|Flag||Coat of Arms|
|Government||Republic and Parliamentary Democracy|
|Language||Irish and English (official)|
|President||Michael D. Higgins|
|Prime minister||Enda Kenny|
|Area||27,133 sq mi|
|GDP per capita||$45,642 (2010)|
Ireland is a parliamentary democracy in northwestern Europe consisting of 26 counties on the island of Ireland. The Irish state became independent in 1921 as a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The 1937 constitution gives the name of the state as simply "Ireland." It is sometimes described as the "Republic of Ireland" to distinguish it from the island as a whole, which also includes Northern Ireland.
The island of Ireland is located in the Atlantic Ocean, to the west of Britain. Of the thirty two counties of Ireland, twenty six are in the republic, including all counties in the provinces of Connacht, Munster and Leinster. Of the nine counties of Ulster, three (Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal) are in the republic and the remaining counties remain in the United Kingdom. The longest river in Ireland, The Shannon, divides the Republic into a largely urban eastern section, dominated by Dublin, and a more rural, less economically vibrant western area.
The Irish people are mainly of Celtic origin, with the country's only significant sized minority having descended from the Normans. English is the common language, but Irish (Gaelic) is also an official language and is taught in schools.
Irish writers such as Swift, Sheridan, Goldsmith, Burke, O'Casey, Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett have made major contributions to English literature over the past 300 years.
- Population: 4,470,700 (2010 est.).
- Cities: Capital--Dublin (pop. 506,211). Other cities--Cork (119,418), Limerick (92,539), Galway (72,414), Waterford, (45,748).
- Population breakdown 0-14 years (20.4%), 15-24 years (15%), 25-34 years (17%), 35-44 years (14%), 45-54 years (12%), 55-64 years (10%), 65 years and over (11%)
- Population growth rate: 2.61% (2008 est.).
- Ethnic groups: Irish, with English minority.
- Religions: Roman Catholic 86.8%; No religion 4.4%; Church of Ireland 3 %; Islam 0.8%; Presbyterian 0.6%; Orthodox 0.5%; Methodist 0.3%; other 2.1%
- Languages: English, Irish (Gaelic).
- Education: Compulsory up to age 16. Enrolment rates: first (primary) level 449,508, second (high school and vocational) level 335,162, third (university and college) level 133,691. Literacy--98%-99%.
- Health: Infant mortality rate--4.61/1,000. Life expectancy at birth--male 77.32 yrs., female 81.79 yrs.
- Work force: Services--66%; industry--28%; agriculture--6%.
Government and Political Conditions
Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state with a parliamentary system of government. The president, who serves as head of state in a largely ceremonial role, is elected for a 7-year term and can be re-elected only once. The current president is Michael D. Higgins, who is serving his first term after succeeding President Mary McAleese. In carrying out certain constitutional powers and functions, the president is aided by the Council of State, an advisory body. On the Taoiseach's (prime minister's) advice, the president also dissolves the Oireachtas (Parliament).
The Taoiseach (pronounced "TEE-shuck")(prime minister) is elected by the Dáil (lower house of Parliament) as the leader of the incoming government. He is usually the leader of the principal political party, of which he had been elected by an internal vote within that party. He usually has to make a deal with other political parties and/or independently elected TDs (members of parliament). In order to be able to form a government he must essentially have the support of a majority of the 166 elected members of Dáil Éireann. Dáil Éireann is far and away the most important political parliament, and Seanad Éireann was historically created as a means to provide the former colonial Anglo-Irish rulers with a voice in national politics. Only one member of Seanad Éireann has served in an Irish government by virtue of that membership, James Dooge. Elections to the Dáil are held approximately every 5 years (unless called earlier due to a political crisis). Executive power is vested in a cabinet whose ministers are nominated by the Taoiseach and approved by the Dáil.
The bicameral Oireachtas (Parliament) consists of Seanad Éireann (Senate) and Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives). The Seanad is composed of 60 members--11 nominated by the Taoiseach, 6 elected by the national universities, and 43 elected from panels of candidates established on a vocational basis. The Seanad has the power to delay legislative proposals and is allowed 90 days to consider and amend bills sent to it by the Dail, which wields greater power in Parliament. The Dail has 166 members popularly elected to a maximum term of 5 years under a complex system of proportional representation. A member of the Dail is known as a Teachta Dala, or TD.
Judges are appointed by the president on nomination by the government and can be removed from office only for misbehavior or incapacity and then only by resolution of both houses of Parliament. The ultimate court of appeal is the Supreme Court, consisting of the chief justice and five other justices. The Supreme Court also can decide upon the constitutionality of legislative acts if the president asks for an opinion.
Local government is by elected county councils and -- in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford -- by county borough corporations. County councils/corporations in turn select city mayors. In practice, however, authority remains with the central government.
Irish politics remain dominated by the two political parties that grew out of Ireland's bitter 1922-23 civil war. Fianna Fail was formed by those who opposed the 1921 treaty that partitioned the island. Although treaty opponents lost the civil war, Fianna Fail soon became Ireland's largest political party. Fine Gael, representative of the pro-treaty forces, remains the country's second-largest party. Labour, Sinn Fein, and the Greens are the other significant parties.
The May 2007 national elections brought the Fianna Fail party and its leader Bertie Ahern back to power in a coalition government for an unprecedented third five-year term. Coalition members joining Fianna Fail were the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats. In recent months the Mahon Tribunal has been investigating allegations of corruption against the PM when he was Minister of Finance in the early 1990s. However, the PM has not suffered politically -- the coalition remains intact and in September 2007, he survived a vote of no confidence on the issue. Ahern appointed Finance Minister Brian Cowen Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste, pronounced "TAW-nish-tuh"). The Foreign Minister is Dermot Ahern (no relation to the Taoiseach).
Local and European elections took place in June 2004 and saw gains for opposition parties. The election also featured a referendum on citizenship. Until that time, Ireland had granted citizenship on the basis of birth on Irish soil. Concerns about security and social welfare abuse prompted the government to seek to bring citizenship laws in line with the more restrictive policies prevalent in the rest of Europe, and the 2004 referendum measure passed by a wide majority. Now, persons with non-Irish parents can acquire Irish citizenship at birth only if at least one parent has been resident in Ireland for three years preceding the birth.
Principal Government Officials
- President--Michael D. Higgins
- Taoiseach (Prime Minister)--Enda Kenny
- Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister)--Eamon Gilmore
Taoisigh (Prime Ministers) of the Republic of Ireland
- Éamon de Valera (Fianna Fáil): 1937-1948, 1951-1954, 1957-1959.
- John A.Costello (Fine Gael): 1948-1951, 1954-1957.
- Seán Lemass (Fianna Fáil): 1959-1966.
- Jack Lynch (Fianna Fáil): 1966-1973, 1977-1979.
- Liam Cosgrave (Fine Gael): 1973-1977.
- Charles Haughey (Fianna Fáil): 1979-1981, March 1982 - December 82 and March 1987 - February 1992.
- Garret FitzGerald (Fine Gael): 30 June 1981- 9 March 1982 and 14 December 1982 - 10 March 1987.
- Albert Reynolds (Fianna Fáil): February 1992-1994.
- John Bruton (Fine Gael): 1994-1997.
- Bertie Ahern (Fianna Fáil): 1997-2008.
- Brian Cowen (Fianna Fáil): 2008 to 2011.
- Enda Kenny (Fine Gael): 2011-
Fianna Fail: (Pronounced Fee-Na Fall which is Irish for 'Soldiers of Destiny'). Ireland's 3rd largest political party, they do not class themselves as either left or right wing but are generally considered centrist and traditionally the choice for republicans (in the Irish sense, meaning supporters of a United Ireland) due to its foundation by Eamon de Valera; considered by his supporters to be the greatest of all Irish nationalists. Fianna Fail is traditionally a Populist party, spearheading the disease and slum eradication programme's of the 1950's and 1960's. Nowadays however, it is considered to be on the pragmatic centre as well as supportive of the construction sector and its representatives. 
Fine Gael: (Pronounced Finna Gale, Irish for 'Family of the Irish'). Ireland's largest party. Fine Gael is traditionally socially and fiscally conservative. Traditionally the party of Big Business and the farming community, although generally liberal on social issues (though probably not by American standards) Under the leadership of Garret FitzGerald in the 1980's, the party embraced social democracy. Today the party likes to characterize itself as a party of the "progressive centre". Led by Enda Kenny. 
Labour Party: Currently the second largest party. The Labour Party has traditionally been the left wing force of Irish politics, though in the recent election under the leadership of a former member of the communist leaning Sinn Fein Workers Party, Pat Rabbitte, the party moved over to the centre in order to join in a possible coalition government with Fine Gael. Although they lost the election, the coalition helped to modernise the party more in line with European Social Democratic Groups. The party is currently led by Eamon Gilmore, a center left politician.
Green Party: A left-wing party and member of the current leading coalition who are in favour of environmental protection, renewable energy and a stronger system of social security. Led by John Gormley, the current minister for the Environment.
Sinn Féin: (Pronounced Shin Fane, Irish for 'Ourselves') Remnant of Ireland's oldest political party, it is closely connected with the Provisional IRA, a terrorist/guerrilla movement that sought a United Irish Republic that have since disbanded. They have recently embraced a more democratic approach. They are a party of left-wing socialist economics which espouses liberal social issues such as gay marriage. They organise in all 32 counties of Ireland. Led by former IRA commander Gerry Adams. 
Ireland is a member of numerous international organizations, including the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Union. Ireland has been an important contributor to numerous international peacekeeping missions, such as in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Liberia (UNIMIL), and the Balkans (KFOR and EUFOR). Ireland's overseas development assistance focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa and stands at 5 percent of GDP.
Relations with the United States
U.S. relations with Ireland have long been based on common ancestral ties and shared values. These relations have broadened and matured, given the significant U.S. role in Ireland's economic success and cooperation on global challenges. Besides regular dialogue on political and economic issues, the U.S. and Irish Governments have official exchanges in areas such as medical research and education.
With Ireland's membership in the European Union, the discussion of EU trade and economic policies, as well as other aspects of EU policy, is also a key element in the U.S.-Irish relationship. In recent years, Ireland has attempted to act as a diplomatic bridge between the United States and European Union. During its 2004 EU presidency, Ireland worked to strengthen U.S.-EU ties that had been strained by the Iraq war, and the current EU Ambassador to the United States is former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton.
Emigration, long a vital element in the U.S.-Irish relationship, declined significantly with Ireland's economic boom in the 1990s. For the first time in its modern history, Ireland is experiencing high levels of inward migration, a phenomenon with political, economic, and social consequences. However, Irish citizens do continue the common practice of taking temporary residence overseas for work or study, mainly in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere in Europe, before returning to establish careers in Ireland. The U.S. J-1 visa program, for example, remains a popular means for Irish youths to work temporarily in the United States.
Ireland once boasted a vibrant, globalized economy, with GDP per capita second only to Luxembourg's in the EU. The "Celtic Tiger" period of the mid to late 1990s saw several years of double-digit GDP growth, driven by a progressive industrial policy that boosted large-scale foreign direct investment and exports. GDP growth dipped during the immediate post-9/11 global economic slowdown, but has averaged roughly 5 percent yearly since 2004, the best performance for this period among the original EU 15 Member States. Since 2004, the Irish economy has generated roughly 90,000 new jobs annually, attracting over 200,000 foreign workers, mostly from the new EU Member states, in an unprecedented immigration influx. The construction sector has accounted for approximately one-quarter of these jobs, and economists caution that any slowdown in Ireland's vibrant housing market would have ramifications for continued GDP growth.
Economic and trade ties are an important facet of overall U.S.-Irish relations. In 2005, U.S. exports to Ireland were valued at $9 billion, while Irish exports to the U.S. totaled $28 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The range of U.S. exports includes electrical components and equipment, computers and peripherals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, and livestock feed. Irish exports to the United States represent approximately 20% of all Irish exports, and have roughly the same value as Irish exports to the UK (inclusive of Northern Ireland). Exports to the United States include alcoholic beverages, chemicals and related products, electronic data processing equipment, electrical machinery, textiles and clothing, and glassware. According to Ireland's Central Statistical Office, Irish exports to the United States from January to September 2006 rose by 7% compared to the same period in 2005, while Irish imports from the United States from January to September 2006 fell by 14% compared to the same period in 2005.
U.S. investment has been particularly important to the growth and modernization of Irish industry over the past 25 years, providing new technology, export capabilities, and employment opportunities. As of year-end 2006, the stock of U.S. foreign direct investment in Ireland stood at $84 billion, more than double the U.S. total for China and India combined ($31.2 billion). Currently, there are approximately 620 U.S. subsidiaries in Ireland, employing roughly 100,000 people and spanning activities from manufacturing of high-tech electronics, computer products, medical supplies, and pharmaceuticals to retailing, banking, finance, and other services. In more recent years, Ireland has also become an important research and development (R&D) center for U.S. firms in Europe.
Many U.S. businesses find Ireland an attractive location to manufacture for the EU market, since it is inside the EU customs area and uses the euro. In 2005, U.S. firms accounted for 61% of Ireland's total exports of euro 89 billion. Other reasons for Ireland's attractiveness include: a 12.5 percent corporate tax rate for domestic and foreign firms; the quality and flexibility of the English-speaking work force; cooperative labor relations; political stability; pro-business government policies; a transparent judicial system; strong intellectual property protection; and, the pulling power of existing companies operating successfully (a "clustering" effect). Factors that negatively affect Ireland's ability to attract investment include: increasing labor and energy costs (especially when compared to low-cost countries in Eastern Europe and Asia), skilled labor shortages, inadequate infrastructure (such as in the transportation and internet/broadband sectors), and price levels that are ranked among the highest in Europe.
- Nominal GDP (2009): $204.144 billion.
- Real GDP growth (2011): 2.8% (Q1 2011).
- Nominal GDP per capita (2009): $45,642.
- Natural resources: Zinc, lead, natural gas, barite, copper, gypsum, limestone, dolomite, peat.
- Agriculture (5% of GDP): Products--cattle, meat, and dairy products; potatoes; barley; hay; silage; wheat.
- Industry (46% of GDP): Types--food processing, beverages, engineering, computer equipment, textiles and clothing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction.
- Trade (2006): Exports--$119.8 billion (excluding services): machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, food, live animals, manufactured materials, beverages. Imports--$87.4 billion (excluding services): grains, petroleum products, machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, textile yarns. Major suppliers-Great Britain and Northern Ireland 31%, U.S. 11%, Germany 8%, China 7%, Japan 4%, France 3%, rest of the world (including other EU Member States) 36%.
Ireland was badly hit by the 2008 financial crisis, resulting in the collapse of the property bubble.
The earliest inhabitants--people of a mid-Stone Age culture--arrived about 6000 BC. About 4,000 years later, tribes from southern Europe arrived and established a high Neolithic culture, leaving behind gold ornaments and huge stone monuments. The Bronze Age people, who arrived during the next 1,000 years, produced elaborate gold and bronze ornaments and weapons.
The Iron Age arrived abruptly in the fourth century BC with the invasion of the Celts, a tall, energetic people who had spread across Europe and Great Britain in the preceding centuries. The Celts, or Gaels, and their more numerous predecessors divided into five kingdoms in which, despite constant strife, a rich culture flourished.
The coming of Christianity from across the Irish Sea brought major changes and civilizing influences. Tradition maintains that St. Patrick arrived on the island in AD 432 and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity.
The pagan druid tradition collapsed before the spread of the new faith, and Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished. Missionaries went forth from Ireland to England and the continent, spreading news of the flowering of learning, and scholars from other nations came to Irish monasteries. The excellence and isolation of these monasteries helped preserve Latin and Greek learning during the Dark Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewelry, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island.
Two hundred years of Viking invasion and settlement was later followed by a Norman conquest in the 12th century. The Norman conquest resulted in the assimilation of the Norman settlers into Irish society. The early 17th century saw the arrival of Scottish and English Protestants, sent as colonists to the north of Ireland and the Pale around Dublin.
In 1800 the Irish Parliament passed the Act of Union with Great Britain, and Ireland was an official part of the United Kingdom until 1921. Religious freedom, outlawed in the 18th century, was restored in 1829, but this victory for the Irish Catholic majority was overshadowed by a severe economic depression and the great famine from 1846-48 when the potato crop failed. Millions died, and the millions that emigrated spawned the first mass wave of Irish emigration to the United States. A decade later, in 1858, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB--also known as the Fenians) was founded as a secret society dedicated to armed rebellion against the British. An aboveground political counterpart, the Home Rule Movement, was created in 1874, advocating constitutional change for independence.
Galvanized by the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, the party was able to force British governments after 1885 to introduce several home rule bills. The turn of the century witnessed a surge of interest in Irish nationalism, including the founding of Sinn Fein ("Ourselves Alone") as an open political movement.
Nationalism was and is a potent populist force in Irish politics. A home rule bill passed in 1914, but its implementation was suspended until war in Europe ended. Believing the mantra: "England's problem is Ireland's opportunity," and tapping into a mood of Gaelic revivalism, Padraic Pearse and James Connolly led the unsuccessful Easter Rising of 1916. Pearse and the other 1916 leaders declared an independent Irish republic, but a lack of popular support doomed the rebellion, which lasted a week and destroyed large portions of Dublin. The decision by the British military government to execute the leaders of the rebellion, coupled with the British Government's threat of conscripting the Irish to fight in the Great War, alienated public opinion and produced massive support for Sinn Fein in the 1918 general election. Under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, the elected Sinn Fein deputies constituted themselves as the first Dail. Tensions only increased: British attempts to smash Sinn Fein ignited the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921.
The end of the war brought the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State of 26 counties within the British Commonwealth and recognized the partition of the island into Ireland and Northern Ireland, though supposedly as a temporary measure. The six predominantly Protestant counties of northeast Ulster--Northern Ireland--remained a part of the United Kingdom with limited self-government. A significant Irish minority repudiated the treaty settlement because of the continuance of subordinate ties to the British monarch and the partition of the island. This opposition led to further hostilities--a civil war (1922-23), which was won by the pro-treaty forces.
In 1932, Eamon de Valera, the political leader of the forces initially opposed to the treaty, became Prime Minister, and a new Irish constitution was enacted in 1937. The last British military bases were soon withdrawn, and the ports were returned to Irish control. Ireland was neutral in World War II. The government formally declared Ireland a republic in 1948; however, it does not normally use the term "Republic of Ireland," which tacitly acknowledges the partition, but refers to the country simply as "Ireland."
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