Background Notes: Ireland

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Oct 28, 199110/28/91 Category: Country Data Region: Europe Country: Ireland Subject: Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT] Official Name: Ireland


Area: 70,282 sq. km. (27,136 sq. mi.); slightly larger than West Virginia. Cities: Capital--Dublin (pop. 502,000; about 1 million in metropolitan area or about one-third the total population). Other cities--Cork (133,000), Limerick (56,000), Galway (47,008), Waterford, Kilkenny. Terrain: Arable 17%, meadows and pastures 51%, forested 3%, inland water 2%, waste and urban 27%. Climate: Temperate maritime.
Nationality: Noun--Irishman, Irishwoman. Adjective--Irish. Population: 3.5 million. Ethnic groups: Celtic, with English minority. Religions: Roman Catholic 95%, other Christian denominations 3%. Languages: English, Irish (Gaelic). Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--92%. Literacy--99%. Health: Infant mortality rate--9/1,000. Life expectancy--73 years: 70 yrs. male, 76 yrs. female. Work force: Agriculture--15%. Industry-- 29%. Services--51%. Government--5%.
Type: Parliamentary republic. Independence: 1921. Constitution: December 29, 1937. Branches: Executive--president (chief of state); prime minister (head of government). Legislative--bicameral National Parliament (Oireachtas--pronounced "or-ROCK-tas"), House of Representatives (Dail--pronounced "doyle"--Eireann), Senate (Seanad--pronounced "SHEN-ad"--Eireann). Judicial--Supreme Court. Administrative subdivisions: 26 counties. Major political parties: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labor, Workers' Party, Progressive Democrats. Suffrage: Universal over 18. Defense (1990): 1.3% of GNP. Flag: Three vertical bands--green, white, and orange from left to right. Green represents the Gaelic and Norman-Irish tradition; orange refers to the role of William of Orange and the Protestant tradition; and white symbolizes peace and understanding between the two communities.
GNP (1990): $37.5 billion. Annual growth rate (1990): 5%. Per capita income: $8,000. Inflation rate (consumer price index 1990): 3.4%. Natural resources: Zinc, lead, natural gas, barite, copper, gypsum, limestone, dolomite, peat, silver, gold. Agriculture (11% of GNP): Products--cattle and dairy products, potatoes, barley, sugar beets, hay, silage, wheat. Industry (28% of GNP): Types--food processing, beverages, electronics and data processing, engineering, textiles and clothing, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, construction. Trade (1990): Exports--$23 billion: computer equipment, chemicals, meat, dairy products, machinery. Major markets--UK 28%, other EC countries 47%, US 8%. Imports--$20 billion: grains, petroleum products, machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, textile yarns. Major suppliers--UK 38%, other EC countries 28%, US 12%. Official exchange rate (1990 avg.): 0.60 Irish pounds=US$1. Economic aid received: European Regional Fund (1990)--$140 million. European Social Fund (1990)--$408 million. US aid (1987-90)--$130 million--International Fund for Ireland, shared with Northern Ireland. Economic aid sent (1990): $34 million, 0.2% of GNP.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and many of its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); European Community (EC); Council of Europe; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); INTELSAT.


The Irish people are mainly of Celtic origin. The country's only significant minority descends from the Anglo-Normans. English is the common language, but Irish (Gaelic) is also an official language and is taught in the schools. A national literature in Irish is reemerging. Anglo-Irish writers--including Swift, Sheridan, Goldsmith, Burke, Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett--have made a major contribution to world literature over the past 300 years. What little is known of pre-Christian Ireland comes from a few references in Roman writings, Irish poetry and myth, and archeology. The earliest inhabitants--people of a mid-stone age culture--arrived about 6,000 BC, when the climate had become hospitable following the retreat of the polar icecaps. About 4,000 years later, tribes from southern Europe arrived and established a high Neolithic culture in which gold ornaments and huge stone monuments figured prominently. This culture apparently prospered, and the island became more densely populated. 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. This society was dominated by druids--priests who served as educators, physicians, poets, diviners, and keepers of the laws and histories. Tradition maintains that in AD 432, St. Patrick arrived on the island and, in the years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to Christianity. Probably a Celt himself, St. Patrick preserved the tribal and social patterns of the Irish, codifying their laws and changing only those that conflicted with Christian practices. He also introduced the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive Celtic oral literature. Druidism collapsed in the face of the spread of the new faith, and Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that shortly flourished. Missionaries from Ireland to Great Britain and the continent spread news of this flowering of learning, and scholars from other nations came to Irish monasteries. The excellence and isolation of these monasteries helped preserve Latin learning during the Dark Ages. The arts of illumination, metalwork, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewelry, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island. This golden age of culture was interrupted by 200 years of intermittent warfare with waves of Viking raiders who plundered monasteries and towns. The Vikings established Dublin and other seacoast towns but were defeated eventually. Although the Irish then were free from invasion for 150 years, clan warfare continued to drain their energies and resources. In the 12th century, Pope Adrian IV granted overlordship of the island to Henry II of England, who began a struggle between the Irish and the English that was to continue for more than 800 years and still affects the country. The Reformation exacerbated the oppression of the Roman Catholic Irish, and, in the early 17th century, Scottish and English Protestants were sent as colonists to the north of Ireland and the Pale around Dublin. From 1800 to 1921, Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom. Religious freedom was restored in 1829. Severe economic depression and mass famine occurred when the potato crop failed in 1846-48. 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. A constitutional force for independence, the Home Rule Movement, was created in 1874. Galvanized by the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, this 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. The outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 put home rule efforts on hold, and, in reaction, Padraic Pearse and James Connolly led the unsuccessful Easter Rising of 1916. The decision to execute the leaders of the rebellion 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. British attempts to smash Sinn Fein produced the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-21. The Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 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 a civil war (1922-23), 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 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."


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 prime minister's advice, the president also dissolves the House of Representatives. The president appoints as prime minister the leader of the political party, or coalition of parties, which wins the most seats in the House of Representatives. Executive power is vested in a cabinet whose ministers are nominated by the prime minister and approved by the House. The bicameral National Parliament (Oireachtas) consists of a Senate (Seanad Eireann) and a House of Representatives (Dail Eireann). The Senate 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 Senate has power to delay legislative proposals and is allowed 90 days to consider and amend bills sent to it by the Dail. The Dail wields the actual power in the national parliament. It has 166 members popularly elected to a maximum term of 5 years under a complicated system of proportional representation. 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 can also 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. In practice, however, effective authority remains with the central government.
Principal Government Officials
President--Mary Robinson Prime Minister--Charles J. Haughey Deputy Prime Minister--John P. Wilson Ministers Agriculture and Food--Michael O'Kennedy Communications--Seamus Brennan Defense--Brendan Daly Education--Mary O'Rourke Energy--Bobby Malloy Environment--Padraig Flynn Finance--Albert Reynolds Foreign Affairs--Gerard Collins Health--Rory O'Hanlon Industry and Commerce--Desmond O'Malley Justice--Ray Burke Labor--Bertie Ahern Marine--John P. Wilson Social Welfare--Michael Woods Tourism and Transport--Seamus Brennan Attorney General--Harry Whelehan Ambassador to the United States--Dermot Gallagher Ireland maintains an embassy in the United States 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 Francisco.


During the last general election in June 1989, no single party won enough seats to form a majority government. However, in July 1989, a coalition government was formed between the largest political party, Fianna Fail, and the Progressive Democrats, a political party created 6 years ago by dissident members of Fianna Fail. Headed by Charles J. Haughey as prime minister, the coalition partners generally agree on economic and fiscal objectives although there are principled differences over social issues and approaches to Northern Ireland. The opposition consists primarily of two major adversaries, Fine Gael and the Labor Party. The presidential election of November 1990 signaled possible change in the Irish political scene, as Mary Robinson, the Labor Party's nominee, surprisingly won. Articulating a progressive agenda for Ireland's future and outspoken on the subject of social issues, Mrs. Robinson's election in a generally conservative Catholic country suggests a possible shift in the focus of Irish politics. The Northern Ireland problem remains a key concern. The six counties of Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, comprise about 900,000 Protestants and 600,000 Catholics. Since 1968, when the "Troubles" began and fighting erupted between the two communities, the status of Northern Ireland often has been the dominant factor in Ireland's relations with its closest neighbor. In May 1983, the Northern Ireland Social Democratic and Labor Party joined the three major southern parties in a "New Ireland Forum" to make recommendations aimed at a final peaceful resolution of the "Irish question." In May 1984, the Forum published an agreed nationalist position, reaffirming the aim of a united Ireland to be pursued only by democratic means and on the basis of agreement. Intense negotiations beginning in 1984 culminated in the signature by Prime Ministers FitzGerald and Thatcher of the Anglo- Irish Agreement on November 15, 1985, at Hillsborough, Northern Ireland. In the landmark accord, the Irish Government gained a formal voice in the governing of Northern Ireland on behalf of the Catholic Nationalist community. The accord provides for change in the status of Northern Ireland only with the consent of a majority there but pledges support by both governments if unity should be desired by a majority. The Anglo-Irish Agreement has provided a framework for dialogue and a common approach to the issue by neighbors often at odds in the past. The accord and the presence of Irish Government representatives in the north are powerful symbols for both Nationalists and Unionists. (The latter wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.) Reforms designed to lessen the alienation of the Nationalist minority community have been introduced. The US Congress has authorized contributions totaling $170 million to the International Fund for Ireland since its establishment in 1986 under the auspices of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In April 1991, after months of debate, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke's "talks-on-talks" initiative finally succeeded in convincing the constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government in Dublin to agree on a series of talks on a political solution in Northern Ireland, relations between Northern and southern Ireland, and the overall relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The talks were suspended in the beginning of July. Although the parties remain split on substance--primarily Dublin's role in Northern Ireland's subsequent government--it is hoped that progress will help break the cycle of violence which has plagued the region.


The Irish economy continued to strengthen during 1990, the fourth year of positive economic performance. Real GNP rose by more than 5%, with strong growth in investment (8%) and exports (6%). However, GNP growth is expected to fall to about 1.5% in 1991 due to recessionary conditions in Ireland's main export markets, high domestic interest rates, and falling demand for some agricultural production. Among the least developed countries in the EC, Ireland has two serious economic problems--public debt and unemployment. During 1990, the government continued its recent policy of fiscal responsibility, reducing exchequer borrowing to 2% of GNP. Ireland also has made progress in its efforts to reduce the national debt as a percentage of GNP. At the end of 1990, the national debt was 120% of GNP, compared with 129% the previous year. Despite impressive job creation in the economy, the rapid entry of young people into the labor force and a slowdown in emigration caused the unemployment rate to rise to 16.3% in February 1991 after falling to a low of 15.6% in 1990. Until the mid-1950s, the Irish economy was largely agrarian. Consecutive governments over the past decades have promoted rapid industrialization, and various inducements have attracted a significant amount of industrial investment from overseas sources, especially the United States. In recent years, collective bargaining has taken place in the context of a national economic program. In 1987, representatives of government, employers, unions, and farmers negotiated the Program for National Recovery. A second 3-year agreement, the Program for Economic and Social Progress (PESP) was approved in February 1991. The PESP covers a range of economic and social objectives, including further wage restraint guidelines, reductions in government budget deficits and the debt/GNP ratio, tax reform, guidelines for consultations between unions and government on privatization of state-owned companies, and job creation targets.
Ireland has a tradition of trade union activity reflected in the 73 member unions of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). The ICTU and many Irish trade unions also have members and affiliates in Northern Ireland. A number of Irish unions are British offshoots. The ICTU and its member unions are active in promoting their positions on key economic and social issues with the government. In negotiating the PESP, the ICTU put forward proposals for tax reform, social welfare and public health programs, and enhanced education and training programs. Employee-management relations are determined through collective bargaining between individual companies and their unions. Under the Program for National Recovery (1988-90) annual wage increases were limited to 2.5%. Under the PESP, wage increases will be limited to 10.7% over 3 years, with the possibility of an additional 3% based on local bargaining. However, special pay increases of 8-9% have been approved for large sectors of the public service in 1991. There is a growing trend toward part-time employment. Accounting for almost 8% of total employment, part-time workers until recently were not covered by labor protection laws. In early 1991, the government introduced legislation to extend protective measures to those who work at least 8 hours per week. Some of the proposed measures have been implemented.
US firms have been particularly important to the growth and modernization of Irish industry over the past two decades by providing new technology, export capabilities, and employment opportunities. There are more than 350 US subsidiaries in Ireland spanning activities from manufacturing of high-tech electronics, computer devices, medical supplies, and pharmaceuticals to retailing and services. US investment in Ireland is more than $6 billion. Many US businesses find Ireland an attractive location to manufacture for the EC market, since it is inside the EC customs area. The availability of a well-trained, English-speaking work force and relatively moderate wage costs have been important factors. Ireland offers good long-term growth prospects for US companies under an imaginative financial incentive program, including capital grants, favorable tax treatment, and a 10% corporate income tax rate for all manufacturing firms.
In 1990, trade between Ireland and the United States was $4.9 billion, a 11% increase over 1989. US exports to Ireland were $3 billion, an increase of 8% over 1989, and 12% of Ireland's total imports. The range of US products includes electrical components, computers and peripherals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, electrical equipment, and livestock feed. The US traditionally has had a trade surplus with Ireland, due primarily to purchases of US-origin raw materials and intermediate goods by the many US subsidiaries in Ireland and substantial trade in agricultural products. In 1990, the US trade surplus was $1.1 billion, compared to $1.2 billion in 1989. Given the favorable outlook for the Irish economy, good sales opportunities exist for US producers in Ireland. Export-Import Bank financing and the presence of major US banks in Ireland facilitate marketing by US suppliers. Irish exports to the United States grew by 19% to almost $2 billion in 1990. Exports to the United States represent about 8% of all Irish exports and include alcoholic beverages, chemicals and related products, electronic data processing equipment, electrical machinery, textiles and clothing, and glassware.
Tourism is one of Ireland's principal industries. More than 3 million people visited Ireland in 1990 and spent more than $1.4 billion. In 1990, about 400,000 Americans visited Ireland, contributing more than $300 million to the Irish economy. Increasing numbers of Irish citizens have visited the United States in recent years, particularly since the fall of the dollar in 1985.


The Irish Defense Force is about 13,000. The army, with a strength of 11,400, is the largest service by far, with the air corps and naval service together accounting for about 1,800 personnel. Irish defense expenditures of $511 million in 1990 represent about 1.4% of GNP. Supreme command of the defense forces is vested constitutionally in the president. However, actual control of military affairs is exercised by the government through the defense minister, who is advised by the Council of Defense.


Since gaining independence in 1921, Ireland has been active in international affairs, first as a member of the League of Nations and, since 1955, as a member of the United Nations. Ireland has contributed defense forces to UN peace-keeping units in the Middle East, western New Guinea, the Belgian Congo (now Zaire), Cyprus, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Irish foreign aid to developing countries in 1990 was $57 million or 0.2% of GNP. Neutrality is the basis of Ireland's security policy. Ireland was neutral in World War II, and in 1949 it declined to join NATO; it is the only EC country that is not a member. Since joining the EC in 1973, Irish foreign policy has shifted from a concentration on relations with the United Kingdom to relations with Europe in general.
Emigration is a major factor affecting the political, economic, and social fabric of Ireland. Pushed by high unemployment, more than 150,000 persons have left the country in the last 10 years. The primary destination is the United Kingdom, with the United States a strong second. The status of tens of thousands of Irish illegals in the United States, most of them under 30 years of age, is a matter of concern and debate in Irish public life. Since 1987, more than 17,000 Irish-born applicants have received immigrant visas to the United States under a special program first authorized by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Beginning in October 1991, Irish applicants are guaranteed a minimum of 16,000 immigrant visas per year for 3 years under a program authorized by the Immigration Act of 1990.


US relations with Ireland are based on common ancestral ties and on similar values and political views. The United States seeks to maintain and strengthen the traditionally cordial relations between the people of the United States and Ireland. The Irish Government has welcomed St. Patrick's Day statements which have reaffirmed US Government policy on Northern Ireland. These statements have emphasized that the United States will continue to condemn all acts of terrorism and violence. They also have renewed the caution to all Americans to question closely any appeal for financial or other aid from groups involved in the Northern Ireland conflict to ensure that contributions do not end up in the hands of those who perpetuate violence, either directly or indirectly. US statements have noted the important contribution toward economic and social progress represented by American industrial investment in Ireland--north and south--and have pledged to maintain the US commitment to facilitate the growth of such job-creating investment. The United States has warmly welcomed the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985 as a framework for progress in Northern Ireland.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--Richard A. Moore Deputy Chief of Mission--Thomas M. Tonkin Administrative Officer--Samuel A. Rubino Commercial Attache--Gene Harris Consular Officer--William H. Griffith Defense Attache--Col. John K. Moon Economic Officer--Curtis Stone Political Officer--George Dempsey Public Affairs Officer--John Treacy The US Embassy in Ireland is located at 42 Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 (tel. 688-777). The consular section is located in an annex across the street on the third floor of Hume House.


Entry requirements: Visas are not necessary for business and holiday trips. Clothing: Because the climate is cool and damp, medium-to heavy-weight clothing is worn most of the year. Health: Ireland has competent specialists in all fields of medicine and dentistry. Community sanitation is generally good; tapwater is potable. Telecommunications: Telephone and other telecommunications services are good. Dublin is five standard time zones ahead of eastern standard time. Daylight saving time is observed at about the same time in Ireland as in the eastern United States. Transportation: Regular flights leave the United States for Dublin via Shannon or London. Excellent direct commercial services exist between Dublin, some smaller Irish cities, and most other major European cities. Holidays: New Year's Day, St. Patrick's Day (March 17), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas Day, St. Stephen's Day (December 26), and bank holiday Mondays in early June, early August, and late October. Further information: Irish Tourist Board, 757 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-418-0800). Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC --Series Editor: Peter Knecht--Department of State Publication Background Notes Series. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.(###)