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About this book

In the last quarter century, Ireland has experienced dramatic political and economic change. This broad-ranging text provides an accessible and up-to-date introduction to Irish society, politics and culture, as well as developments in its economy and place in Europe and the world.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Ireland was for most of its history a small, rather insignificant island at the edge of Europe, which for most of history meant the outer edge of the known world — la divisa dal mondo ultima Irlanda (Beckett, 1981: 14). It had no great natural resources, no political power, an underdeveloped economy, and was sufficiently unattractive that the Romans, who named it Hibernia or ‘wintry place’, did not try to conquer it. Ireland’s underdevelopment in comparison with its wealthy neighbours has been a feature through most of its existence. Not long ago one prominent Irish historian described Ireland as a ‘small retarded country’ (Lee, 1989: 635). The causes of its backwardness are not clear, but it was not because it was isolated from the outside world. Ireland was the subject of migration, invasion and assimilation of various groups throughout its history. Groups from Ireland even invaded and controlled parts of Scotland and Wales. More recently Ireland’s significant emigration meant that it had an impact on other countries and others on it.
Eoin O’Malley

1. The Historical Context

Abstract
It has been remarked by an historian working on Ireland that the Irish have a more developed sense of history than any other people he knew (Richter, 1986: 41). But if the Irish are keenly aware of history, that history is often manipulated to suit those telling it. Thus the interpretations of history have changed significantly over time. Schoolchildren in Ireland were until quite recently taught a version of history that suited the political leaders of the state, but one that is highly contested by professional historians. A good example of this disjoint between popularly accepted historical interpretation and interpretations established and backed up by evidence relates to Ireland’s early settlers.
Eoin O’Malley

2. Land and Peoples

Abstract
The Republic of Ireland makes up about five-sixths of the island of Ireland, one of the islands of the archipelago known as the British Isles (a term many Irish find offensive) at the north-western edge of the continent of Europe. It is a country characterized by moderation — in size, climate, physical features and people. Ireland is the twentieth largest island in the world, though is still quite small, about the size of South Carolina, or one-sixth the size of Spain. Thus one can easily get from any part of the country to any other part within a day — from Malin Head in Donegal to Mizen Head in Cork is 466 kilometres as the crow flies or about 700 kilometres by road (which gives some indication of the nature of Ireland’s road network!). This small size in part accounts for the homogeneity of the people. Except in the north-east of the island, there are few important regional divisions, though the dominance of Dublin over the rest of the country (see Box 2.2) does lead to derogatory references to Dubliners as Jackeens (derived from the assertion that the British flag, the Union Jack, was flown more popularly in Dublin than anywhere else) and anyone outside Dublin, but most particularly rural-based people, as Culchies (derived from the name of a small rural town, Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo).
Eoin O’Malley

3. The Changing Society

Abstract
Ireland claims to be a republic — a place free from arbitrary rule — and as such its official documents tend to be explicit in terms of the equality of its citizens. The Proclamation of the Republic, the document that, though possessing no legal status, laid the basis for the new Irish state, proclaimed that ‘the Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens’ (see Illustration 1.3). This claim was no socialist creed: the state later included in its constitution a commitment to the protection of property rights and the market economy. It is arguable that it utterly failed to deliver on its goal of equality of opportunity, because, as we shall see, Ireland suffered from dire poverty and more recently gross inequality that seemed to be based on an individual’s childhood circumstances. Many would argue that religious and other civil liberties were only granted to those whose religion and lifestyles were approved by the new state. Given its poverty, Ireland’s welfare state developed more slowly than those of other European countries, and it has not yet caught up. The state’s social system is controversial, in that many claim that it aggravates existing social divisions.
Eoin O’Malley

4. Government and Policy Making

Abstract
Though independence promised to rid Ireland of ‘a base imperialism that has brought naught but evil’ (Sinn Féin manifesto, 1918), the Irish Free State architecture was based heavily on the existing British institutions. Although there was what some call a revolution between 1916 and 1921, the institutions and personnel of the state remained broadly the same (incorrectly, as regime change occurred within the then existing constitutional framework). For instance, much of the personnel in the Irish civil service before independence was Irish and remained in position after independence. Some Irish Irelanders spoke of returning Ireland to a system of Chieftains and Brehon Law (the ancient Irish legal system), but few took this seriously. Given the close links with the USA of many of the political leaders in the new state, it may seem surprising that Ireland did not adopt a Presidential system. Even if they had wanted to, the Irish were forced into accepting the constitutional framework imposed by the British as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which laid down the state structures. The basis for these was changed in 1937 when a new constitution was adopted, but the institutional changes were more symbolic than real.
Eoin O’Malley

5. Politics and Civil Society

Abstract
Though Ireland’s political institutions have been stable over the lifetime of the state, even remaining broadly similar on achieving independence, the people and groups that inhabit the Irish political institutions and many of the norms regarding politics have undergone some significant changes in the last three decades. And how the state relates to society and groups within society has also changed. For instance some groups, such as trade unions, are now given a special place in the policy-making process. How people relate to each other is what might be meant by society, and how they relate in terms of the public sphere or public decisions can then be thought of as civil society. In civil society, groups will be prominent which are not prominent in our ‘normal’ social lives. So people come together in organized groups, such as community groups, interest groups and political parties, to achieve certain aims, such as to clean up a neighbourhood, change a state policy or run the state. Civil society encompasses all those non-state actors who interact to achieve certain ends, including those who influence or seek to influence the state itself.
Eoin O’Malley

6. The Economy

Abstract
From the 1990s the Irish economy underwent changes so rapid and widespread that they were unlike those in almost any another country in the world. In the 1950s some questioned whether Ireland was capable of governing itself. In the 1980s, though it was not a third world country, arguments could be made that it was firmly in the second world, and that only its geographic position in western Europe and the high expectations of its population made it usually described as first world. With Portugal it was among the poorest countries in western Europe. However by the turn of the twenty-first century Ireland had overtaken most other countries in terms of wealth, having achieved remarkably strong and consistent productivity growth. Ireland became the stuff of legend and economists and policy makers flocked to Ireland to praise it and study what it had achieved. Given that achieving growth is the Holy Grail for nearly every poor country, Ireland was held up as a paragon of good economic management.
Eoin O’Malley

7. Culture and Lifestyle

Abstract
One of the key aspects that distinguishes Ireland from the rest of Europe is its culture. It maintained a traditional or folk culture long after many others had lost theirs through modernization. Irish culture is also increasingly popular outside Ireland, probably at the same time as it is undergoing the same forces of change within Ireland that other countries saw much earlier. For many, culture means the arts. But culture can also be thought of as the behavioural norms of a people — it is what people do, how they act and what they expect of others. The popular arts make up a good deal of what people do and how they act — people sing, dance and tell stories, and they consume culture by reading literature, listening to music and watching drama on TV, in cinema or the theatre. But people do more than just what we might mean by the arts. It includes the sports people play, the food they eat, who, where and how they meet and socialize — their lifestyle.
Eoin O’Malley

8. Ireland and the World

Abstract
Ireland is a country that is more open to and engaged with the outside world than most others. We have seen that despite the attempts of early policy makers to create a self-sufficient state, Ireland’s small size and limited natural resources meant that the Irish economy depended on its contact with Britain. So despite independence, the Irish economy was effectively a region of Britain. Ireland’s almost complete dependence on Britain has eased in the last thirty years as the EU and the USA have become important markets for Irish goods and sources for investment. But the Irish have had an impact well beyond the economic sphere. The Irish, more than most in western Europe, were and are willing to travel for employment opportunities. This has created a population that was, again despite the efforts of policy makers, open to outside influences, particularly from the main destination countries, the UK and USA.
Eoin O’Malley

Conclusion

Abstract
In the decade that will see the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 rising and the War of Independence, there will be a great deal of focus on how Ireland has performed in the previous century. At the start of this decade there was much despondency in Ireland about the country’s prospects. That the then-Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, was ridiculed on Jay Leno’s popular US chat show for his drinking habits added to the national embarrassment. Even the weather seemed to reflect the inundation of the country’s morale. Looking back on the century since 1916, one could make arguments both that Ireland’s performance was a success and a failure. Ireland went from being a colony to independence, achieving remarkable peace and democratic stability. It went from being one of the poorest countries in western Europe in the 1980s to one of the richest. It matured from being a clerically-dominated country to one where the Church is just another actor, and one, moreover, with little credibility. On the other hand we could say that Ireland started the last century as a reasonably developed place in one of the richest countries in the world and imposed poverty, clerical dominance and cultural hegemony on itself. It managed to waste the opportunity presented by its wealth by failing to understand why it came about.
Eoin O’Malley
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