Area: 70,282 sq. km. (27,136 sq. mi.); slightly
larger than West Virginia.
Cities: Capital--Dublin (pop. 495,101).
Other cities--Cork (123,338), Galway
(65,774), Limerick (54,058), Waterford,
Terrain: Arable 10%, meadows and pastures 77%,
rough grazing in use 11%, inland water 2%.
Climate: Temperate maritime.
Nationality: Noun--Irishman, Irishwoman.
Population growth rate: 0.93%.
Ethnic groups: Irish, with English minority.
Religions: Roman Catholic 88.4%; Church of
Ireland 3.0%; other 8.7%.
Languages: English, Irish (Gaelic).
Education: Compulsory up to age 16.
Enrollment rates--5-14 year olds, 100%; 15
year olds, 97%; 16 year olds, 91%. Literacy--98%-99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--5.3/1,000.
Life expectancy at birth--male 73.0 yrs.,
female 77.5 yrs.
Work force: Services--56%; industry--29%;
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence: December 6, 1921.
Constitution: December 29, 1937.
Branches: Executive--president, chief of
state; prime minister (Taoiseach--pronounced
"TEE-shuck"), head of government. Legislative--bicameral
national Parliament (Oireachtas--pronounced
"o-ROCK-tas"): House of Representatives (Dail--pronounced
"DOIL") and Senate (Seanad--pronounced
"SHAN-ad"). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 26 counties, 34
Major political parties: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael,
Labor, Progressive Democrats, Green Party, Sinn
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
GDP at market prices (2003 est.): $149.4
Annual growth rate (2003 est.): 1.4%.
Per capita income (2003 est.): $38,308.
Natural resources: Zinc, lead, natural gas,
barite, copper, gypsum, limestone, dolomite,
Agriculture (5% of GDP): Products--cattle,
meat, and dairy products; potatoes; barley;
sugarbeets; hay; silage; wheat.
Industry (46% of GDP): Types--food
processing, beverages, engineering, computer
equipment, textiles and clothing, chemicals,
Trade (2002): Exports--$86.2 billion
(excluding services): machinery, transport
equipment, chemicals, food, live animals,
manufactured materials, beverages. Imports--$51.2
billion (excluding services): grains, petroleum
products, machinery, transport equipment,
chemicals, textile yarns. Major suppliers--EU
64% (U.K. 36%, Germany 6%, France 4%), U.S. 16%,
Japan 5%, China 4%.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
The Irish people are mainly of Celtic origin,
with the country's only significant sized
minority having descended from the
Anglo-Normans. English is the common language,
but Irish (Gaelic) is also an official language
and is taught in schools.
Anglo-Irish writers such as Swift, Sheridan,
Goldsmith, Burke, Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, and
Beckett have made a major contribution to world
literature over the past 300 years.
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
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
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
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
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."
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic
state with a parliamentary system of government.
The president, who serves as chief of state in a
largely ceremonial role, is elected for a 7-year
term and can be re-elected only once. 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 prime minister is elected by the Dail
(lower house of Parliament) as the leader of the
political party, or coalition of parties, which
wins the most seats in the national elections,
held approximately every 5 years (unless called
earlier). Executive power is vested in a cabinet
whose ministers are nominated by the Taoiseach
and approved by the Dail.
The bicameral Oireachtas (Parliament)
consists of the Seanad Eireann (Senate) and the
Dail Eireann (House of Representatives). The
Seanad is composed of 60 members--11 nominated
by the prime minister, 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
Local government is by elected county
councils and--in the cities of Dublin, Cork,
Limerick, and Waterford--by county borough
corporations. 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. The
Progressive Democrats, Labour, Sinn Fein, and
the Greens are the other significant parties. In
the 2002 general elections, “Independent” TDs
began to emerge as a political force, with 14
“Independent” TDs elected to the Dail.
The May 2002 national elections returned
Fianna Fail and its coalition partner, the
Progressive Democrats, to power. Prime Minister
Ahern was re-elected Taoiseach and Mary Harney
was reappointed as Tanaiste (Deputy Prime
Local and European elections were held in
June 2004, along with a referendum on
citizenship. Ireland currently grants
citizenship through birth on Irish soil, making
Irish citizenship laws among the most liberal in
the European Union (EU). Concerns about security
and social welfare abuse prompted the government
to seek to bring citizenship laws into line with
the more restrictive policies prevalent in the
rest of Europe, and the measure passed by a wide
Consolidating the peace process in Northern
Ireland and encouraging the full implementation
of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) remain
U.S. priorities in Ireland.
The conflict in Northern Ireland stems from a
history of British rule, historical animosity
between Catholics and Protestants, and the
various armed and political attempts to unite
Northern Ireland with the rest of the island.
"Nationalist" and “republican” groups seek a
united Ireland, while “unionists” and
“loyalists” want Northern Ireland to remain part
of the United Kingdom. After decades of violence
by both republican and unionist paramilitaries,
most notably the Irish Republican Army (IRA),
the British and Irish governments negotiated an
IRA ceasefire in 1994, which was followed by the
landmark U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement
(GFA) in 1998.
The GFA established a power-sharing
legislative assembly to serve as the autonomous
local government of Northern Ireland. The
108-member Northern Ireland Assembly is led by a
first minister and deputy first minister, one
from each of the two communities, and a
10-minister executive. The GFA also provided for
changes in both the British and Irish
constitutions. Ireland ceded territorial claim
to Northern Ireland, and the U.K. agreed that
Northern Ireland could become part of Ireland if
a majority (north and south) so voted in the
future. Finally, the GFA provides the blueprint
for “normalization,” to include the eventual
removal of British forces, devolution of police
and justice functions, and guarantees of human
rights and equal opportunity for all
individuals. The agreement was approved in a
referendum by 71% of Northern Ireland voters and
95% of Irish voters.
The major political parties in Northern
Ireland are the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP),
Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), and
the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP).
The UUP and SDLP are centrist unionist and
republican parties, respectively, while Sinn
Fein is strongly republican and the DUP is
strongly unionist. From the time the Assembly
was created in 1998 until 2003, the UUP and SDLP
were the governing parties.
In October 2002, the British Government
suspended (for the fourth time) the Assembly,
following a breakdown in trust between unionists
and republicans. The British and Irish
Governments began discussions with the parties
to try to resolve longstanding unresolved
differences between the communities, and to
secure a commitment from Sinn Fein that
republicans would divest themselves of all
paramilitary activities and capabilities.
Efforts to restore the political process in
time to stage new elections to the Assembly in
May 2003 broke down when the two governments
concluded they did not have sufficient
assurances from the republicans. However, the
governments proceeded to publish a joint
declaration, mapping out the timetable to full
implementation of the GFA. The governments also
created an International Monitoring Commission
to serve as a forum to hear complaints of
alleged breaches of GFA commitments by the
political parties and/or by British authorities.
The four-member commission includes a
representative from the United States. It issued
its first report in April 2004, in which it
criticized republican and loyalist paramilitary
groups for illegal activities.
The British and Irish Governments attempted
in October 2003, and again in the fall of 2004,
to conclude a deal with the parties to restore
government, but failed to reach agreement.
However, elections to the suspended Assembly
went forward in November 2003; these elections
turned the more moderate UUP and SDLP out of
power and installed the strongly unionist DUP
and strongly republican Sinn Fein. The Assembly
remains suspended, as the DUP refuses to enter
into dialogue or government with Sinn Fein until
the IRA conclusively ends all paramilitary
activities and decommissions its weapons. The
British and Irish Governments are engaged in
ongoing efforts with the parties to restore the
political process and restore devolved
government. In July 2005, the IRA unilaterally
announced that it would end its “armed struggle”
and rely upon solely peaceful and democratic
means to achieve its goal. The British, Irish,
and U.S. Governments lauded this announcement.
The Independent International Commission on
Decommissioning (IICD) confirmed in September
2005 that the IRA had effectively put its
weapons “beyond use,” hailed as an historic step
by the British, Irish, and U.S. Governments.
Unionist political leaders have taken a more
skeptical approach. They have questioned the
reliability of the IICD’s determination and will
require a suitable waiting period before they
will consider entering government with Sinn
The United States supports the efforts of the
British and Irish Governments to restore the
democratic process in Northern Ireland and to
fully implement the GFA. The U.S. remains
engaged in dialogue with all parties, in
coordination with our Embassies in Dublin and
London, our Consulate in Belfast, and the office
of the President’s Special Envoy for Northern
The United States also continues to provide
funding ($18.5 million in 2005) for projects
administered under the International Fund for
Ireland, created in 1986 to generate economic
opportunity and cross-community engagement in
the border areas, both north and south.
Principal Government Officials
Taoiseach (Prime Minister)--Bertie Ahern
Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister of
Health and Children--Mary Harney
Ambassador to the United States--Noel Fahey
in the United States is at 2234 Massachusetts
Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.
202-462-3939/40/41/42). Irish Consulates are
located in New York, Chicago, Boston, and San
Ireland boasts a vibrant, globalized economy,
with GDP per capita second only to Luxembourg’s
in the EU. The “Celtic Tiger” period of the
mid-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. In recent years, Ireland
has experienced more moderate growth, coupled
with price levels above the EU average. The 2003
world economic slowdown affected Ireland as real
GDP growth slowed to 3.7% and the government
budget fell into deficit. The economy
strengthened in 2004, however, with a small
government surplus and real GDP growth of just
In 2004, U.S. exports to Ireland were valued
at $8.2 billion, less than a third of the value
of Irish exports to the U.S. ($27.4 billion).
The range of U.S. products includes electrical
components, computers and peripherals, drugs and
pharmaceuticals, electrical equipment, and
livestock feed. Irish exports to the United
States represent approximately 20% of all Irish
exports. The U.S. is Ireland’s second-largest
export destination--second only to the U.K.
Exports to the United States include alcoholic
beverages, chemicals and related products,
electronic data processing equipment, electrical
machinery, textiles and clothing, and glassware.
In 2004, Irish exports to the United States rose
by 6% compared to 2003, while Irish imports from
the United States rose by roughly 1%.
In 2004, the United States contributed $18.5
million to the International Fund for Ireland, a
program that supports cross-border initiatives,
cross-community reconciliation, and economic
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. Ireland, with 1% of
the European Union’s (EU’s) population,
attracted 8% of all U.S. investment in Europe in
2003. In 2004, there was $10.5 billion worth of
new U.S. investment in Ireland, more than twice
the U.S. investment flow to China. Currently,
there are more than 570 U.S. subsidiaries,
employing approximately 90,000 people and
spanning activities from manufacturing of
high-tech electronics, computer products,
medical supplies, and pharmaceuticals to
retailing, banking and finance, and other
Many U.S. businesses find Ireland an
attractive location to manufacture for the EU
market, since it is inside the EU customs area.
Government policies are generally formulated to
facilitate trade and inward direct investment.
The availability of a young, educated, mobile,
English-speaking work force has also been an
important factor, though wage increases over the
past five years have significantly exceeded the
EU average. Ireland offers good long-term growth
prospects for U.S. companies under an innovative
financial incentive program, including capital
grants and low corporation income tax rates.
Ireland is a member of numerous international
organizations, including the United Nations, the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe, and the European Union.
U.S. relations with Ireland have long been based
on common ancestral ties and on similar values
and political views. These relations, however,
have now broadened and matured, given the
substantial U.S. corporate involvement in the
Irish economy. The United States seeks to
maintain and strengthen the traditionally
cordial relations between the people of the
United States and Ireland.
Economic and trade relations are an important
element of the bilateral relationship. U.S.
investment has been a major factor in the growth
of the Irish economy, and Irish membership in
the European Union means that discussion of EU
trade and economic policies, as well as other
aspects of EU policy, are a key element in
exchanges between the two countries.
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,
immigration to Ireland, especially of
non-Europeans, is a growing 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.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Jonathan Benton
Management Officer--Michael Scanlon
Commercial Attaché--Dale Tasharski
Consular Officer--Daniel Toma
Defense Attaché--Col. John O’Sullivan, USA
Economic Officer--Joe Young
Political Officer--Mary Daly
Public Affairs Officer--Michael McClellan
U.S. Embassy in Ireland is located at 42
Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 (tel.
668-7122; fax 668-9946).