Since 1921 Ireland has been divided into two political units: Northern Ireland and Ireland. Ireland is an independent state in the European Union. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.
The national emblem is the harp, the traditional instrument of old Irish bards.An alternative symbol is the trefoil plant not unlike a clover, which is worn on St Patrick's Day (17 March). Ireland's tricolour flag of green, white and orange symbolises the union of north and south (the green represents the Republican community, the orange is the colour associated with Protestant Ulster and the white refers to the peace between the two).
Ireland is a parliamentary democracy. The President, who is Head of State, is elected for seven years by the direct vote of all citizens. Every citizen of thirty-five years of age or over is eligible for the office. The president appoints the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) on the nomination of the House of Representatives. The President signs and promulgates laws and is also the supreme commander of the armed forces. The Prime Minister appoints the members of the government who head various departments or ministries. The sole and exclusive power of making laws is vested in the Irish Parliament (Oireachtas), which consists of two houses: the House of Representatives (Dil) and the Senate (Seanad). The Dil consists of 166 elected members (1997 elections) elected for a five-year term by a system of proportional representation. The Houses of the Oireachtas are situated at Leinster House, Dublin.
The Senate has a complicated and indirect system of election. Sixty members of the Seanad, who may not veto legislation enacted by the Dil, are either nominated or elected in the following way: 11 members are nominated by the Taoiseach; 43 are elected from five panels of candidates representing culture and education, agriculture, labour, industry, commerce, and public administration; three are elected by the graduates of National University of Ireland and three by the University of Dublin (Trinity College). The Upper House meets on two days a week at most and has little power. The Senate cannot stop a bill, but can suggest amendments to any which are not financial bills.
Ireland is divided into 32 administrative counties and four boroughs (Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford). Local affairs are supervised by county councils, county boroughs and urban district councils. Local government is responsible for maintaining roads, water supply, sanitation, etc and has authority to levy local rates.
There are four main political parties in Ireland: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, and the Progressive Democrats.
Fianna Fail ('Soldiers of Destiny' in Irish) was founded in 1926 by Eamon de Valera. It has been the largest party in the Oireachtas (Parliament) since 1932. Fine Gael was formed in 1933 and since that time has been the second-largest party. The Labour Party, founded by James Connolly in 1912, has a smaller following. The Progressive Democrats Party was formed in 1985. Minor parties in the Republic include Sinn Fein, the Workers' Party, which is a left-wing socialist party, and the Provisional Sinn Fein, connected with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), which supports the union of Northern Ireland with the Republic by the use of violence.
95 per cent of the population in Ireland is Catholic and less than 4 per cent Protestant. The Catholic Church enjoyed until 1972 special position in the Republic although other religious denominations are recognised, e.g. the Church of Ireland (Protestant), the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, etc. Religion plays a more prominent part in the lives of the inhabitants of Ireland than in the lives of most people in the UK and the European Union.