Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

With its highly competitive economy showing robust growth despite the pandemic’s effects, Ireland receives high rankings (rank 8) in the area of economic policy. Its score on this measure has increased by 2.3 points since 2014.

The Irish economy, which depends strongly on multinational corporations, was affected less than many others by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite several quarters of significant decline in 2020, GDP growth surged to 13.5% in 2021 (with GNI, a more accurate measure here, also rising by 11.5%). The unemployment rate fell to 7.4% that same year.

Pandemic spending pushed government debt to 106.2% of GNI. The ongoing housing shortage remains a serious infrastructural concern, and the government is responding with public investments in housing stocks. Brexit-related issues remain a source of uncertainty.

The country has long relied on low corporate tax rates to attract FDI. The OECD agreement to allow countries to tax companies operating in their jurisdiction even without a physical presence threatens this model somewhat. The presence of large high-tech and pharmaceutical companies has created substantial opportunities for innovative local firms.

Social Policies

With a generally strong safety net, Ireland performs well (rank 12) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Education quality is high, although pre-primary education is underfunded. After considerable criticism, student fees at public universities will be reduced. Poverty reduction has been a long-term focus. Homelessness is on the rise, driven by affordable-housing scarcities. Efforts to construct social housing are underway, but are not yet sufficient.

While the public healthcare system weathered the pandemic well, it is routinely criticized for its service shortcomings, and runs substantial fiscal deficits. Labor-force participation rates among women remain low, partly due to the lack of affordable nursery care. Childcare expenses are among the OECD’s highest, and are not tax deductible.

Efforts to raise the pension-eligibility age to increase system sustainability were rolled back after political controversy. Immigration from non-English-speaking countries has put a strain on school systems. Despite the strong inflows of migrants in recent years, immigration has not been a prominent electoral issue.

Environmental Policies

With a strong focus on emissions reductions, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 16) with respect to environmental policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

The country’s climate plan foresees a 51% in greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, with net-zero emissions reached by 2050. By 2030, the government hopes to generate 80% of electricity from renewable sources, while phasing out coal- and peat-fired plants. Wind accounted for 36% of total electricity demand in 2020.

Agriculture accounts for 35.3% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, with 95% of this coming from livestock agriculture. However, the country is a leader in the area of carbon-efficient agriculture. It has thus asked for EU-level concessions on its reduction target, arguing that displacing production would lead to higher overall global emissions.

The carbon tax has been increased, prompting considerable controversy. Funds go toward defraying fuel poverty and green-agriculture incentives. Grants are in place to encourage reforestation. About 35% of NextGenerationEU funds will be spent on climate-related activities.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

With strong and adaptable protections for basic freedoms, Ireland receives high overall rankings (rank 8) in the area of democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Electoral processes are fair and transparent. Gender quotas have recently increased the share of women in parliament. Increased public funding and tighter rules for parties have improved transparency, reducing the share of private donations. Candidates are subject to strict spending limits. An independent electoral commission is being created.

The media is independent, with considerable concentration in the newspaper sector. Broadcasters are legally obligated to report in an objective and impartial manner. Libel and defamation laws may impair press freedom somewhat. Civil rights and political liberties are strongly protected. Constitutional provisions outlawing abortion and blasphemy have been overturned.

The pandemic led the government to introduce significant quantities of emergency legislation, but this was subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and was time limited. A recent report identified considerable inappropriate behavior at higher police-force levels when handling police whistleblowers. Judicial appointments have not been seen as politically motivated.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

With a few notable gaps despite generally strong performance, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 12) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.5 points since 2014.

Strategic planning has improved over the past decade. The Department of the Taoiseach has grown substantially over the years, but most policymaking takes place in the line ministries. Cabinet committees are routinely used for interministerial coordination, with informal coordination taking place beforehand. A detailed annual report tracks items contained in the coalition agreement.

Though RIAs are in principle required for all regulatory changes, the range of such assessments appears narrow in practice. The frequency of budgetary overruns indicates that ex post evaluation of policy is insufficient. The government consults with private-sector workers and employers on pay policies much less today than in the pre-financial-crisis era.

The government’s pandemic-era communication was quite coherent, contributing to the success of crisis management. A new digital strategy has been introduced that will drive digitalization across the government. Regulations tend to be enforced in an unbiased way. Local governments have often lowered property taxes, making it more difficult to fund public services.

Executive Accountability

While the public’s political engagement is diminishing as the memory of the financial crisis fades, Ireland performs well (rank 10) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points since 2014.

Parliamentarians have relatively minimal resources, but have adequate executive-oversight powers that have grown stronger in recent years. The audit and ombuds offices are influential, and a data-protection commission has been established to oversee enforcement of the GDPR.

Voter turnout has shown continual declines in recent years, even after elections were shifted to Saturdays. The quality of debate on policy issues remains high. 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, but candidates are chosen by member vote. Trade unions, employers’ associations and other civil society groups, while often sophisticated, have lost influence in the years since the economic crisis.
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