Frequently Asked Questions on soc.culture.irish with answers. Send corrections, suggestions, additions, and other feedback to The FAQ maintainer.
The island is called Ireland, but it is divided into two jurisdictions. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, governed from London. The remainder of the island is a separate state, the Republic of Ireland, with its government in Dublin.
The Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hEireann) states in Article 4. "The name of the State is Éire, or in the English language, Ireland". (See Q.11 in part one for why this is not a hard rule, though.)
"Ireland" is ambiguous: it may refer to the island or to the part governed from Dublin. You may want to say "the island of Ireland" to avoid this ambiguity.
The following are synonyms in common usage. Some of these terms are politically loaded: the first in each list is the best choice if you want to make yourself clear (without committing yourself to a particular political view).
Northern Ireland; Ulster; the North; the Six Counties
Republic of Ireland; Ireland; the South; the Twenty Six Counties; the Free State
See the Constitution in hypertext.
Nationalists north or south are generally content to be called Irish. Unionists may prefer to be called "British", "Ulster-men/women", just "from Northern Ireland" or even "Irish" (if they are on their way to a rugby international). If you are asking someone, "from Northern Ireland" is probably safest: you let them choose to elaborate if they want to.
Before the Northern Ireland Settlement of 1998, Articles 2 & 3 in the Republic's Constitution did claim the North as part of Ireland (though they meant little in practice). The amended Articles now read as follows.
It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland,
which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the
entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens
of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people
of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.
1. It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all
the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of
their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought
about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people,
democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island. Until then, the laws
enacted by the Parliament established by this Constitution shall have the like area
and extent of application as the laws enacted by the Parliament that existed
immediately before the coming into operation of this Constitution.
2. Institutions with executive powers and functions that are shared between those
jurisdictions may be established by their respective responsible authorities for
stated purposes and may exercise powers and functions in respect of all or any part of
See the Constitution in hypertext.
A slightly unusual form of proportional representation, known as the single transferrable vote (STV), is used for elections to the Dáil. There is more than one seat in a constituency and voters indicate their candidates in order of preference by putting a number next to their name on the ballot ("1" for the favourite candidate, "2" for the next favoured, etc.).
A quota is established for each constituency when the votes are counted. This quota is calculated as follows.
Let V be the number of valid votes. Let S be the number of seats in the constituency. The quota Q is
V ----- + 1 S+1
If there were 60,000 votes in a three seat constituency the quota would be ((60000 / 4) + 1) = 15,001 votes.
Counts are divided into rounds. In the first round, all first preferences are counted. At the end of each round, the votes to be counted during the next round are determined as follows
- if one or more candidates receive the quota of votes they are deemed elected; the surplus votes of the most popular candidate are redistributed among the remaining (unelected) candidates according to the next preference
- if no candidate has reached the quota, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and his votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates according to the next preference
Rounds are repeated until either all the seats are filled or the number of vacant seats equals the number of remaining candidates. In the latter case, the remaining candidates are deemed elected even though they got less than the quota of votes.
If a candidate exceeds the quota on the first count, the excess votes are distributed in proportion to all the votes for that candidate (i.e. the second preferences on all the ballots are counted). The actual votes transferred are chosen at random (obviously making sure that they are for the appropriate candidate).
On subsequent rounds, the votes are chosen at random without first counting all the next preferences. Transferred votes are transferred again before first preferences.
Because counting is a more complicated process than in most other countries, it takes longer. Counting is not even started until the day after the election and can go on for days if candidates demand a recount. Most political parties have experts, called tally men, who (using local knowlege and years of experience) try to predict early on in the count what the result is going to be. A good tally man can tell the outcome to within a few hundred votes after only a few ballot boxes have been counted.
The first-past-the-post system is used in Northern Ireland, except for elections to local councils and the European Parliament, when a slightly different form of proportional STV is used.
The political parties represented in the Dáil and their current leaders are
Fianna Fáil Bertie Ahern
Fine Gael John Bruton
Labour Party Dick Spring
Progressive Democrats Mary Harney
Democratic Left Proinsias De Rossa
Green Party [unknown -- maybe no leader as such?]
Sinn Féin Gerry Adams
[ This ignores the niceties of what is required to get the privileges (offices, staff allowances ) of a party in the Dáil. ] [ There are currently also seven independent TDs. ]
The most recent election results are from the General Election of 6 June 1997.
Representation in Parliament
Fianna Fáil 77 seats
Fine Gael 54 seats
Labour 17 seats
Progressive Democrats 4 seats
Democratic Left 4 seats
Green Party 2 seats
Sinn Féin 1 seats
Socialist 1 seats
Independent 7 seats
Within the two main groups are a number of smaller divisions, usually defined by their representative political parties. This list offers a spectrum of the major parties, from 'most anti-Union' to 'most pro-Union".
Sinn Féin. Leader Gerry Adams. The political representatives of the Republican Movement. This is the more extreme minority of the nationalist groups, generally regarded as being in sympathy with the IRA's use of violence to achieve political change. Supported by approximately 15% of the population in Northern Ireland, 1.4% in the Irish Republic. http://www.irlnet.com/sinnfein/
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). Leader John Hume. Regarded as the representative of moderate nationalism, it is committed to the establishment of a single Irish nation, but adamantly opposed to the use of violence to force this on people. Its representatives are forthright in their criticism of the IRA and its methods. Supported by approximately 20% of the population in NI. http://www.sdlp.ie/
The Alliance party. Leader Sean Neeson (to be confirmed). A centrist party often viewed as unionist in its leanings, but its stated aims are simply to bring people in NI together as one community. Rejects both traditional Unionism and Nationalism. It favours local government with power shared between Catholics and Protestants, remaining part of the UK as long as a majority in NI want that, but with much stronger all-Ireland administrative links. Gets up to 10% of the vote. http://www.unite.net/customers/alliance/
The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Leader David Trimble. The larger of the two Unionist parties, it is firmly committed to maintaining the links with Great Britain. Not overtly religious in nature, but has links with the protestant Orange Order. Drawing support mainly from more moderate and middle-class unionists it opposes the use of violence, condemning that from both IRA and Loyalist groups such as the UVF and UFF. Gets up to one third of the vote. http://www.uup.org/
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Leader Ian Paisley. Formed in 1971 by Ian Paisley, capitalising on fears that the mainstream party was weak. As to be expected from its fundamentalist leader, the DUP is fiercely protestant and pro-British in character. It draws support from the moderate-to-extreme parts of the unionist population. Although publicly opposed to violence, the same cannot be said for a section of its supporters. Gets around 15% of the vote. http://www.dup.org.uk/
Observant readers will notice that these percentages do not add up to 100.
The most recent election results are from the Assembly Election of June 1998.
SDLP 177,963 votes 21.99% 24 seats
UUP 172,225 votes 21.28% 28 seats
DUP 145,917 votes 18.03% 20 seats
Sinn Fein 142,858 votes 17.65% 18 seats
Alliance 52,636 votes 6.50% 6 seats
UKUP 36,541 votes 4.52% 5 seats
PUP 20,634 votes 2.55% 2 seats
WCn 13,019 votes 1.61% 2 seats
UDP 8,651 votes 1.07% 0 seats
Lab 2,729 votes 0.34% 0 seats
Others 36090 votes 4.46% 3 seats
For more details, see Nicholas Whyte's web site at http://explorers.whyte.com/
There are no longer laws against any form of contraception in the Republic of Ireland, apart from the RU-486 abortion pill that is also banned in the UK. For example ten years ago condoms weren't available to under anybody under 16. Now, possibly as a result of AIDS, these laws have all been repealed. Condom machines are also commonplace in bars throughout the country.
The Constitution was amended by a referendum in November 1995 to allow divorce in restricted circumstances. The people voted to put the following sections into the Constitution.
"A Court designated by law may grant a dissolution of marriage where, but only where,
it is satisfied that:
i. at the date of the institution of the proceedings, the spouses have lived apart
from one another for a period of, or periods amounting to, at least four years
during the last five years,
ii. there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation between the spouses,
iii. such provision as the Court considers proper having regard to the circumstances
exists or will be made for the spouses, any children of either or both of them
and any other person prescribed by law, and
iv. any further conditions prescribed by law are complied with."
The petition by submitted by the Anti-Divorce Campaign to the Supreme Court challenging the result of the referendum was rejected by the Court in June 1996.
Legislation passed by the Oireachtas to regulate divorce came into effect in March 1997. The legislation builds on existing family law.
See the Constitution in hypertext.
[Note: As recommended in the "Welcome to talk.abortion" posting, I am referring to the sides as prolife and prochoice. This is not intended in anyway to reflect my personal feelings on the use of these terms.]
Abortion has been illegal in Ireland since at least 1869. The 1983 referendum added a clause which guarantees the "Right to Life" to the Unborn from the moment of conception. The general consensus among the prolife campaigners was that there was now a constitutional prohibition on abortion, and abortion would never be introduced into Ireland.
It was then illegal to give out names & addresses of abortion clinics in Ireland. As a result no imported magazines or newspapers were allowed to sell issues which advertised abortion clinics.
In 1992, the Attorney General placed an injunction against a 14-year-old rape victim (Ms. X) going to England to have an abortion. The family of rape victim X had approached the police and offered to let the aborted foetus be used as evidence against the rapist. Police then approached the Attorney General who went to the High Court as allowing X to go abroad would breach the "Right to Life" of X's foetus. The High Court then granted the injunction.
In a state of near national hysteria, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, and declared that under the 1983 amendment, Ms. X was entitled to have an abortion in Ireland as she was threatening to commit suicide. The preliminary verdict was given on Friday, X went to the UK that weekend to have an abortion but miscarried before the abortion actually took place. The full ruling followed on Tuesday suggesting that X has a right to have an abortion in Ireland.
The government moved fairly quickly, and a second referendum was held in November 1992, at the same time as a General election. The referendum posed three questions, dealing with the Right to travel, the Right to information and the Substantive Issue (are abortions ever allowed in Ireland?). While people voted for the right to information and the right to travel, the results from the vote on the Substantive issue were less conclusive, with both sides claiming victory. However, the government failed to legislate on the basis of the ruling in X.
The government's case was not helped by the Irish Medical Council ruling that any doctor who performs an abortion should be struck of the register, a decision later endorsed by the Irish Medical Organisation. The majority of the IMO regard abortion as unnecessary for life-saving reasons & doctors can be struck off. The Medical Insurance companies (for doctors) believe failure to perform abortion in life threatening circumstance could result in negligence charges etc.
The whole situation is desperately confused and no one knows under what circumstances abortion is legal or illegal. No government has been eager to introduce laws to regulate abortion, despite repeated criticisms of the current situation by the judiciary. Women who want abortions usually go to England, often without the knowledge of their families.
[Note: Abortion is technically legal in the North, but rarely carried out.]
Homosexual acts were illegal in Ireland up until the summer of 1993. The Offences against the Person Act lifted the ban, and declared the age of consent to be 17, the same as that for acts between heterosexuals.
The "Good Friday Agreement" of 1998 is available in hypertext form at
http://www.irish-times.com/irish-times/special/peace/agreement/agreement.html and at