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
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
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.
Ireland 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.