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.
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