Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

With its highly competitive economy showing steady growth, Ireland receives high rankings (rank 12) in the area of economic policy. Its score on this measure has increased by 2.2 points since 2014.

While apparent growth rates have remained inflated by technicalities, the underlying domestic economy performed extremely well in 2019, with proxy indicators such as labor market data, tax revenue, modified investment expenditure and consumption expenditure all positive. The unemployment rate has fallen to just 5.1%.

The government posted a small budget surplus in 2019, after a balance the previous year. Current budget forecasts were predicated on a hard Brexit. Post-crisis debt levels have fallen dramatically, from 120% of GDP in 2013 to 64% of GDP in 2018. However, debt remains around 87% of modified GNI, a measure that better reflects the underlying domestic economy, still an excessively high level.

Low corporate taxes continue to attract international criticism while attracting foreign multinational firms. An OECD proposal to allow countries to tax companies even if they lack a physical presence there could disrupt Ireland’s model. The ongoing housing shortage remains a serious infrastructural concern, and the government is responding with public investments in housing stocks.

Social Policies

With a generally strong safety net, 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 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. Efforts to construct social housing are underway, but are not yet sufficient.

While producing generally good outcomes, the public healthcare system suffers from considerable cost overruns, currently funded by buoyant tax revenues. This raises the potential for serious fiscal crisis if tax revenues decline. Child-care support is being expanded for children three and up, but labor-force participation rates among women remain low, partly due to the lack of affordable nursery care.

The pension system is currently healthy, but faces future sustainability problems in the absence of additional reforms. Immigration from non-English-speaking countries has put a strain on school systems. Though it has accepted some Syrian asylum seekers, the country was not strongly affected by the European refugee crisis, and immigration was not a prominent issue in the last election.

Environmental Policies

With a strong focus on emissions reduction, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) 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, and can now produce as much as 55% of total daily electricity supply through wind power. An urban ban on the use of smoky coal has been extended nationwide, and the carbon tax is being increased.

While the country is a world leader in carbon-efficient agriculture, the agricultural sector produces nearly half of the country’s carbon emissions. 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.

Robust Democracy


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. Tightened regulations and increased public funding for parties have improved transparency, reducing the share of private donations. Gender quotas have been imposed for party candidate lists, but seem to have made little change in voting behavior. An independent electoral commission is being created.

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. Constitutional provisions outlawing abortion and blasphemy have been overturned.

A recent report identified considerable inappropriate behavior by higher police-force levels when handling police whistleblowers. While judicial appointments have not been seen as politically motivated, an effort to change the appointment mechanism to end “cronyism” has proved controversial.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

With a few notable gaps despite increasingly strong performance, Ireland scores well (rank 12) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.4 points since 2014.

Strategic planning improved in the post-crisis period, but spending increases have shown a susceptibility to popular pressures. The Department of the Taoiseach grown substantially over the years, but most policymaking takes place in the line ministries. Cabinet committees are routinely used for interministerial coordination. 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 increased use of statutory instruments giving ministers the ability to shape policy implementation has transferred power from the legislature to the executive. Regulations tend to be enforced in an unbiased way. A relatively new local property tax has helped fund vital local public services.

Executive Accountability

While the public’s political engagement is diminishing as the memory of crisis fades, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 17) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points 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, and a new 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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