Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Bouncing back strongly from crisis, Ireland falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 23) in the area of economic policy. Its score on this measure has increased by 1.5 points since 2014.

Ireland exited its crisis-era bailout program in 2013, and has shown strong GDP growth in the ensuing years. Austerity measures have been relaxed, with deficits falling despite tax reductions and welfare-state spending increases. Debt levels remain high but are declining. Low government-bond interest rates reflect financial markets’ confidence.

Unemployment rates have fallen substantially, but remain high. Jobs have shifted away from low-skill construction work toward higher-skill services and manufacturing. Growth has played a more substantial role in this progress than have labor-market policies.

Tax revenues are up. Low corporate taxes continue to attract international criticism, which has in turn led to greater scrutiny of company filings. The government remains successful in attracting foreign high-tech firms.

Social Policies

Having maintained its safety net through the crisis, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 15) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

Education quality is high. Poverty reduction, with adequate social-welfare payments, has been a focus throughout and since the recession. Homelessness is on the rise, driven by housing scarcities.

While producing generally good outcomes, the public health care system has drawn significant negative publicity for waiting times and cases of negligence. A plan for universal health insurance has been delayed. Child-care support is being significantly expanded, and parental leave has been extended to fathers.

The pension system is currently healthy, but faces future sustainability problems absent additional reforms. Immigration rates remained high during the crisis, putting a strain on the school systems. The country’s treatment of asylum seekers has been criticized.

Environmental Policies

With a strong focus on emissions reduction, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 13) with respect to environmental policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

The country has moved aggressively toward development of renewable energy, relying heavily on the construction of wind farms. An urban ban on the use of smoky coal is being extended nationwide. The country is a world leader in carbon-efficient agriculture. Grants are in place for reforestation.

A water-management policy involving domestic water meters has kindled substantial controversy. The country contributes to global environmental-protection regimes largely though its activity at the EU level.



Quality of Democracy

With strong and adaptable protections for basic freedoms, Ireland receives high overall rankings (rank 10) in the area of democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Electoral processes are fair and transparent. Political parties are partially publicly financed, but private donations are not sufficiently transparent. A recent wave of independent candidates and legislators is coalescing into new parties. Creation of an independent electoral commission was delayed until after the 2016 election.

The media is independent, with a pluralist ownership structure. Libel and defamation laws may impair press freedom somewhat. Civil rights and political liberties are strongly protected. Non-discrimination laws are broad, and a referendum legalizing same-sex marriage was successful in 2015.

A public-service reform plan has sought to improve transparency and reduce opportunity for corruption, but many changes remain in the planning stage.



Executive Capacity

Having successfully steered the country out of the bailout period, Ireland’s government falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 16) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points since 2014.

While strategic planning improved in the post-crisis period, recent spending increases showed a susceptibility to popular pressures. The Prime Minister’s Office has limited analytical capacity. However, it collaborates closely with line ministries in developing and coordinating policies. Informal coordination is critical for coalition governments.

Though RIAs are in principle required for all regulatory changes, the range of such assessments appears narrow in practice. Local-government functions have been reduced, and are largely centrally funded.

The governing coalition produced contradictory or incoherent information on several key issues. The government has generally been successful in achieving policy objectives, with a few high-profile setbacks. Insufficiently close monitoring of executive agencies, particularly the health agency, has drawn criticism.

Executive Accountability

With the crisis having a mixed effect on accountability mechanisms, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 13) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure is unchanged since 2014.

Parliamentarians have relatively minimal resources, but adequate executive-oversight powers. An investigation of the banking crisis ran into difficulties primarily in obtaining European Central Bank documents. The audit and ombuds offices are influential.

Debates over crisis and recovery issues have deepened citizens’ policy knowledge, with strong and nuanced referendum voting indicating an understanding of the issues. The media produces substantial current-affairs programming. Newspapers are seeing steep circulation drops, but are investing in online distribution.

Party decisions are strongly influenced by elected officials. Trade unions, employers’ associations and other civil-society groups, while often sophisticated, have lost influence following the crisis.
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