Policy Performance


Economic Policies

As a strong example of robust crisis recovery, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 17) in the area of economic policy. Its score on this measure has increased by 2.1 points since 2014.

After several years of exaggerated growth figures inflated by technicalities, real growth has persisted at vibrant levels. Much of this activity stems from the consumption and domestic investment sectors, as opposed to previous years’ reliance on exports and foreign investment.

Post-crisis debt levels have fallen dramatically, from 120% of GDP in 2013 to 61% of GDP in 2017. Deficits are under 1%, with a surplus forecast for 2018. Unemployment rates have fallen to moderate levels, although youth unemployment remains high. Jobs have shifted away from low-skill construction work toward higher-skill services and manufacturing.

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 multinational firms.

Social Policies

Having maintained its safety net through the crisis, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 14) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Education quality is high, but access to well-funded higher education is associated with social class. Pre-primary education is underfunded. Poverty reduction, with adequate social-welfare payments, has been a focus throughout and since the recession. Homelessness is on the rise, driven by affordable-housing scarcities. A delay in the construction sector’s recovery is exacerbating this problem.

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. Though it has accepted some Syrian asylum seekers, the country has not been strongly affected by the European refugee crisis, and immigration was not a prominent issue in the 2016 election.

Environmental Policies

With a strong focus on emissions reduction, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 14) 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, and a biodiversity program encourages farming in an environmentally sensitive manner.

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 9) 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. Political parties are partially publicly financed, but private donations are not sufficiently transparent. The traditional major parties are losing support, while backing by independent legislators enabled formation of the current minority government. An independent electoral commission is expected to be operational by the 2019 elections.

The media is independent, with a pluralist ownership structure. 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. 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. A Court of Appeal was recently created to hear High Court appeals.



Executive Capacity

Though the government that successfully steered the country out of the bailout period has been replaced, Ireland 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 have shown a susceptibility to popular pressures. While the Department of the Taoiseach grown substantially over the years, most policymaking takes place in the line ministries. The current taoiseach halved the number of cabinet committees in 2017.

Though RIAs are in principle required for all regulatory changes, the range of such assessments appears narrow in practice. The cancellation and repayment of water charges paid to the highly controversial Irish Water institution in 2017 constituted a major failure of impact assessment, coordination and communication.

The increased use of statutory instruments giving ministers the ability to shape policy implementation has transferred power from the legislature to the executive. A relatively new local property tax has helped fund vital local public services.

Executive Accountability

While the public’s political engagement is declining as the memory of crisis fades, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point since 2014.

Parliamentarians have relatively minimal resources, but adequate executive-oversight powers that have grown stronger in recent years. The audit and ombuds offices are influential.

Voter turnout has declined as economic recovery has gained strength. 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 following the economic crisis.
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