The school in Ireland is compulsory for anyone between the ages of 6 and 16. The primary school is formally 6 years old, but over 95% of the children start when they are 4 or 5 years old and consequently attend 8 years in the primary school. The secondary school is 3 years old, followed by a 2 year high school. It has been considered important to have bilingualism implemented in the country, so that Irish language has been emphasized in teaching.
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Educational policy is established and curricula are created centrally. The educational system is characterized by the country being Catholic. The state covers just over 85% of the cost of all schools, while in practice the church functions as the owner through local boards composed of representatives of school owners (usually the church), parents and teachers. The boards are delegated extensive authority, but they are also responsible for the follow-up of results. Many of the schools in the country are small, 40% of primary schools have fewer than four teachers. The depopulation of the countryside makes this a problem.
Ireland has 7 universities. The oldest is the University of Dublin (Trinity College), founded in 1592.
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Crisis and the EU
Throughout the 1980’s, Ireland was plagued by high unemployment (an average of 16.4% in 1983-88) and emigration. Added to this was high inflation and industrial decline. In 1987, the government initiated an economic crisis program that led to increased economic growth and a decline in inflation in the following years.
In May 1987, 69.9% voted in a referendum for the European Single Act – the EU Package Agreement, which paved the way for the “internal market”. As one of the poorest countries in the EU, Ireland since its inception in 1973 has been a major net beneficiary of the Union’s structural funds.
In November 1990, attorney Mary Robinson won as the first woman in the country to run for president. Robinson had run as an independent candidate, but was supported by the Labor Party, the Women’s Political Association and the trade union movement. She got 52% of the vote in the presidential election.
In the predominantly Catholic and highly conservative country, Mary Robinson has excelled in her defense of the rights of gays and women, as well as the recognition of the rights of children born out of wedlock.
In July 1992, 57% of eligible Irish went to the polls to vote on the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty – two months after the Danish no. Despite the low turnout, the result exceeded expectations and 69% of the Irish voted for ratification.
In January 1993, Albert Reynolds of Fianna Fail was appointed head of government, despite the fact that his party in the election had lost seats to the Labor Party. Fianna Fail had 77 of the seats in Parliament against the Fine Gaels 45 and the Labor Party’s 33 seats. Therefore, a coalition government formed by Fianna Fail and the Labor Party was formed.
As a result of the continued exhaustion of agriculture and traditional industry, unemployment reached 20% in 1993. Still, GDP rose as a result of rising exports – primarily high-tech products.
In January 1994, the government removed the ban on Sinn Fein’s radio broadcasts, and in August, the IRA declared complete unilateral ceasefire, paving the way for an expansion of the political dialogue on the island.
In November, the Reynolds government resigned after the Labor Party withdrew its support. The reason was that the extradition of a priest from Northern Ireland accused of pedophilia was long drawn. Reynolds was followed by John Bruton of Fine Gael, whose government was supported by the Labor Party and the Democratic Left.
The new government coalition succeeded in maintaining political and social stability throughout 1995. The Finance Act was passed in February and contained improvements for salaried employees, small businesses and low-income workers. Economic growth was 5¼%.