U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Ireland, November 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Ireland
Area: 70,282 sq. km. (27,136 sq. mi.); slightly larger than West
Cities: Capital--Dublin (pop. 502,749; about 1 million in metropolitan
area, or about one-third the total population). Other cities--Cork
(133,271), Limerick (56,279), Galway (47,104), Waterford, (39,529).
Terrain: Arable 10%, meadows and pastures 77%, rough grazing in use 11%,
inland water 2%.
Climate: Temperate maritime.
Nationality: Noun--Irishman, Irishwoman. Adjective--Irish.
Population: 3.6 million.
Ethnic groups: Celtic, with English minority.
Religions: Roman Catholic 91%, other Christian denominations 4%.
Languages: English, Irish (Gaelic).
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--93%. Literacy--90%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--6/1,000. Life expectancy--75 years: male
72 yrs., female 78 yrs.
Work force: Services--54%.
Industry-- 28%. Agriculture--12%. Government--6%.
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Constitution: December 29, 1937.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state); prime minister
(Taoiseach--pronounced "TEE-shuk") head of government. Legislative--
bicameral National Parliament (Oireachtas--pronounced "ir-ROCK-tas"):
House of Representatives (Dail--pronounced "DAW-il"), and Senate
(Seanad--pronounced "SHAN-ad"). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 26 counties.
Major political parties: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labor, Workers' Party,
Progressive Democrats, Democratic Left, Green Party.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
GNP (1994): $46 billion.
Annual growth rate (1994): 5.5%.
Per capita income: $12,000.
Natural resources: Zinc, lead, natural gas, barite, copper, gypsum,
limestone, dolomite, peat, silver, gold.
Agriculture (8% of GNP): Products--cattle, meat, and dairy products,
potatoes, barley, sugar beets, hay, silage, wheat.
Industry (36% of GNP): Types--food processing, beverages, engineering,
computer equipment, textiles and clothing, chemicals and
pharmaceuticals, construction. Trade (1994): Exports--$36 billion:
computer equipment, chemicals, meat, dairy products, machinery. Major
markets--U.K. 27%, other EU countries 41%, U.S. 8%. Imports--$26
billion: grains, petroleum products, machinery, transport equipment,
chemicals, textile yarns. Major suppliers--U.K. 36%, other EU countries
20%, U.S. 18%.
U.S. 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.
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.
U.S. Government policy on Northern Ireland condemns all acts of
terrorism and violence. It also cautions 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. The United States has warmly welcomed the Anglo-Irish
Agreement of 1985 and the 1993 Downing Street Declaration as a framework
for progress in Northern Ireland.
Trade and Investment
In 1994, trade between Ireland and the United States was $7.6 billion,
a 20% increase over 1993. U.S. exports to Ireland were $4.7 billion,
an increase of about 25% over 1993 and 18% of Ireland's total imports.
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 grew by 10% to just
under $3 billion in 1993, representing about 8% of all Irish exports.
Exports to the United States include alcoholic beverages, chemicals and
related products, electronic data processing equipment, electrical
machinery, textiles and clothing, and glassware.
The U.S. traditionally has had a trade surplus with Ireland, due
primarily to purchases of U.S.-origin raw materials and intermediate
goods by the many U.S. subsidiaries in Ireland and substantial trade in
agricultural products. In 1994, the U.S. trade surplus was $1.8 billion,
compared to $1 billion in 1993. Given the continued favorable outlook
for the Irish economy, good sales opportunities exist for U.S. producers
in Ireland. Export-Import Bank financing and the presence of major U.S.
banks in Ireland facilitate marketing by U.S. suppliers.
U.S. 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 U.S.
commitment to facilitate the growth of such job-creating investment.
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. U.S.
investment in Ireland is more than $8 billion. There are more than 400
U.S. subsidiaries, employing about 50,000 people and spanning activities
from manufacturing of high-tech electronics, computer products, medical
supplies, and pharmaceuticals to retailing and services.
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 an educated, well-trained, English-
speaking work force and relatively moderate wage costs have been
important factors. Ireland offers good long-term growth prospects for
U.S. companies under an innovative financial incentive program,
including capital grants and favorable tax treatment, such as a
reduction from 40% to 38% in the standard corporation tax rate and a 10%
corporation income tax rate for certain manufacturing firms.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Jean Kennedy Smith
Deputy Chief of Mission--Dennis A. Sandberg
Commercial Attache--Edward Cannon
Consular Officer--Ann Sides
Defense Attache--Col. William Torpey
Economic Officer--Madelyn Spirnak
Political Officer--Richard Norland
Public Affairs Officer--Lynn Cassel
The U.S. embassy in Ireland is located at 42 Elgin Road, Ballsbridge,
Dublin 4 (tel. 668-7122; fax 668-9946). The consular section is located
in an annex across the street on the third floor of Hume House.
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 seven-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 the Senate
(Seanad Eireann) and the House of Representatives (Dail Eireann). The
Senate is composed of 60 members--11 nominated by the prime minister,
six elected by the national universities, and 43 elected from panels of
candidates established on a vocational basis. The Senate has the power
to delay legislative proposals and is allowed 90 days to consider and
amend bills sent to it by the House, which--because it can initiate
legislation--wields greater power in Parliament. The House has 166
members popularly elected to a maximum term of five years under a
complex 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
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.
From 1800 to 1921, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. The Anglo-
Irish Treaty of 1921 established the Irish Free State, which after World
War II left the British Commonwealth and became a republic. Six northern
counties--Northern Ireland--remained part of the United Kingdom.
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 quickly became
Ireland's largest political party. Fine Gael, representative of the pro-
treaty forces, remains the country's second-largest party.
In recent years, however, there have been signs that this largely two-
party structure is breaking down. Mary Robinson of the Labour Party
shocked the political establishment by winning the 1990 presidential
election. Before Robinson, the presidency had always been held by either
Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. Articulating a progressive agenda for
Ireland's future and outspoken on social issues, Robinson represents a
distinct break from the conservative politics of the two major parties.
The November 1992 general election confirmed this trend. The two main
parties lost ground as the Labour Party scored a historic breakthrough,
winning 19% of the vote and 33 seats in the House. Fianna Fail won 39%
and 68 seats; Fine Gael won 24.5% and 45 seats. As a result of the
election, Labour holds the balance of power between the two largest
parties, neither of which was able to win a parliamentary majority.
Labour initially chose to go into coalition with Fianna Fail, but that
government collapsed in November 1994 over a scandal involving the
Attorney General's handling of the extradition of a pedophile priest. In
the ensuing struggle, Labour again demonstrated its new kingmaking
powers when it dictated the terms of a new "rainbow" government
coalition with Fine Gael and the Democratic Left.
Resolving the Northern Ireland problem remains the leading political
issue. Nationalists in Northern Ireland want unification with Ireland,
while unionists and loyalists want continued union with Great Britain.
Since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement granting Ireland a formal voice in
Northern Ireland affairs, there has been an extensive dialogue between
the two governments on how to bring about a peaceful, democratic
resolution of the conflict. In December 1993, then-Irish Prime Minister
Reynolds and British Prime Minister Major issued the "Downing Street
Declaration." This held out the promise of inclusive political talks on
the future of Northern Ireland and led the Irish Republican Army (IRA)
to call a "total cessation" of military operations on August 31, 1994.
This was followed six weeks later by a similar cease-fire by the
Following up on the cease-fires, the two governments in February 1995
issued their joint "Frameworks" document, which proposed a basis for
negotiations. While the document was generally welcomed by nationalists,
it was immediately rejected by unionists, who disparaged it as a
"blueprint for a united Ireland." Despite the negative unionist
reaction, the two governments tried to launch the negotiating process by
announcing that they would hold a series of bilaterals with all the
constitutional parties in the north.
By the summer of 1995, however, this effort had yet to get off the
ground due to a continuing disagreement between the British Government
and Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA. The British Government
insisted that Sinn Fein could not be included in all-party talks on the
future of Northern Ireland until the IRA had demonstrated its commitment
to the democratic process by beginning to decommission its large cache
of arms. Sinn Fein responded that it was not in position to have the IRA
decommission its weapons at least until a political settlement was in
sight. With the approach of the one-year anniversary of the IRA cease-
fire, there was hope that the impasse could be broken by the
establishment of an international commission to study the problem,
although by mid-November, such a body had yet to be set up.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister --John Bruton
Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister for Foreign Affairs--Dick Spring
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.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at (202) 647-5225
or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular Affairs Bulletin
Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem with standard
settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on obtaining
passports and planning a safe trip aboard are available from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 783-3238.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-94-8280, price
$7.00) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20420, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register at the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials"
listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you
en route in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and
a telephone line.
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet:
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at
$80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS
information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(gopher.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202)
482-1986 for more information.
Background Notes Series -- Published by the United States Department of
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