This essay will explain what it is meant by ‘Political Culture’ and will discuss the three major influences on Irish Political Culture. The three influences on Irish Political Culture that will be discussed in the essay will be: 1. Socio-Economic Development
2. Political Experience
3. Religion and Secularisation
I believe that Political Culture is the basic beliefs and traditions of a group of people towards politics and how they feel the government should be run. David J. Elkins and Richard E. B. Simeon believe that Political Culture is a ‘mind set which has the effect of limiting attention to less than the full range of alternative behaviours, problems and solutions which are logically possible’ (1979 : 128)
Socio-economic Development has been a big influence on the Irish Political Culture. Before 1920s Ireland was once renowned for having a strong agrarian culture in which they depended highly on the primary sector to produce an income and provide themselves with an acceptable standard of living. “Agrarian society has been typified as that in which the population, by definition, is overwhelming involved in the primary sector of the economy…” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006: 41) The Irish culture throughout the 1800s up to 2000s has changed from being a strong agrarian society to a more industrialised based society. In the book Politics in Republic of Ireland by J. Coakley and M. Gallagher, on page 42(fig. 2.1) it provides an interesting chart. This chart shows how the non-agrarian population increases between 1960 and 1980. It also shows how the urban population likewise increases steadily between 1840 and 2000. Yet even though less people are involved in agriculture in Ireland, it doesn’t mean that agriculture has deteriorated in Ireland. Agriculture has just been altered into big agribusinesses which took over from small family farms which aren’t as profitable.
“The decline in the agricultural sector of the population, for example, does not mean simply that there are fewer farmers; the character of farming has been transformed from a way of life into just another enterprise, as small family farms were replaced by larger agribusinesses” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006: 43). Before the introduction of free education at secondary level, students who didn’t have a wealthy background attended the Christian Brothers, and those who could afford second level education attended private schools. “Before then, bright children who could not otherwise afford it were educated by the Christian Brothers…” “Private schools existed for the middle classes, nearly all run by religious orders…” (Eoin O’ Malley, 2011; 81)
However since the introduction of free education in the late 20th century, it resulted in the beginning of state run schools which offered students a wider range of educational opportunities. “ The introduction of free education entailed the expansion of the network of state schools, as opposed to state-funded religious schools, and these tended to offer some non-academic, vocational education as well as academic subjects” (Eoin O’ Malley, 2011; 81) It’s clear to see from the statistics in (Eoin O’ Malley, 2011; 81) that there was an significant rise in the numbers attending secondary school in the 1960s compared to those that attended by the early 21st century. “… as only about 20 per cent of school children completed secondary school in the early 1960s, rising to nearly 50 per cent by the end of the 1970s” (Eoin O’ Malley, 2011; 81) “ Almost 90 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds in 2008 had completed secondary school…” (Eoin O’ Malley, 2011; 81)
Political Experience has been another major influence on the Irish Political Culture.
Due to the presence of the British for several centuries in Ireland, they have left a noticeable stamp in the Irish Culture. A great example of this is the dominance of the English language in Ireland. “One of the most obvious aspects of the British legacy has been in the domain of language, as we have already noted” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 48).
From the 1920s onwards the Irish language was at a very fragile level, as the English language took over and it was only the Gaeltacht areas in the west keeping it strong. This resulted in the Irish language being very rarely spoken on a daily basis and a heavy amount of the Irish population not even understanding basic Irish. “The Irish language was in a very weak position by 1922, notwithstanding the energetic activities of revivalists” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 48). “While official statistics thus show a steady rise in the proportion claiming a knowledge of Irish (from 18 per cent in 1911 to 41 per cent in 2006) the language has continued to decay to the point of extinction as a living language” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 49) The British influence even further increased when statistics showed that at least 10 per cent of the newspapers that were circulating in Ireland in 1968 were British. This enlarged even more in 1992 it came to 21 per cent and then to 48 per cent in 2008. (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006)
Lastly, Religion and Secularisation have also been a key influence on the changing of the Irish Political Culture.
It’s clear from Fig 2.2 (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 46) that the weekly attendance of mass was at its peak between 1970 and 1975. “It is clear that until the 1970s the level of commitment to traditional Irish Catholicism was extremely high. This was reflected not just in the character of public debate but also in objective indicators such as church attendance, participation in church activities and clerical vocations” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 46) However from the 1980s onwards the weekly attendance of church started to steadily decrease until early 1990s where it increased marginally. However coming to the late 1990s it plummeted to its lowest ever attendance. “… but it dropped a little in the 1980s and much more dramatically in the late 1990s.” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 46) It is easily seen from statistics from the late 1990s onwards that it is the older age group (55+) that have a higher tendency to still attend mass weekly while the younger generations have a lower attendance percentage to participate at church on a weekly basis. “ By 2006, only 46 per cent were weekly churchgoers, and there was a striking breakdown in age profile: for those aged under 35, only 25 per cent attended at least once weekly; this rose to 46 per cent for the 35-54 age group and to 72 per cent for those aged 55 or more…” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 46)
It is obviously from the statistics shown in (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 46) that the religious beliefs of the up and coming generation has weakened tremendously which is shown the drop in the number in the clergy. “Between 1970 and 1995 the number of clergy had fallen from 33,000 to a little over 21,000, a drop of 35 per cent.” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 46) This decline has had major consequences on the preaching in churches and in catholic schools.” … and since the general pattern is one of decline in religious vocations, the Catholic church has already reached a point where it no longer has the personnel resources to staff its schools- or, in places, even its churches.” The drop in interest in religious practice from the younger generation has resulted in a major problem in local parishes as the current clergy is aging rapidly. “Since the age profile of the Irish clergy is rapidly becoming older, the problem of staffing parishes is likely to become progressively more acute…” (Coakley and Gallagher, 2006; 46)
From the various points I discussed throughout the essay I believe that even though all three of the influences have played a major role in the shaping of Irelands Political Culture, I deem Socio-Economic Development as the most influential. My motives to consider this is because it has caused the major shift in the lifestyles of the Irish people, and the opinions of those who aren’t from Ireland on the Irish people changing that of being known as a rural farming culture to a country that is highly industrialised and have a population that are highly educated and vastly efficient. The change in the nature of how education was provided and taught in Ireland is also an aspect in the change of Irelands Political Culture. This change encouraged the Irish population to become highly educated as the introduction of the free education allowed the people of Ireland to avail of this vital service. Having viewed the evidence I have provided throughout this essay, I believe there is sufficient information to provide with views on Political Culture and the influences that have been put on the Irish Political Culture.
Coakley and Gallagher (2006), ‘Politics in the Republic of Ireland’, Society and political culture, pp. 41-51
Eoin O’ Malley (2011), ‘Contemporary Ireland’, The Changing Society, pp. 81
David J. Elkins, Richard E. B. Simeon (1979), ‘Comparative Politics’, A Cause in Search of Its Effect, or What Does Political Culture Explain?, pp.127-145