Country profile of EU member Ireland: Europe’s least Eurosceptic nation?

Country profile of EU member Ireland: Europe’s least Eurosceptic nation? - Shaping Europe

From an occupied territory to one of the EU’s greatest success stories.

Famous for its beautiful coasts and mountainous landscapes, being one of the strongest rugby nations in the world, St. Patrick’s Day, and disliking their British neighbours, Ireland remains one of Europe’s most progressive and fast-growing nations. It is a country that boasts a deep artistic, musical and literary tradition that goes back centuries. Nowadays, Ireland’s economic success is owed to the fact that it is home to several American tech headquarters in Europe (such as Meta, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Intel). Ireland holds a complex history of religious and ethno-national divide due to British occupation. As a result, English remains the primary language spoken in the country, though the government has made great efforts to maintain the Irish language (a Gaelic language) in use. In fact, it is one of the EU’s official languages. Ireland also remains to this day, one of the only countries in the world to have successfully partitioned by their own will.

Brief history

Until 21 December 1921, Ireland existed under English rule with the Norman conquest of 1169 and then was made a part of the British Empire – with a brief decade-long independence during the 1640s. However, movements for independence and anti-British sentiment truly gained traction as early as the 1840s. This was the decade  that Ireland was plagued by the Irish Famine (also known as the Irish Potato Famine) between 1845 and 1849, for which the British government was largely responsible as they continued food exports during a period of severe crop failure across the land. As a result, Ireland experienced a massive population drop, the impact of which is still felt to this day as the population (just over 5 million in 2023) never reached its pre-famine numbers (approximately 8.5 million). This was due to both deaths caused by the famine and the departure of millions of Irish people to seek better lives elsewhere, particularly to North America, in one of the greatest exoduses from an island in global history.

During the independence movement, the country was divided into two separate states. Northern Ireland would remain a part of the United Kingdom, while the rest of the country would become the independent Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland remained affected by the partition, which culminated in the Northern Irish conflict, or “the Troubles”, lasting between the late 1960s and 1990s. This is often referred to as a religious conflict, and while it had a sectarian element to it, it mostly revolved around ethno-nationalism and the status of Northern Ireland. During this time, the region was divided into two groups: on one side the Unionists or Loyalists (most often Protestants) who wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom, and the Irish Nationalists and Republicans (most often Irish Catholics) who hoped to join the independent Irish state. Eventually, most of the violence ended on 10 April 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which was the outcome of two referendums that were shared across both Northern and Southern Ireland. Thus, Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom, reaffirming the successful and voluntary partition of the nation of Ireland.


The Republic of Ireland is the southern and largest part of the island, boasting beautiful coastlines, cliff sides and beaches, and it extends past any other European country into the Atlantic, making it the closest EU country to the Americas. Its main geographical landscapes include low, flat plains in the centre surrounded by mountain ranges, complete with wide expanses of lush green, and dunes that acquire a pinkish hue from heather in spring. Its highest peak, the Carrauntoohil Mountain in the southwest of the island, sits at 1039m. Ireland also hosts one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world, the Wild Atlantic Way which is 2600 km long. Its beautiful, romantic scenery makes for the perfect filming location and can be admired in movie and television hits such as Normal People (2020) and The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) amongst others.

Irish governance

The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary republic with a prime minister called the Taoiseach who is the head of government and appointed by the president. The current Taoiseach is Simon Harris, as of this year. There is no maximum term of service for the prime minister as the position is selected by the president. The latter serves for a mandate of 7 years and can be elected by the public for a maximum of 2 consecutive terms. The president mostly holds ceremonial responsibilities, while the prime minister has executive power. The parliament is divided into two groups: the Upper and Lower House.

The current prime minister belongs to the Fine Gael party, which advertises itself as a centre-progressive party, though political analysts generally place it at the centre-right. Domestically, the party has associated itself with the left side of the political spectrum, namely with the Workers Party with whom the party has associated since 1948. However, within the context of the European Union (EU), the Fine Gael party falls within the centre-right political group European People’s Party (EPP).

Ireland and the EU 

Ireland officially joined the European Economic Community (the predecessor to the EU) in 1973, after several years of preparation and a couple of applications. Interestingly, French President General Charles de Gaulle was the main reason that Ireland’s applications to join the EEC were blocked on two occasions, in 1963 and 1967. This is because he remained stubborn that Britain would not join the EU, and this included Ireland by defect, even though they were already an independent state at this point.

In the years before Ireland joined the EU, political leaders such as Seàn Lemass and Jack Lynch, as well as diplomats and economists all argued favourably for an Irish future within the EU. A referendum was passed in the early 1970s to analyse Irish sentiment towards joining the EEC, and the 83% of voters in favour confirmed the positive sentiment towards this decision. Today, Euroscepticism remains the opinion of only a small minority of voters. Opinion polls between 2017 and 2021 have confirmed that between 70-90% of voters believe that remaining in the EU is a good thing for Ireland.

Statistics show that Ireland’s voter turnout in all elections (local, national and European) lies below the EU average. In the European elections of 2019, the percentage of non-voters was 50.3%, while the EU average of abstentions or non-voters was 47.5%. This year, the voter turnout was 50%, marginally higher than in the past. This is likely due to the presence of high-profile candidates for MEP positions, recent political events, and the fact that the nation hosted the EP elections on the same day as local municipal elections (7th June 2024).

Ireland has been entitled to 13 seats in the European Parliament, though this will increase to 14 in the 2024 EU parliament election. With two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in Renew Europe, four in the EPP, three in the Greens/EFA and four in the Left, a majority (69%) of Ireland’s seats are situated on the centre-left to the left of the political spectrum.

Some of the leading priorities for the public are:

  • Public health (46%);
  • Migration (42%);
  • Poverty (36%);
  • Economy (33%).

These statistics are interesting. It is unusual for the issue of migration and asylum to be considered such a high priority for voters (the EU average is 24%). This may be explained by the recent political disturbances that occurred at the end of 2023. A series of protests against immigration have likely contributed to the rise in anti-immigration sentiment, as the Irish people now rank third among the 27 EU states’ populations in considering this issue a priority. Moreover, another unusual statistic is the fact that EU’s defence and security only made eighth place (17%), which contrasts with the Eurobarometer conclusion that this issue remains one of the top three priorities amongst European voters. 

The three largest parties in the Irish Parliament: governing parties Fianna Fail (Renew) and Fine Gael (EPP) have both returned with four seats each. The opposition party Sinn Féin (GUE/NGL) has returned with two seats (lower than the expected three). Of the 14 seats allocated to Ireland, more than half remain on the left side of the political spectrum, signifying that the pro-European country appears to have resisted the shift towards the far-right that the EU has witnessed in this election.

Dalia Michaud has a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in international relations at Utrecht University.

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