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Ireland Modern History

From the 1920s onwards, Ireland continued its liberation from Britain. Politics was dominated by two bourgeois parties and the Catholic Church maintained its grip on society. The situation in Northern Ireland, where the British had retained power, created new tensions for Britain. The membership of the EC (later EU) in 1973 meant that Ireland took the step into a larger European community. From the beginning of the 1990s, a process was initiated in which the country was modernized while the economy was growing. The years of financial success abruptly ended in 2008 and Ireland was forced to seek external help.

The Irish Free State was initially ruled by the conservative Cumann na nGaedhal (which in 1933 merged with two other parties and formed Fine Gael). In 1927, Eamon de Valera, who had been one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising, returned to politics as leader of a new party, the bourgeois Fianna Fáil. In the 1932 election, his party took power, with the support of the Labor Party, and immediately began to work for increased self-government.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Ireland. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

de Valera was keen to show that the fight would be fought politically and not militarily and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which fought for a united Ireland, was banned in 1936. He embarked on a five-year trade war, in which Ireland, among other things, imposed import duties on British goods and unilaterally abolished the land tax that Catholic landowners paid to the British.

In 1937, Ireland was given a new constitution - which had largely been written by de Valera himself - and the ties to Britain were now only formal.

Contemporary History of IrelandIreland was neutral during World War II, but de Valera secretly gave his and the government's support to the Allies. Many Irishmen fought alongside the British, but the IRA carried out attacks in Britain in protest against the division of Ireland.

Ireland becomes a republic

The Irish state's last link to Britain was broken in 1949, when the Republic of Ireland was proclaimed. The country was now hit by stagnation and isolation as a result of the protectionist trade policy - which had been unilaterally directed at the British - and an economic policy based on a romantic view of Ireland as a powerful agricultural nation. The post-war Communist terror and the Cold War helped to strengthen the ties between the Catholic Church and Fianna Fáil. However, the church had a strong influence in all the major parties.

Most of the time, the country was ruled by Fianna Fáil. The 1950s were characterized by a rapid expansion of the welfare systems and the state administration and population increased in the cities. Only at the end of the decade did modernization of agriculture begin, at the same time as several governments made half-hearted efforts to build up the industry.

In the mid-1960s, a new generation of politicians came to power. They had visions of free trade and increased cooperation with the rest of Europe. Attempts to bring Ireland into the EC (later the EU) fell in opposition to France. Now the recent successful policy was initiated to try to attract foreign investors to the country with low taxes.

The conflict in Northern Ireland

The IRA began a campaign in 1956 with raids in Northern Ireland's border areas from bases in the Republic. The Irish government chose to more or less close it. The IRA's campaign was unsuccessful and in the early 1960s the organization was about to fade away.

At the end of the 1960s, the conflict in Northern Ireland started to grow seriously. What triggered the violence was a peaceful civil rights movement's demand that the discrimination of the province's Catholic minority be stopped. Militant protesters who saw their power threatened responded to the protests by force. This initiated a spiral of violence in which both the IRA and Protestant groups were guilty of bloody assaults and the British army was called in.

In 1970, two Fianna Fáil Ministers, including Finance Minister Charles Haughey, were forced to resign after it was revealed that weapons had been shipped from the Republic to the IRA. However, none of the ministers could be bound to the arms smuggling. In 1974, some 30 people were killed in Dublin and the city of Monaghan in bombing carried out by Protestant groups from Northern Ireland.

Slow modernization

The 1970s and 1980s were marked by frequent changes in government. The Fine Gael-led government that took office in 1973 sought to modernize Irish society and industry. It was only now that the income gaps in the rest of Europe began to decline. In 1973, Ireland became a member of the then EC.

Fianna Fáil returned to power in 1977 with the help of promises of lower taxes and 80,000 new jobs. The expansion of social welfare resulted in a huge government debt but few new jobs were created. In 1979, Haughey made a political comeback, now as prime minister. But neither did his government succeed in overcoming the economic crisis.

From 1983 to 1987 Fine Gael and Labor took over the government. Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald launched "a crusade" to reform the constitution. The Catholic morality and nationalism that permeated the document frightened Northern Ireland's protesters and made the reunification of the island impossible, he reasoned. FitzGerald later admitted that time had not been ripe for such radical changes.

Like the rest of Western Europe, Ireland suffered an economic downturn in the early 1980s. Both inflation and unemployment rose rapidly. Due to severe economic tightening, the stagnation broke and in the late 1980s the economy experienced a boom with strong growth in industry.

In 1990, Mary Robinson, a lawyer and former Labor politician, was elected president. The president may not comment on politics, but Robinson in other ways highlighted his positions on sensitive issues. She traveled in 1992 as the first Irish head of state to Northern Ireland on an official visit.

Fianna Fáil, with the support of changing coalition partners, ruled the country from 1987 to 1994. The government was led up to 1992 by the colorful Haughey, who, however, was forced to resign after revelations of involvement in an interception scandal in the 1980s.

The 1992 election was a success for the Labor Party. Eventually Fianna Fáil and Labor formed a coalition government, but it fell after just under two years. There was controversy over the appointment of the Chancellor of Justice as chairman of the High Court that dropped the government. It was revealed that he had delayed the extradition of a priest who acknowledged nearly 30 cases of sexual abuse of children from Northern Ireland. Fianna Fáil held on to the appointment for a long time and Labor accused the coalition partner of withholding information about what had happened.

The Celtic Tiger

Fine Gael now formed government with Labor and the Democratic Left. It began to liquidate state monopolies and privatized state companies. At the same time, the economy improved. Ireland began to be called the Celtic Tiger, an allusion to Asian "tiger economies" with high growth.

In 1993, Ireland and the United Kingdom agreed on guidelines for a future peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Ireland said it was prepared to remove the clause in the constitution claiming Northern Ireland. In 1994, the IRA announced a ceasefire and several Protestant groups followed suit.

The June 1997 elections led to a regime change, and Fianna Fáil formed the government with the market-liberal Progressive Democrats (PD). New Prime Minister became Fianna Fáil's leader Bertie Ahern.

Now the peace process in Northern Ireland took off. New British Prime Minister Tony Blair, along with Ahern, played a driving role. In April 1998, a peace agreement was concluded in Northern Ireland. On May 22 of that year, over 94 percent of Irish voted in favor of the agreement in a referendum.

Despite several corruption scandals, the government had its back, thanks in large part to the strong economy. In June 2001, however, a backlash came when voters voted no to the EU's new basic treaty - the Nice Treaty.

In the 2002 election, Fianna Fáil became the largest party, but without its own majority, in parliament. The result was a new coalition government between Fianna Fáil and PD. During the election movement, Fianna Fáil had promised that no cuts would be made, but after the election large savings were announced.

A new referendum on the Nice Treaty was held in 2002. There were fears that a new Irish no would delay the planned EU enlargement. This time the yes-side ran an intensive campaign. Ahern had promised the EU that Ireland would not be forced to participate in the Union's possible military actions. 63 percent of voters now voted yes to the treaty.

At the same time, dissatisfaction grew with shortcomings in care, education and high housing prices and Ahern ended up in windy weather for his private business. Despite some decline, Fianna Fáil became the largest party in the 2007 elections and formed a new government with the PD and the Green party.

Economic crisis and power shift

In 2008, the EU countries agreed on a new treaty that would make it easier to make decisions within the Union. Concern that controversy over the prime minister's private economy would affect the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty led to Ahern resigning in May 2008. He was succeeded by Finance Minister Brian Cowen.

In June 2008, the Irish voted on the Lisbon Treaty. Except for Sinn Fein, the IRA's political branch, all major parties pleaded for a yes. The No side, which included the Catholic Right, the liberal market organization Libertas and several leftist groups, ran an energetic campaign. Just over 53 percent of Irish voted against the Treaty.

The international financial crisis hit Ireland in the fall of 2008, but it soon became apparent that a large part of the financial problems had been created at home, not least by the banks' careless lending. The government was forced into new cuts, which were criticized by Fine Gael, who claimed that it allowed ordinary families to bear the costs while banks and property speculators came away lightly.

A new referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was held in the fall of 2009. Cowen had then received binding guarantees that the EU would not affect Ireland's sovereignty in the issue of abortion, neutrality and tax law. 67 per cent of the Irish now gave their approval.

In the autumn of 2010, the economic crisis worsened. Following pressure from other EU countries, Ireland reluctantly agreed to apply for assistance from the EU Support Funds and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (see further Economic overview).

The cow was forced to resign in early 2011 and new elections were announced in February. The election was won by Fine Gael who got 76 seats, while Labor became the second largest party with 37 seats. Finn Fáil received only 20 seats. On the left, Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance made a good choice.

Fine Gael formed the government with Labor and the new Prime Minister Enda Kenny promised to continue to clean up the economy.

Criticism of the Catholic Church

In July of that year, the Murphy State Commission in a report criticized the Catholic Church for how it had handled allegations of sexual abuse. Prime Minister Kenny, himself a devout Catholic, spoke out against the Vatican, which was criticized in the report for not helping the Commission in its work. Kenny said the relationship between the Irish state and the Catholic Church could never be the same as before. The Vatican responded by calling its ambassador for consultations.

Yes to a new finance pact

At an EU summit in late 2011, Germany and France presented a proposal for amendments to the Lisbon Treaty, which meant tougher budgetary rules for all EU countries. The purpose was to avoid new crises in the future. A referendum on the so-called financial pact was held in Ireland in May 2012. During the campaign, the major parties emphasized the risks a no would pose, while the no-side tried to win voters by claiming that it would be easier for the country to renegotiate the crisis loan if the pact was rejected. The Yes side won by just over 60 percent.

The ban on abortion is called into question

A tragic 2012 death in which an Indian woman died after being denied abortion redirected attention to Ireland's strict abortion laws. The following year, a law was adopted that allows abortion if the woman's life is in danger (see Social Conditions), but more and more Irish people were openly questioning the ban on abortion.

The economy is growing again

After several years of savings, the Irish economy began to grow again. The growth was due to the success of the export industry. In the fall of 2013, Kenny announced that Ireland was no longer dependent on EU and IMF emergency loans. He stressed, however, that it would take time before the problems were over. At the same time, dissatisfaction with the government seemed to grow. What provoked the wrath of the Irish was a decision to introduce water charges in 2014 (it was mainly an important issue in the cities, the rural population already paid for their water). At the end of the year, 100,000 people gathered in Dublin to protest and many Irish people refused to pay the fee.

Clear sign for same-sex marriage

In the spring of 2015, a referendum was held to make same-sex marriage a constitutional right. The major parties supported the yes side, although parts of Fianna Fáil seemed hesitant and the Catholic Church opposed the proposal. However, the Yes side won with over 62 percent of the vote. The great differences between the liberal urban population and more conservative Irish people in the countryside seemed to have been largely eradicated.

The 2016 parliamentary elections

Although the economy improved, the two government parties Fine Gael and Labor lost support for the February 2016 parliamentary election. During the election campaign, they promised to lower some of the taxes raised during the crisis years and improve public service. They argued that the choice was between "stability" which they considered to stand for, or chaos as in Greece or Spain.

At the same time, the opposition was divided into a number of different parties that had little in common. Disbelief against Fianna Fáil was still strong, although the party had begun to win back some voters. It could also take advantage of the dissatisfaction with the new water charges. Sinn Fein, who was constantly opposed to austerity policy, had a gust of opinion, but the party mainly managed to reach younger voters who did not have their own memories of the conflict in Northern Ireland. On the left, there were also the newly formed Social Democrats, as well as the Anti-austerity Alliance-People before Profit and several independent candidates with a radical profile.

Fine Gael succeeded in retaining his position as the country's largest party, but Fianna Fáil did not come close. Sinn Féin went strong and ended up in third place. Several smaller parties also joined Parliament, while Labor made a poor choice. Almost one fifth of the votes went to independent candidates.

Government formation after the election dragged on over time. Assessors said the only solution was a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, but the party members opposed this. None of the parties wanted to cooperate with Sinn Fein, who also clearly stated that it was not going to be a support party for any of them.

Only in May 2016 did Fianna Fáil pledge to support a minority government led by Fine Gael, which also needed the support of nine independent members. The big crack question had been the unpopular water charges that Fianna Fáil had demanded would be abolished. The parties agreed that the water charges would be temporarily removed for nine months, and that a committee of experts would investigate whether they would be completely abandoned in the long run. Fianna Fáil promised to support at least three of the new government's budgets. Only Kenny could thus remain as prime minister.

 
 

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