Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland is a country in the British Isles located on the island of Ireland. It was founded as a self-governing dominion associated with the United Kingdom in 1922 after guerilla war against the Crown. By 1948, through use of colonial law, the country was a fully fledged republic. It is one of the richest countries in the world, having a GDP PC PPP greater than the U.K. The parliament has two houses, the Dáil (lower house) and the Seanad (the fact it has been relocated to the Irish National History museum says it all), everybody else lives in apartments. The country is led by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister).
History with Great Britain and partition
The Kingdom of Ireland - which comprised the entire island of Ireland - was joined with the Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) on January 1, 1801, to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Before this, the King of England was also the King of Ireland, and the parliament in Dublin was presided over by the Protestant ascendancy - a class of Anglican landowners who had a monopoly of political power on the island. Although nationalist historians refer to the period 1782-1801 as that of 'Grattan's Parliament' (Named after the Liberal Henry Grattan who led a campaign to bring greater autonomy to the Dublin institution) the idea that this institution had sole political authority on the island is a nationalist myth. In 1921, Ireland was parted into Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, both of which were constituent countries of the United Kingdom. The former became the Irish Free State in December 1922, still retaining links to the United Kingdom as a dominion within the British Commonwealth, eventually becoming a fully independent republic in 1949. Northern Ireland had a devolved parliament which was dominated by the all powerful Ulster Unionist party - this dominance was exacerbated by gerrymandering, which maximised the political representation of Protestant areas at the expense of Catholic areas. The northern statelet, which was a constituent 'home nation' of the United Kingdom, had in fact a great deal of devolved political power. Over various Unionist-Protestant administrations the Belfast government instituted discriminatory laws against Northern Ireland's large Catholic minority, specifically with regards to the provision of social housing and public jobs. The 'Special Powers Act, 1922' was used almost exclusively on the Catholic/Nationalist community. The police force was almost unanimously Protestant. Tensions had been on high alert for decades but it was the Battle of the Bogside in 1969 (Derry) that kicked off the Troubles. This conflict (Between various Republican groups - primarily the Provisional IRA and various Loyalist groups/The British State) was a running sore throughout the island, shaping community relations to this day. Although most young people on either side of the Catholic/Protestant divide are de facto atheists/agnostics, the tensions remain. Historians will probably determine the end date of the troubles as 1998, the year of the Good Friday Agreement. This eventually led to a powersharing government between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party. The only way to properly understand the significance of this is to imagine Joe McCarthy being co-President with Mikhail Gorbachev at the height of the Cold War in a United States of America/Soviet Union.
The Republic of Ireland is a democracy and republic which elects Members of Parliament (Teachtaí Dáila aka TDs) to sit in a parliament (Dáil, "doyle") situated on Kildare Street in Dublin City centre. These TDs then elect the Prime Minister (Taoiseach, "teeshukh") and ensure they are performing their duties, as well as scrutinise the actions of the government.
Ireland has a bicameral system, having a Lower House (The Dáil) and a Upper House (An Seanad, which means "the Senate")
An Seanad is not elected by the public at large. The election procedure consists of nominations from the Taoiseach, University graduates and special interest groups. An Seanad has very few political powers, although it does fulfill a function in that legislation is often revised before being signed into law by the President. A recent (October 2013) attempt to abolish the Seanad, as a supposed "cost saving" measure was narrowly defeated in a referendum.
The head of state is a President (uachtaran). All presidential candidates must be nominated by 20 members of the Oireactas or receive backing from four County or City Councils but are elected by direct vote. The presidential term lasts seven years, and there is a limit of two terms on all presidents. The president is mostly a figurehead, like the Queen of England and unlike the American president, and real power rests with the Taoiseach.
The country has a written Constitution which isn't always a good thing, more than thirty referenda have been held since 1939 on various amendments and up to eleven amendments may be voted on in 2014; including same-sex marriage and a modified family court system.
Since the 2011 general election, Ireland has four big political parties: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein; there are also several smaller ones and a large number of Independents. FF and FG occupy similar positions on the political spectrum, and the original differences result from disagreement over a treaty with Britain rather than left-right issues. Labour and Sinn Fein are largely considered to be centre-left and left wing respectively. TDs are elected by a fairly elaborate system combining proportional representation with instant runoff voting which has the interesting effect that very small parties, and even independent candidates, have a decent shot at getting elected and influencing policy. The result is that coalition governments are not only common, they are pretty much expected. Elections in Ireland are a spectator sport with multiple "counts" under the PR system leading to tense moments for candidates.
The main parties are:
- Fine Gael (Irish Family, "feenuh gayl" or "gwail"): Centre right, conservative. Currently the largest party after the 2011 election. Descended from the pro-treaty forces (Cumann na nGaedheal) from the Irish Civil War. Generally centre-right though its members range from social democrats (Garret Fitzgerald, Frances Fitzgerald (it's not nepotism if it's in-laws)), neo-Thatcherites (Leo "Vlad" Vradker) to twee social conservatives (Michelle "fornication causes pregnancy" Mulherin),
- Labour: Centre left, though many of the party leadership (Including current leader Eamon Gilmore and former leader Pat Rabbite) were once leading lights in the Marxist Sinn Féin the Worker's Party (one of the numerous off-shoots of Sinn Féin over the years). To be honest, the party isn't all that different from Fine Gael, as they are close enough to form a coalition together.
- Fianna Fáil (Warriors of Destiny, "feeanna foyle"): Traditionally the biggest party, and the only one ever to have so far obtained enough of a majority of the vote to form a non-coalition government. Classic big tent party, which has been led by donkey since Sean Lemass. Presided over a severe buggering of the economy in the mid-2000s, which led to them being voted out of office in the 2011 general election.
- Sinn Féin (We Ourselves, or Ourselves Alone,"shin fayn"): A party with the stated mandate of returning the six counties of Northern Ireland from the UK to Ireland, and who also operate in the North of Ireland. Considered by many to be the political wing of the IRA, a fact which they deny. Throw in some left wing luggage and you have yourself a party. Pretty much anti everything. Leading lights in "the 26" as they sometimes refer to the Republic of Ireland include Pearse "I'm from Donegal and I'm pissed off" Doherty and Mary Toomuchtan MacDonald.
- Socialist party: Actual socialists, but have trouble persuading people to vote for them, mainly because they're the most crusty political party around. Further to the left than Leon Trotsky.
- Green Party: Centre left. A party that claims to be primarily concerned with environmental issues, but the one time they actually got into power (by going into a coalition with Fianna Fáil), they promptly ignored their ideals in order to focus on having power. Though of course they had to contend with the greatest economic crisis in the State's history shortly after taking office, so only the most blinkered and narrow minded person would expect them to harp on about windfarms and compost heaps in this context. Thankfully they performed their national duty, undertook to make spending cuts (Anathema to their political ideology) and eventually brought down the top heavy Fianna Fáil led coalition government. To suggest that their only interest was in the preservation of political power is absurd, as they could have forced an election in early 2008 when Fianna Fáil originally became so unpopular, but instead decided to keep a steady ship at a time of acute national crisis. Luckily such absurd criticisms are only articulated by people with no real understanding of Irish politics, or indeed politics as a science.
- Progressive Democrats (PDs): Neoconservative laissez-faire capitalists who worship at the feet of Ronald Reagan and think giving tax money to private schools and hospitals is a jolly good idea. Defunct as of 2009 following a disastrous (for them) coalition with Fianna Fáil. They played a disproportionately important role in Irish political life in the 1990s and 000s. Also blamed for the current economic mess the country is in, by pretty much every economist with brains.
- Libertas: A transnational party that began in Ireland and whose platform is opposing whatever EU directives get the most criticism in the country, with the result that while the Irish branch was campaigning for a tightening of border restrictions to reduce immigration, the Polish branch was simultaneously calling for more open borders to allow easier emigration. It seems to now be defunct.
Former Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton has announced plans to form a new party that will contest every constituency in the country in the upcoming general election. This news was welcomed by many due to broad dissatisfaction with the current political climate in Ireland, although Creighton has thus far only made vague statements regarding what her new party's policies will actually be.
Ireland joined the European Union's predecessor organisation in 1973. They are a full member state and they use the Euro.
The rapid growth of its economy in recent years has facilitated the decline of the Catholic Church's influence in the country, and consequently religious involvement in Irish life has decreased dramatically. However, the Church still maintains some temporal power, despite many high profile child sex abuse claims brought against Catholic Priests. This power includes a near monopoly over the education system, especially the primary school system. The dominance is so inherently unfair that Catholic schools are almost entirely funded by the state. Atheist parents in most areas have little choice but to baptise their child as a Catholic, otherwise it is extremely difficult to get the child into his/her local school. Some urban areas, such as Dublin, have religion neutral schools, but these are few and far between.
Ireland is predominantly Catholic, although Irish adherence to the doctrines of Catholicism pretty much consists of popping along to church every now and then to apologise for not going enough, and then not going again for a few years. Religious moderation is the norm, with it being quite rare (and embarrassing to others) to see extremist beliefs expressed. The Irish do not hold any one religion above others, but it contains many references to God. There are long established Protestant and Jewish minorities. The Church of Ireland was never really anything of the sort. It was an Anglican/Church of England outgrowth imposed on Ireland until disestablishment. The vast majority of Irish outside Dublin never joined it. Doctrinally it is somewhat more liberal that the CoE but pretty much the same to outsiders.
Although moderate in many ways, Ireland has an unfortunate history of obedience to mother Rome. The constitution had originally prohibited divorce, and still limits abortion to cases where the life of the mother is at risk.
81% of the population as a whole consider themselves Catholic. Among young college students only 58% consider themselves Catholic and 37% say they believe in God so those identifying as Catholic are sometimes culturally Catholic without believing. 
No blasphemy here
In 2009 Ireland decided that it'd be a rather good idea to make blasphemy a criminal offence.The constitution requires blasphemy to be illegal, leading Dermot Ahern, Justice Minister, to set about fixing this with some additions to the Defamation Act.
Ahern claimed that these blasphemy provisions are there because the Irish Constitution requires such a law to be in place. This would make one assume that such a law would be a mere formality for constitutional reasons, since a blasphemy law is a bit odd in 21st century Europe. A glance at some of the proposals in the original draft would suggest that Ahern approached this with an unusual level of enthusiasm:
- Fine of up to €100,000 (approximately $145,000)
- Garda Síochána (the police) having the right to enter a premises to confiscate offending materials (reminiscent of the movie Fahrenheit 451)[note 1]
- Guilt is largely based on how angry religious people get
The introduction of this draft led to a number of "WTF" reactions, so a later version reduced the fine to a mere €25,000. All the other proposals remain, so citizens may wish to hide any material that may be offensive to the religious (basically everything, including wrong versions of the Bible).
The law has been widely criticised in Ireland and overseas. The law doesn't just affect Ireland, since under the European Arrest Warrant, member states can request extradition from a fellow EU state with a comparable law on their books. Were Turkey to join the EU, Anybody in Ireland could be extradited for making rude comments about Muhammad. This is sure to do wonders for tourism.
The law is, in practice, difficult to enforce, since it (rather ironically) contradicts other provisions of the Irish Constitution as well as European human rights legislation. The act specifies some exceptions, such as works of artistic merit, but it pretty much depends on how offended people get, or how offended a judge thinks that people may get (or may be him/herself). The law would appear to encourage Ireland's small but noisy band of Christian and Islamic fundamentalists to yell loudly when they think their peculiar beliefs aren't getting the respect they feel they deserve.
A long-overdue debate during the constitutional convention in October 2013 is likely to rectify the constitution so the ridiculous law will no longer be necessary.  Though the progress is welcome, one must wonder why it takes a hundred people a weekend of debating to come to a conclusion on whether or not the law is bullshit.
The green, white and orange flag of the Republic of Ireland is called the Tricolour. It was first flown publicly in 1848. Green was intended to represent predominantly Roman Catholic supporters of Irish republicanism. Orange was intended to represent Ireland's Protestant minority whose ancestors had been supporters of William of Orange. White was intended to represent the aspiration for peace between them. Cynical observers may conclude that the white represents the divide between those factions.
The first official language of Ireland is Irish (Gaeilge), spoken regularly by about 260,000 people (out of over 6.3 million). It is a mandatory subject in schools, with the result that most people under the age of 30 despise it and may suffer involuntary twitching when the name Peig is mentioned. It suffers from a severe image problem, is linked with culchies (country people) and folk music. The official attitude towards it is inconsistent and bizarre. Irish speaking areas have been turned into reservations called Gaeltachtai. Secondary students are periodically exiled to these internal gulags to improve their language skills. Irish versions of the Constitution and legislation take precedence over the English versions, which can cause problems when civil servants drawing up legislation don't speak the language well.
English (Béarla) is constitutionally considered the second official language, but it is the language spoken by the majority of people as well as the language in which government and the courts are conducted. The majority of schools teach through English, with the exception of the all-Irish Gaelscoileanna.
After Ireland got rich, many Poles emigrated to it in search of decent living, with the result that Polish (An Pholainnis) is now one of the most spoken languages in the country. Statistics are hard to come by; however, many government buildings and places of business have notices and rules written in Polish as well as English and Irish. It's generally held that more inhabitants speak Polish regularly than Irish. Thankfully this hasn't led to Peig being translated. Yet.
Abortion is illegal in the Irish Republic and women who need an abortion must travel to the UK (assuming they have the money) or get an illegal back street abortion. Illegal abortions risk a prison sentence of up to 14 years. The United Nations human rights committee sees the Irish position on abortion as cruel, inhuman and degrading.
On the 22nd of May, 2015, the people of Ireland made grá the law by voting in a referendum to legalize same-sex marriage. The referendum passed with flying (rainbow) colours - 62.1% Yes versus 37.9% No. This makes Ireland the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, and they did so in style. Éireann go brách!
- Breakdown of Seanad election process
- Irish Children Abused In A Land Of Deference, Irish Independent, Nov 20, 2005, article reviews the findings of the Ferns Report
- Ferns Report to rock church, Sunday Business Post, Oct 23, 2005
- Roman Catholic sex abuse cases by country § Ireland
- Major disconnect between Irish students and Catholic Church, a random poll has found
- President McAleese signs blasphemy law.
- Overview of the law and its side-effects
- Constitutional Convention to be established, RTÉ
- Calendar for 2013, Constitution.ie (PDF)
- Darragh Murphy, "Fifteen facts about the Irish flag and 1916", The Irish Times, 23 September 2015
- "...one has only to mention the name Peig Sayers to a certain age group and one will see a dramatic rolling of the eyes, or worse." p.556
- In Ireland, Where Abortion is Illegal, a Woman is Live-Tweeting Her Arduous Journey to Obtain One
- Irish woman live-tweets journey for abortion in Great Britain