Freedom in the World 2022 - Ireland

/ 100
Political Rights 39 / 40
Civil Liberties 58 / 60
Last Year's Score & Status
97 / 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Ireland is a stable democracy in which political rights and civil liberties are respected and defended. There is some limited societal discrimination, especially against the traditionally nomadic Irish Travellers. Corruption scandals have plagued the police force, and domestic violence remains a problem.

Key Developments in 2021

  • In a January report, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes noted “appalling level[s] of infant mortality” and discrimination against the residents of institutions which were managed by the state and by Catholic priests and nuns. A redress scheme for survivors was announced in November, though a large number of survivors were excluded.
  • In July, former minister Katherine Zappone was appointed as special envoy on the freedom of expression to the United Nations, in a manner considered nontransparent by opposition parties. Zappone declined the post in August, while Foreign Minister Simon Coveney apologized for the manner in which the appointment was made.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The Taoiseach, or prime minister, is nominated by the House of Representatives (Dáil Éireann) and formally appointed by the president. Thus, the legitimacy of the prime minister is largely dependent on the conduct of Dáil elections, which historically have been free and fair. The Dáil elected Micheál Martin as Taoiseach in June 2020 following a general election in February, to lead the coalition government between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party.

The president is elected to up to two seven-year terms, and as chief of state has mostly ceremonial duties. Michael D. Higgins was reelected in 2018. Voting in presidential elections has historically been free and fair.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The Dáil’s 160 members are elected in multimember districts through a proportional representation system, and their terms last five years. The Senate (Seanad Éireann) contains 60 seats; 43 members are indirectly chosen through an electoral college, while 11 are selected by the Taoiseach and 6 are selected from constituencies that represent some higher education institutions.

The February 2020 Dáil election saw no major irregularities or unequal campaigning. Sinn Féin won 37 seats (24.5 percent), its best result ever and only one less than Fianna Fáil’s 38 seats (22.2 percent). Fine Gael won 35 seats (20.9 percent), and the Green Party 12 (7.1 percent).

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4

Ireland’s electoral framework is strong and government bodies hold credible polls. In January 2021, the government released details of the Electoral Reform Bill 2020, which would establish an independent Electoral Commission. The bill remained under consideration at year’s end.

Ireland frequently holds referendums, especially on European Union (EU) treaties.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4

Political parties in Ireland are free to form and compete. Among the main parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not differ widely in ideology, despite their long history as rivals; they represent the successors of opposing sides in the nation’s 1922–23 civil war. Other key parties include Sinn Féin—a left-wing republican party that leads the opposition—the Labour Party, and the Green Party.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

Opposition parties generally do not encounter restrictions or harassment that affects their ability to gain power through elections, and most of the main parties have been part of government at some point in the history of the state.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4 / 4

People’s political choices are generally free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, and other powerful groups.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4

Women are underrepresented, holding 23.1 percent of the Dáil’s seats. Women are visible in electoral politics however, with Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats both having female leaders.

While ethnic minority and marginalized groups are generally free to participate in politics, Irish Travellers and Roma have little representation. Travellers were formally recognized as an Indigenous ethnic group in 2017, the same year a 2017–21 inclusion strategy was launched. In March 2021, Traveller representatives called on the government to renew its commitment, saying that many of the strategy’s stated goals were not achieved.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4

Elected officials freely determine government policy. The government introduced legislation to combat the coronavirus pandemic and gave emergency powers to ministries and the police in 2020. Pandemic-related legislation remained in force in 2021.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3 / 4

Ireland has a recent history of problems with political corruption but has introduced anticorruption legislation in recent years. The Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 modernized and consolidated existing anticorruption laws, though critics claimed that the legislation did not adequately address bribery.

Scandals involving Ireland’s police (An Garda Síochána) have raised concerns about a lack of safeguards against corruption in that sector. In April 2021, four officers were charged with corruption-related offenses.

A multiagency review group examining anticorruption and antifraud structures was established after the government completed a 2017 study of white-collar crime. In April 2021, the Justice Department published an implementation plan based on the group’s recommendations, which included the establishment of an anticorruption advisory council. The Justice Department announced the appointment process for the council’s chairperson in September.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4

The public has broad access to official information under the 2014 Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, though partial exemptions remain for the police and some other agencies. A Transparency Code requires open records on the groups and individuals that advise public officials on policy. The government announced a comprehensive review of FOI legislation in June 2021, which is expected to be completed by 2022.

The July 2021 appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone as a special envoy on freedom of expression to the United Nations was considered nontransparent by opposition parties. Zappone declined the post in August, while Foreign Minister Coveney apologized for the manner in which he appointed her.

The government has been criticized for failing to consult meaningfully with civil society groups and relevant stakeholders in policy formulation, particularly regarding the Roma, Travellers, and people living with disabilities.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4

Irish media are free and independent, and present a variety of viewpoints. However, the media sector is highly concentrated, with Independent News and Media controlling much of the newspaper market.

Ireland’s restrictive defamation laws have received criticism, including from the European Commission. The government has vowed to publish a report on potential reform which was still forthcoming at the end of 2021.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed. Although religious oaths are still required from senior public officials, there is no state religion, and adherents of other faiths face few impediments to religious expression. In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has notably declined in the public eye, following a series of sexual abuse and other scandals involving the Church and its clergy.

D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4

Academic freedom is respected. The Roman Catholic Church operates approximately 90 percent of Ireland’s schools, most of which include religious education from which parents may exempt their children. The constitution requires equal funding for schools run by different denominations.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

There are no significant impediments to open and free private discussion, including in personal online communications. However, Ireland’s national identity card, the Public Services Card (PSC), has elicited controversy due to data storage and privacy concerns. The data protection commissioner (DPC) launched an investigation into some aspects of the PSC system in August 2021.

Activists and volunteers from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin were revealed to have acquired information from voters by posing as polling-company employees in recent years. In June 2021, the DPC called on political parties to disclose such behavior.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

The right to assemble freely is respected, and peaceful demonstrations are held each year. However, COVID-19-related legislation continued to place restrictions on freedom of assembly in 2021. Arrests for violating lockdown regulations occurred at multiple protests. In March, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) criticized the government over its pandemic restrictions, calling its policy a “blanket ban.”

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4

Freedom of association is upheld, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can operate freely.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4

Labor unions operate without hindrance, and collective bargaining is legal and unrestricted. Police were criticized for dispersing an April 2021 protest by workers of a shuttered department store in Dublin.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4

Ireland has a generally independent judiciary and a legal system based on common law. The Judicial Council, a body which promotes judicial excellence, good conduct, and judicial independence, began operating in 2020.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4

Due process generally prevails in civil and criminal matters. However, the police force has been affected by repeated corruption scandals in recent years. A new police commissioner, Drew Harris, was appointed in 2018; his predecessor resigned in 2017 after questions about her approach toward whistleblowers stoked controversy. Harris remained in his post in 2021.

The police have received a range of additional powers to enforce COVID-19 restrictions. In its June report, the ICCL called for those powers to be rescinded, calling them ineffective.

A Special Criminal Court (SCC) has functioned since 1972 to hear cases related to paramilitary violence committed during the Troubles, a period of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. The ICCL has called for the SCC’s abolition, noting that it does not employ a jury and can consider secret evidence. A final report from an inquiry on the SCC is due in 2022.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4

Irish prisons and detention facilities are frequently dangerous, unsanitary, overcrowded, and ill-equipped for prisoners with mental illness. In June 2021, the Inspector of Prisons reported that COVID-19 measures disproportionately impacted inmates, resulting in isolation and limiting their access to basic amenities.

A series of official inquiries in recent years have detailed decades of past physical, sexual, and emotional abuse—including forced labor—against women and children in state institutions and by Catholic priests and nuns from the early 20th century until 1996, as well as collusion to hide the abuse. The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes reported “appalling level[s] of infant mortality” and discrimination against residents when it published its final report in January 2021. Taoiseach Martin offered an official apology that month. An €800-million ($950-million) redress scheme for survivors was announced in November, but 24,000 survivors who spent less than six months in homes or were “boarded out” were excluded.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4

The Irish Network against Racism (INAR) counted 700 instances of racism in 2020, up from 530 in 2019. INAR noted that hate-speech reports nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020.

While existing legislation bans hate speech, Ireland lacks comprehensive hate-crime laws, and NGOs have criticized existing laws as dated and ineffective. The government proposed much-anticipated legislation in April 2021, which it intends to enact in 2022.

Supranational bodies have criticized ethnic discrimination within Ireland. In 2020, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that two-thirds of Irish Travellers and Roma face discrimination. The Council of Europe (CoE) called a 2017–21 inclusion strategy for both groups ineffective in a 2019 report. In August 2021, the Irish Traveller Movement reported on an ongoing housing crisis to the CoE.

People with disabilities face housing issues, are persistently institutionalized, and have suffered a severe reduction of social benefits in recent years. Advocacy groups criticized the government for operating disability services at reduced capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, the Health Department published the results of a consultation that identified the need for substantially more investment.

Irish law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but some social stigma against LGBT+ people persists.

The asylum application process is complex, and asylum seekers can be housed for lengthy periods in poor living conditions in a system known as Direct Provision. In February 2021, the government published a white paper on replacing Direct Provision with a new model by the end of 2024.

The 2015 International Protection Law expedites asylum procedures but focuses on enabling deportations rather than identifying and processing cases. In a July 2021 report, the Irish Refugee Council highlighted extensive delays for protection-process applicants.

Discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender is illegal, though there is still a substantial gender pay gap.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4

There are ordinarily no restrictions on travel or the ability to change one’s place of residence, employment, or education. Many COVID-19-related restrictions were gradually eased during 2021, though that process was delayed due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4

Private businesses are free to operate, and property rights are generally respected.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4

Individuals in Ireland have gained expanded social freedoms in recent years. In a 2015 referendum, voters extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. That same year, the Children and Family Relationships Act extended adoption rights to same-sex and cohabiting couples, and the Gender Recognition Act allowed transgender individuals to obtain legal recognition without medical or state intervention, and—for married transgender people—without divorcing. In a 2018 referendum, voters abolished a constitutional amendment that made nearly all abortions illegal, and health providers began performing abortions in 2019.

In 2019, Ireland enacted the Domestic Violence Act 2018, which criminalized forms of emotional and psychological abuse. However, domestic and sexual violence against women remain serious problems, and marginalized and immigrant women have particular difficulty accessing support. The police’s handling of emergency calls from victims of domestic abuse prompted an inquiry that was active in 2021. In June, Police Commissioner Harris apologized over the cancelling of calls related to domestic abuse.

G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4 / 4

People generally enjoy equality of opportunity. Workers have rights and protections under employment legislation. Although the government works to combat human trafficking and protect victims, undocumented migrant workers remain at risk of trafficking and labor exploitation. In 2021, reports persisted around unsafe working conditions in Ireland’s meat processing plants.