Ireland is neutral, but the Army of Ireland is very active in peacekeeping operations around the world, and at any given time upwards of one-fifth of Irelands soldiers are deployed, or predeployed or postdeployed. But Ireland has neither a navy nor an air force. The Irish Naval Service is focused on fisheries enforcement, a task is shares with the Irish Air Corps, a formation which is also responsible for other tasks, such as VIP transport and providing overwatch escort for trucks hauling cash or prisoners, or other such things as might attract the interest of criminal gangs.
The geographical island of Ireland contains two separate legal jurisdictions comprising the sovereign independent state of Ireland comprising 26 counties located to the south, east, west and north-west of the island, while Northern Ireland comprises the remaining six counties to the north-east of the island, under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.
The Irish Constitution provides that the name of the State is Éire or in the English language, Ireland. The Republic of Ireland Act of 1948 provides for the description of the State as the Republic of Ireland but this provision has not changed the use of 'Ireland' as the name of the State in the English language. The harp has been regarded as the official symbol or coat of arms of Ireland since medieval times. The heraldic harp is used by the Government, its agencies and its representatives at home and abroad. It is engraved on the seal matrix of the Office of the President as well as on the obverse of all coinage. It features on the Irish euro coins.
Ireland is a parliamentary democracy. Its law is based on common law and legislation enacted by the Irish Parliament under the Constitution. In addition, regulations and directives enacted by the European Union have the force of law in Ireland. EU regulations become part of national law and are enforceable in national courts immediately once they come into force. They do not need to be brought in by any national legislation. EU Directives require Member States to implement national legislation to achieve a specific result and must, therefore be transposed into Irish legislation.
The Constitution of Ireland sets out the form of government and defines the powers and functions of the President, both Houses of the Oireachtas (National Parliament) and the Government. It also defines the structure and powers of the Courts and outlines the fundamental rights of citizens. The definition of rights covers five broad headings: Personal Rights, The Family, Education, Private Property and Religion. The people elect the President by direct vote. A President may only serve for two terms.
There are fifteen Government Departments each headed by a Minister who collectively form the Government. Executive power is exercised by or on the authority of the Government, which is responsible to the Dáil (House of Representatives). The Head of the Government is the Taoiseach (Prime Minister - pronounced "TEE-shuck") while the Tánaiste is the Deputy Prime Minister. There are two Houses of Parliament, known as Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives) and Seanad Éireann (Senate). The political parties represented in the Dáil are Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Progressive Democrats.
The Permanent Defence Forces, which include the regular Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, operate under the auspices of the Department of Defence. The Department is also responsible for the general planning, organisation and co-ordination of Civil Defence measures. Recruitment to the Permanent Defence Forces is voluntary. The Defence Forces have extensive peacekeeping experience and have served with the UN all over the world since 1958. The longest-running mission is with UNIFIL in Lebanon where the Army committed in excess of 30,000 tours of duty since 1978. Defence Forces personnel have served, and continue to serve, in a number of other UN and UN led missions in areas such as Cyprus, the Middle East, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Afghanistan and, most recently, Chad.
The Irish Defense Forces have conducted peacekeeping operations since 1958. Many of these have had a humanitarian aspect. Since 1994, however, the Defense Forces have become involved in dedicated humanitarian operations, notably in Africa, Central America, and the Balkans. These operations have been unorthodox in that they have deployed unarmed troops, who are on special leave, in civilian attire and under the auspices of international organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or Irish governmental organizations such as the Agency for Personal Service Overseas (APSO).
A high level of operational commitments has been a feature of Irish military life for many years, because of the so-called "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. It continued despite the declaration of a cease-fire by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1997. The main reason for the high tempo of military operations was that the Irish Police force -- the Gárda Síochána -- is a predominantly unarmed force, the members of which require armed protection in carrying out of many of their duties. This applied particularly during the escorting of large amounts of cash between banks, of explosives to building sites and quarries, and of IRA and other subversive prisoners between courts and prisons.
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