Trinity College Dublin
Abstract: Political parties are central to democracy, but according to some arguments their capacity to discharge their functions is weakening in many countries. Moreover, the institution of the referendum is sometimes perceived to pose particular problems for political parties, impinging upon their centrality in political life and upon their internal cohesion. Ireland is one of Europe’s heaviest users of the referendum, so in that light it may be expected that parties in Ireland are weaker than those in most other countries. Consideration of the available evidence produces a mixed picture, however, with Irish parties conforming to expected trends in some respects but not in others.