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An island State in the east Atlantic, Ireland’s only land border is with the United Kingdom constituent country Northern Ireland. A presidential parliamentary democracy since 1937, the president is largely ceremonial head of state, while the Taoiseach, usually put forward by the party with the most votes, leads the government. While Ireland’s human rights record is generally good, long standing issues around reproductive rights, detention of children and the revelations of widespread historical abuses against women and children by church institutions have not been adequately addressed.
Ireland is an island state located to the west of Britain on the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The country shares its only land border with Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The island has a gently varied terrain, from the mountains of the east coast to the inland agricultural land broken by small hills and lakes. A third of the population live in the capital city, Dublin.
Population and language
Ireland is home to 4.5 million people, a figure that rose slowly during the mass economic emigration of the 1980s, but increased more rapidly from the mid-1990s. Since 2005, the population has been increasing at between 1.25 and 1.65 per cent per annum. The vast majority of Irish people profess Christianity as their religion, of which Roman Catholicism is the dominant denomination, accounting for 87 per cent of the population.
Irish is the first official language though English, also an official language, is almost universally spoken.
History and politics
British dominion in Ireland had long given rise to civil unrest when the the first world war broke out and home rule legislation stalled. The Easter Rising of 1916, in which a nationalist group declared independence for Ireland, was crushed by the British who executed the seven signatories to the declaration. At the end of the war the independence movement began to make more progress, and in 1922 the Anglo-Irish treaty established Ireland as a Free State, though civil war in which hundreds of people died broke out almost immediately. It was as a result of this treaty that the partition between Northern Ireland and Ireland was established. In 1937, a new Constitution abolished the Irish Free State and proclaimed Eire (the Irish word for Ireland) as a fully sovereign state separate from the United Kingdom. Between 1969 and 1998, the conflict in Northern Ireland occasionally spilled over into Ireland.
Recent developments in Irish politics have been very much intertwined with economics. In 2008, Ireland became the first country in western Europe to officially fall into recession, and as the banking crisis increased in severity, the cost of bailing out failing banks rose to a third of GDP by 2010. In November 2010, the EU and IMF agreed a joint package of €85 billion to address the country's economic difficulties, but within three months Taoiseach Brian Cowan (Prime Minister) dissolved Parliament to call an early election. The elections saw a shift to the centre-right opposition party, Fine Gael, though they were unable to secure a majority and entered into coalition with the centre-left Labour Party. The elections were significant, as they indicated a shift away from the Fianna Fail party, which had been in power for three out of every four years since Irish independence.
From independence until the 1990s, Ireland's economy suffered from high unemployment, slow growth, high inflation, heavy taxation and massive public debts. The 1990s saw a dramatic shift in national economic prospects, however, in which growth reached 10 per cent in some years, and GDP per capita went from significantly below the EU average, to 140 per cent of the EU average. The property market became particularly buoyant leading to growth in the construction industry through house building.
Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, the Irish government made the decision to guarantee bank liabilities at six financial institutions, a rescue that led to quickly escalating costs and a substantial hole in public finances. In November 2010, Ireland became the second country to accept a bail-out from the EU and IMF. The economic hardship of the recession has caused unemployment figures above 13 per cent and youth unemployment figures approaching 30 per cent. When Taoiseach Kenny took office in 2011, he pledged to re-nogotiate the EU/IMF bail-out. While this sentiment has been popular in Ireland, the international community has been sceptical of the policy. The issue may come to a head in Ireland which must hold a referendum on the EU's new fiscal treaty. Should the treaty be rejected in the referendum, Ireland would be unable to access the European Stability Mechanism, and would become ineligible for further EU/IMF funds should further loans be required when the current agreement ends in 2013.
Media and civil society
Reporters Without Borders rated Ireland 15 out of 179 countries in its Press Freedom Index of 2011/12, indicating a good situation for media freedom in the country. Nevertheless, RWB has been critical of some recent law reforms in the country, particularly the law on blasphemy that took effect in January 2010. The blasphemy law created an offence punishable by a fine up to €25,000 for spoken or published blasphemy, which it defined as “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. RWB criticised this law for its potential to allow religious groups to impose their views on others and limit free expression.
Human rights and children's rights
Ireland, as a democracy with substantial rights protections, has a generally good human rights record. Though Constitutional protection of children's rights is not currently strong, a referendum is expected in 2012 to amend the Constitution to provide greater protection for children. However, Ireland's record on children's rights has been damaged by several serious violations of children's rights. The State has been persistently criticised for its detention of children with adults in prison like conditions at St Patrick's institution. The well-documented abuse of children by members of the church throughout Ireland's recent history is another of the country's most serious children's rights violations.
- UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2011"
- Central Statistics Office Ireland, "Population classified by religion and nationality 2006"
- Constitution of Ireland, Article 8(1) and (2)
- BBC, "Fine Gael and Labour back Irish leaders' coalition deal" 6 March 2011
- The Economist, "The luck of the Irish" 14 October 2003
- The Economist, "Ireland's crash: After the race" 17 February 2011
- The Economist, "Youth unemployment: The outsiders" 5 July 2011
- BBC, "Irish to vote on EU fiscal treaty" 29 February 2012
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Making blasphemy an offence takes Europe back several centuries" 4 January 2010
- The Irish Times, "Minister insists children's rights referendum to go ahead next year" 19 December 2011
- See UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, September 2006 and RTÉ News, "Ireland: F grade for Gov't over teenage detentions" 24 January 2012
- See Amnesty International, "Abuse of children in institutions amounts to torture" 26 September 2011, The Irish Times, "Lack of accountability at the heart of abuse of children" 27 September 2011 and "Church routinely covered up child sexual abuse for 30 years" 30 November 2009
- OHCRC, "Ireland Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Ireland Country Profile"
- BBC, "Ireland Country Profile" 14 November 2011, "Ireland timeline" 14 November 2011 and news items (see footnotes)
- Central Statistics Office Ireland
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12" and news items (see footnotes)
- The Economist (see footnotes)
- The Irish Times (see footnotes)
- Amnesty International (see footnotes)