on travel or the ability to change one’s place of residence, employment, or education.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Private businesses are free to operate, and property rights are generally respected.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals in Ireland have gained expanded social freedoms in recent years. In a 2015 referendum, voters extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. That same year, the Children and Family Relationships Act extended adoption rights to same-sex and cohabiting heterosexual couples, and the Gender Recognition Act allowed transgender individuals to obtain legal recognition without medical or state intervention, and—for married transgender people—without divorcing. In a 2018 referendum, voters abolished a constitutional amendment that made nearly all abortions illegal, and health providers began performing abortions in 2019.
In 2019, Ireland enacted the Domestic Violence Act 2018, which criminalized forms of emotional and psychological abuse. However, domestic and sexual violence against women remain serious problems, and marginalized and immigrant women have particular difficulty accessing support. In January 2022, the killing of 23-year-old teacher and musician Ashling Murphy while she was jogging outside in Tullamore led to widespread condemnation of violence against women in Ireland. According to Safe Ireland, a women and children’s advocacy group, 11 more women were murdered in Ireland over the course of the year. Justice Minister Helen McEntee in August 2022 announced that new antistalking legislation as well as other measures addressing gender-based violence would be introduced and enacted before the end of the year, but they were still before the Dáil at year’s end.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||4.004 4.004|
People generally enjoy equality of opportunity. Workers have rights and protections under employment legislation. Although the government works to combat human trafficking and protect victims, undocumented migrant workers remain at risk of trafficking and labor exploitation.
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