In many ways the Irish government like a combination of its two closest neighbours, the UK and US governments.
Like the UK, Ireland has a parliamentary system and a unitary state. Like the USA, Ireland is a republic with a constitution.
Like both, we have a liberal democracy here in Ireland.
What Type of Government does Ireland Have?
Most governments are split into three systems. The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. For the sake of this article, the judiciary isn’t too relevant right now.
The other two, the executive and legislature, balance each other to ensure that neither side is too powerful. Although different political thinkers will have different opinions on the function of the two branches, most can agree that the legislature makes laws, and the executive puts them into practice.
The executive is usually in charge of the military and foreign policy. That’s why most of us know who the French President is but few people outside of France know the current Prime Minister.
However, the relationship between the legislature and the executive separates a parliamentary system from a presidential system.
In a presidential system, such as the USA, they are elected separately and balance each other. So, you can have a president from one party and a legislature from another.
In a parliamentary system, such as in Ireland or the UK, the people do not elect their leader. The people elect a representative (TD as they’re called here in Ireland) for the legislature. The legislature then elects a leader of the executive from among them.
In Ireland, our parliament is called “Dáil Éireann.” It consists of 160 members called Teachta Dála (shortened to TD). Think of them like Irish MPs.
Ireland is divided into 39 constituencies, each electing 3-5 TDs for a 5-year term.
Finally, even though Ireland does have a President (currently Michael D. Higgins) this role is mainly ceremonial and in many ways like an elected constitutional monarch.
Republic of Ireland
In America, the term “Republican” refers to a Conservative but here in Ireland it has an entirely different meaning.
Ireland, like the USA, is a republic because we have an elected head of state, not a hereditary monarchy. And yes, while the Irish President has very little power, we are still a republic because the President is still elected.
Time for another comparison to the USA. In America, power is divided between the federal government in Washington and the state governments. The constitution clearly lays out the powers of each and the current President (Joe Biden) can’t take power away from the state governments.
This is different in Ireland.
In Ireland, all political power comes from the central government. Yes, Ireland does have local authorities, 31 to be exact, who deal with local issues such as the roads, bin collections, and planning permits. However, all power comes from the Dáil Éireann, and this power could be revoked.
Of course, the chances of this happening are very low in reality.
All countries have a constitution of some sort, and Ireland is no different in this regard.
A constitution isn’t always a written document. It is a set of rules for those in charge, and lays out what they can and can’t do.
However, most countries also have a codified (written) constitution, in which the rules are clearly written in one place and difficult to change. The UK, Israel, and New Zealand are three major nations currently without a codified constitution.
Like most other countries, Ireland has a constitution that is all in one place and is very difficult to change. Although, as seen in the 2018 referendum on abortion, it can be if political and public will demands it.
We won’t go into too much detail on our constitution but here’s a quick summary:
Articles 1-39 are about the functions of the state. This is where the separation of powers between the president and the Dail Eireann is set out.
Articles 40-44 talk about the rights of Irish citizens. These are rights that all Irish people have that the government can’t take away.
Article 45 is about social policy. 46 is about how to amend the constitution. 47 is about referenda. And articles 48-50 are about how the old constitution is now repealed, but laws made under it still remain.
Electing a representative is what’s known as “Liberal Democracy.”
As we noted earlier, here in Ireland local people elect their TDs, just as the British elect their MPs and Americans their senators and representatives.