Freedom Status: Free
Aggregate Score: 96/100 (0 = Least Free, 100 = Most Free)
Freedom Rating: 1.0/7 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)
Political Rights: 1/7 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)
Civil Liberties: 1/7 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 4,700,000
Capital: Dublin
GDP/capita: $61,134
Press Freedom Status: Free


Ireland is a stable democracy that holds regular free and fair elections. Political rights and civil liberties are robust, although the government suffers from some incidence of corruption. While the Catholic Church maintains a strong influence and abortion rights remain restricted, members of all religious groups may practice freely and same-sex marriage is legal. There is some limited societal discrimination, especially against the traditionally nomadic Irish Travellers.

Key Developments in 2016:

  • General elections took place on February 26. Fine Gael remained the largest party, but with far fewer seats than in the 2011 general election, while Fianna Fáil more than doubled its share of the vote. Sinn Féin came in third.

  • After protracted postelection negotiations lasting 63 days, Fine Gael joined Fianna Fáil in a minority-led government.

  • In September, a large prochoice demonstration took place in Dublin calling for repeal of the eighth amendment of the constitution that gives equal rights to the life of the mother and the unborn; the law remained unchanged at year's end.

Executive Summary:

Ireland is a stable and robust democracy. As in the past, 2016 national elections saw no major irregularities or unequal campaigning opportunities. Free expression and association as well as the functioning of the judiciary are unhampered. Among its European peers, Ireland is most distinguished by its strict abortion laws protected by the constitution. However, the population is more socially liberal, as evidenced by a 2015 referendum that approved the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples and resulted in a constitutional amendment. Ireland also has relatively high levels of governmental corruption compared to its neighbors, marked by cronyism, political patronage, and illegal donations.

Societal discrimination against the small Irish Traveller population remains, particularly in housing and employment. Only in 2015 did the parliament pass legislation to curtail an exemption that allowed health and educational institutions run by religious entities to practice employment discrimination on religious grounds, for example on the basis of sexual orientation. Unusually severe prison conditions were highlighted by a 2015 Council of Europe report that criticized the continued lack of toilet access in some cells; the government has taken steps to address this.

Explanatory Note:

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Ireland, see Freedom in the World 2016.

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