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.
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