Last Updated: Tuesday, 01 December 2015, 13:36 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Ireland

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date June 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Ireland, June 2008, available at: [accessed 2 December 2015]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last updated: June 2008


The Republic of Ireland comprises 26 of the 32 counties of the island of Ireland on the fringes of north-western Europe. It is bordered by the six counties of Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) to the north, by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and by the Irish Sea to the east.


Following the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty set up the Irish Free State without six of the nine counties of Ulster and gave the Free State self-governing dominion status within the British Empire. In 1922 civil war broke out in the south between the Free State Party, which accepted the treaty, and those who opposed it. The Free State Party won and in 1949 the Irish Free State became the Irish Republic, formally breaking its last links with the British Commonwealth.

The 1937 Constitution laid claim to the six counties of Northern Ireland. It also gave Roman Catholic Church a 'special position' as the church of the majority, but recognized other Christian and Jewish sects. The clauses relating to religions were removed in 1973 after Ireland joined the European Economic Community. In 1999 the clauses relating to the territorial claim over Northern Ireland were amended to give all those born in the island of Ireland the right to be part of the Irish Nation, subject to the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

One-third of the small community of Protestants left the Irish Free State in the 1920s.

The Irish economy languished in the 1930s, but remained solvent, and suffered from the privations of the German blockade of Britain during the Second World War. Afterwards, emigration resumed and Ireland's population fell to its lowest level, 2.7 million, in 1960. The tourist industry was successfully promoted and offered increasing job prospects at home until the 'troubles' resumed in Northern Ireland in 1969. From 1973, as a mainly agricultural economy, Ireland gained from EC farm subsidies, also from the EC structural funds for economic development. Government policies for attracting inward investment, especially from the United States, transformed the Irish economy from the 1980s into the 'Celtic tiger'. By the end of the century, Ireland became a country of net immigration for the first time.


Main languages: English, Irish

Minority groups include Protestants 146,226 (3.7%) and Travellers 23,681 (0.6%).

Main religions: Roman Catholic 4.5 million (88.4%), Church of Ireland (Anglicans) 115,611 (3%), Presbyterians 20,582, Methodists 10,033 and Jews 1,790.

The Irish number 3.5 million or 92 per cent of the population, the British 103,500 (2.7%), and those with dual Irish and other nationality 49,300 (1.3%). In the 2002 Census, 3.6 million were Irish and 224,261 (5.8%) were non-nationals, 77 per cent of whom were British. The majority of the rest are from other European countries.

Between 2002 and 2006 net inward migration was 46,000 a year, according to government statistics. Since May 2004 there has been a large increase in work permits granted to immigrants, especially from Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia. In 2002 the main nationalities of asylum seekers were Nigerian, Romanian, Moldovan, Zimbabwean, Ukrainian and Polish.

Irish language speakers were 1.2 million in 2004 (28%).


The first session of the Dail (the Irish parliament) was held largely in Irish Gaelic. The 1937 Constitution makes Irish the main official language and English the second official language. Teachers and all civil servants had to have competence in Irish until the 1970s, when this requirement was applied to jobs in education and the media only. Irish has not been an official language of the European Union because the Irish government did not insist that it should be at accession in 1973. However, in 2007 Irish has become an official EU language.

The constitution guarantees basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom from discrimination and equality before the law.

The Employment Equality Act 1998, the Equal Status Act 2000 and the Equality Act 2004 provide the main measures to combat discrimination. The Equality Act of 2004 brings the other two Acts into compliance with the EU equal treatment directives on employment and race. These Acts prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, and membership of the Traveller community. The Employment Equality Act prohibits discrimination in the sphere of employment and vocational training, while the Equal Status Act relates to the provision of goods and services. The Equality Authority promotes non-discrimination and the Equality Tribunal enforces the provisions of the Acts.

The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 bans inflammatory publications and speech, but poses problems for enforcement in the definitions of incitement and hatred. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 tackles racism as a public order problem.

The 1998 Belfast Agreement, or Good Friday Agreement, on the conflict in Northern Ireland set up the North-South Ministerial Council for better cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Several joint bodies for management of food safety, inland waterways, etc. were set up. They include a language organization to promote Irish and Ulster-Scots. In line with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the government set up the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Commission Acts, 2000 and 2001.

The 1998 Traveller Accommodation Act set up the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee and required local authorities to resolve Traveller housing and other problems. The 2002 Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act made trespass, previously a civil offence, into a criminal offence, which criminalizes the Travellers' traditional nomadic way of life. In December 2003, at the request of the Taoiseach, a High Level Group was established under the aegis of the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion. Its remit was to 'ensure that the relevant statutory agencies involved in providing the full range of services to Travellers, would focus on improving the integrated practical delivery of such services'.

Ireland has had very liberal policies with regard to immigration, which increased from 1996 but migrant workers were easily absorbed by the expanding economy. Until April 2003 Ireland's work permit policies were almost entirely employer-led. Once employers had shown proof that 'every effort had been made' to recruit a European Economic Area (EEA) national before making a work permit application, they could legally recruit as many non-EEA workers as they wished. The majority of new immigrants since May 2004 are from Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia, according to government information. There are established Asian and US communities.

The 2003 Employment Permits Bill, which granted workers from the 10 EU accession countries free access to the Irish labor market from 1 May 2004, marked a more managed approach to work permits by the government. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the state training authority (FÁS) published a list of low-skilled jobs for which work permits will not be granted. Work permit applications for non-EU workers were turned down from late 2003. In May 2004 amnesty was offered to illegal immigrants but welfare benefits were restricted.

The liberal policy towards immigration is not mirrored in the policy towards asylum seekers. In 1994 the EU adopted the Dublin Convention that asylum seekers could be returned to the first country of entry into the EU. Ireland is typically one of the last countries for asylum seekers to enter since it is at the western extreme of the EU. In 2006 the government launched an assisted return programme for failed asylum seekers.
Workers who have lived and worked in Ireland for at least five years on a series of work permits or working visas can apply for Long Term Residency status, which lasts for five years and is renewable. This status allows workers to move freely between jobs and employers or to set up a business. Alternatively, they can apply for citizenship. A third option is to apply for 'permission to remain without condition as to time', but for this status eight years of legal residency is required.

Until 31 December 2004 any child born in Ireland automatically had the right to Irish nationality. From 1 January 2005 the right is not automatic for the children of non-Irish parents. If the parents have been legally resident in Ireland for three out of the previous four years before the birth of the child, the child may obtain citizenship. The law was changed to stop asylum seekers attempting to strengthen their case via their children.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Amnesty International
Tel: +353 1 677 6361

European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages
Tel: +353 1 679 4764

Immigrant Council of Ireland
[Promoting the rights of immigrants through information, advocacy and awareness]
Tel: +353 1 674 0202

Integrating Ireland
[The National Network of Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Immigrant Support Groups]
Tel: +353 1 478 3490

Irish Council for Civil Liberties (An Chomhairle um Chearta Daonna)
[The leading independent, non-governmental membership organization working to defend and promote human rights and civil liberties in Ireland]
Tel: +353 1 799 4500

Free Legal Advice Centres
Tel: +353 1 874 5690

[Health NGO for ethnic minorities]
Tel: +353 1 855 2111

Africa Centre
[Promotes tolerance, justice and social inclusion for African communities in Ireland]
Tel: +353 1 865 6951

Migrant Rights Centre Ireland
[Works for the human rights of migrant workers and their families]
Tel: +353 1 889 7570

National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI)
[Provides advice and develops initiatives to combat racism]
Tel: +353 1 858 8000


Methodist Church in Ireland
Tel: 44 (0)28 9032 4554

Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Tel: 44 (0028 9032 2284


Pavee Point Travellers' Centre
[Promotes travellers' human rights]
Tel: +353 1 878 0255

Irish Travellers Movement
[National network of organizations and individuals working within the Traveller community]
Tel: +353 1 679 65 77

Exchange House Travellers Service
[Provides services to Travellers in the Dublin area]
Tel: +353 1 872 1094

Sources and further reading


Amnesty International, Racism in Ireland: The Views of Black and Ethnic Minorities, Dublin, Amnesty International, 2001.

Darby, J., Northern Ireland: Managing Difference, London, MRG, 1995.

Dublin Travellers' Education and Development Group, Travellers Getting Involved, Dublin, 1987.

Farrell, F. and Watt, P. (eds), Responding to Racism in Ireland, Dublin, Veritas, 2001.

Garner, S. and White A., Racist Attitudes in Ireland: Baseline Research for the Anti-Racism Awareness-Raising Programme, Dublin, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, 2000.

Jackson, H. and McHardy, A., Two Irelands: The Problem of the Double Minority, London, MRG, 1984.

Noonan, P., Travelling People in West Belfast, London, Save the Children, 1994.

Ugba, A., Active Civic Participation of Immigrants in Ireland, country report prepared for the European research project POLITIS, Oldenburg (Germany), 2005, retrieved May 2007, [news agency covering topics related to lesser-used languages, linguistic diversity, stateless nations and national minorities within the European Union]


Murphy, C. and Adair, L. (eds), A Place for Peace: Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, 1974-2004, The Liffey Press, 2004.

Murphy, C. and Adair, L. (eds), Untold Stories: Protestants in the Republic of Ireland 1922-2002, The Liffey Press.

Church of Ireland Web:

Irish Angle (Church of Ireland news and documentation website):

Presbyterian Herald (newspaper),


Bewley, V. (ed.), The Travelling People in Ireland, Veritas, 1976.

Farrell, F. and Watt, P. (eds), Responding to Racism in Ireland, Veritas.

Macalister, R.A.S. The Secret Languages of Ireland, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1937.

Pavee Point, Assimilation Policies and Outcomes: Travellers' Experience, 2006.

Pavee Point, Review of Travellers Health using Primary Care as a Model of Good Practice, 2006.

Pavee Point, Traveller Ways, Traveller Words, Dublin: Pavee Point Publications, 1992.

Copyright notice: © Minority Rights Group International. All rights reserved.

Search Refworld