U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Ireland, August 1998
Official Name: Ireland
Area: 70,282 sq. km. (27,136 sq. mi.); slightly larger than West
Cities: Capital-- Dublin (pop. 1,058,264--somewhat less than one-third
the total population). Other cities--Cork (127,187), Limerick (52,039),
Galway (57,241), Waterford, (42,540).
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: 3.7 million.
Ethnic groups: Irish, with English minority.
Religions: Roman Catholic 91.6%, Church of Ireland 2.5%, other 5.9%.
Languages: English, Irish (Gaelic).
Education: Compulsory--up to age 16. Enrollment rates--5-14-year-olds
100%, 15-year- olds 95%, 16-year-olds 92%. Literacy--98%-99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--5.5/1,000. Life expectancy at birth--
male 72.3 yrs., female 77.9 yrs.
Work force: Services--56%. Industry--29%. Agriculture--10%. Government-
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Constitution: December 29, 1937.
Branches: Executive--President, chief of state; prime minister
Taoiseach (pronounced "TEE-shock"), 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.
Major political parties: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labor, Progressive
Democrats, Democratic Left, Green Party, Sinn Fein.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
GNP (1997 est.): $60.6 billion.
Annual growth rate (1997 est.): 8.0%.
Per capita income (est.): $16,550.
Natural resources: Zinc, lead, natural gas, barite, copper, gypsum,
limestone, dolomite, peat.
Agriculture (8% of GNP): Products--cattle, meat, and dairy products,
potatoes, barley, sugarbeets, hay, silage, wheat.
Industry (38% of GNP): Types--food processing, beverages, engineering,
computer equipment, textiles and clothing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals,
Trade (1997): Exports--$53 billion: computer equipment, chemicals,
meat, dairy products, machinery. Major markets--UK 24%, other EU
countries 42%, U.S. 11%. Imports--$39 billion: grains, petroleum
products, machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, textile yarns.
Major suppliers--UK 34%, other EU countries 21%, U.S. 15%.
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 peoples
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 of 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
Emigration, long a vital element in the relationship, has declined
significantly with Ireland's economic boom in the 1990s, and
immigration to Ireland, especially of non-Europeans, is a growing
phenomenon with political, economic, and social consequences. However,
temporary residence overseas for work or study, mainly in the U.S.,
U.K., and elsewhere in Europe, remains common.
The United States has warmly welcomed the April 10, 1998 agreement
between the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom and among the
political parties of Northern Ireland. The agreement seeks to end
political violence through balanced constitutional change and the
creation of all-island structures designed to promote cooperation and
reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and Protestant citizens of
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
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 support violence, either directly or
Trade and Investment
In 1997, trade between Ireland and the United States was worth around
$12.0 billion, a 19% increase over 1996. U.S. exports to Ireland were
valued at $5.9 billion, an increase of about 6% over 1996, and
represent 15% of Ireland's total imports. The range of U.S. exports
includes electrical components, computers and peripherals, drugs and
pharmaceuticals, electrical equipment, and livestock feed. Irish
exports to the United States grew by almost 35% over 1996, to $6.1
billion in 1997, or about 11% 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.
In 1997, the traditional U.S. trade surplus with Ireland moved into
deficit, reflecting fast growth in imports of Irish-made
pharmaceuticals and equipment and machinery. Overall, the value of U.S.
imports from Ireland exceeded the value of U.S. exports to Ireland by
slightly less than $200 million. Nonetheless, given the continued
favorable outlook for the Irish economy, sales opportunities for U.S.
producers in Ireland are expected to improve as living standards rise.
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. The
stock of U.S. investment in Ireland at end-1996 was valued at $11.7
billion. There are more than 500 U.S. subsidiaries, employing almost
70,000 people and spanning activities from manufacturing of high-tech
electronics, computer products, medical supplies, and pharmaceuticals
to retailing, banking and finance, and other 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 10%
corporation income tax rate for manufacturing firms and certain
financial services firms.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Jean Kennedy Smith
Deputy Chief of Mission--Earle St. Aubin Scarlett
Administrative Officer--Richard Simpson
Commercial Attache--Edward Cannon
Consular Officer--Steven Wangsness
Defense Attache--Col. William Torpey, USA
Economic Officer--Richard Mills
Political Officer--Edwin R. Nolan
Public Affairs Officer--Barbara Scarlett.
The U.S. Embassy in Ireland is located at 42 Elgin Road, Ballsbridge,
(tel. 668-7122; fax 668-9946).
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 president appoints as prime minister the leader of the political
party, or coalition of parties, which wins the most seats in the Dail
(house of representatives). Executive power is vested in a cabinet
whose ministers are nominated by the Taoiseach and approved by the
The bicameral Oireachtas 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, 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 Dail, which wields greater power in parliament.
The Dail has 166 members popularly elected to a maximum 5-year term
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 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.
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 on the island of Ireland--Northern Ireland--remain
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 soon 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 evolving. Mary Robinson of the Labour Party shocked
the political establishment by winning the 1990 presidential election.
Articulating a progressive agenda for Ireland's future, and outspoken
on social issues, Robinson represented 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. As a
result of the election, Labour held the balance of power between the
two largest parties and initially chose to go into coalition with
Fianna Fail. That government collapsed in November 1994, and Labour
again demonstrated its new role when it dictated the terms of a new
"rainbow" government coalition with Fine Gael and the Democratic Left.
In 1997, however, there was a return to a more traditional model. In
the June general election, Labour lost heavily and was reduced to 18
seats in the Dail. Though Fianna Fail did not win an outright majority,
it increased its seats to 76 and was able to form a coalition with the
much smaller (4 seats) Progressive Democrats. Fine Gael also picked up
seats but was unable to form a coalition with the much-reduced Labour
Party. In the November 1997 presidential election, Fianna Fail
candidate Mary McAleese, a lawyer from Northern Ireland, won a record
victory over four other candidates.
Resolving the Northern Ireland problem remains the leading political
issue in the country. "Nationalists" in Northern Ireland want
unification with Ireland, while "unionists" want continued union with
Since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement granting Ireland a formal voice in
Northern Ireland affairs, there has been an extensive dialogue between
the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom on how to bring about
a peaceful, democratic resolution of the conflict. In December 1993,
the "Downing Street Declaration," holding out the promise of inclusive
political talks on the future of Northern Ireland, was issued. This led
the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to call a "total cessation" of military
operations on August 31, 1994. This was followed 6 weeks later by a
similar cease-fire by the loyalist paramilitaries.
Following up on the cease-fires, the two governments in February 1995
issued the Framework Document, which proposed a basis for negotiations.
Generally welcomed by nationalists, it was 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 they would hold a series of
bilaterals with all the constitutional parties in the north.
The process stalled in 1995, due to disagreements between the British
Government and Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, about the
decommissioning of IRA weapons. President Clinton's visit to Ireland in
December 1995 led to the establishment later the same month of an
International Commission, chaired by former U.S. Senator George
Mitchell, to recommend a solution to this impasse.
The January 1996 "Mitchell Report" recommended decommissioning be
addressed during a negotiating process. The report was widely praised.
However, the British Government decision to hold elections for a
negotiating body was seen as a step backwards, and in February 1996,
the IRA officially ended its cease-fire with a bomb attack in London
which killed two. At the end of February 1996, the two governments
announced that all-party talks would begin in June and be open to all
parties disavowing violence. In May 1996, elections were held to
determine participation in the talks, with Sinn Fein gaining nearly 16%
of the vote. However, the party was turned away from the negotiations
when they began on June 10 because of the IRA's continued campaign of
violence. The negotiations were chaired by Senator Mitchell.
Throughout the latter half of 1996 and early 1997, the negotiations
made little progress. The May 1997 election of Tony Blair and the
Labour Party government in the UK, however, re-energized the process
and led to increasing pressure on the IRA to restore the cease-fire.
After gaining assurances that the negotiations process would be time-
limited and that decommissioning would not again become a stumbling
block, the IRA did restore its cease-fire in July 1997, and Sinn Fein
was admitted to the talks process in September 1997. The negotiations
moved from process to substance in October 1997. In a final marathon
push in April 1998, which included the personal intervention of
President Clinton, all parties, on April 10, signed an agreement. The
"Good Friday" (April 10 was Good Friday) agreement was put to a vote,
and strong majorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
approved it in simultaneous referendums on May 22, 1998.
The agreement provides for a 108-member Northern Ireland elected
assembly to be overseen by a 12-minister Executive Committee in which
unionists and nationalists would share responsibility for governing.
The agreement, which is now being implemented, also will
institutionalize the cross-border cooperation with the Republic of
Ireland and will create mechanisms to guarantee the rights of all.
Members of the 108-seat assembly were elected on June 25. The results
of the election confirm that four parties will play a dominant role in
the new legislative body: The Ulster Unionist Party won 28 seats, and
the Democratic Unionist Party won 20 seats on the unionist side. On the
nationalist side, the SLDP won 24 seats and Sinn Fein, 18 seats.
Assembly members are to meet in "shadow" mode for some months while
preparing the procedures and modalities of the new legislative body,
which is expected to assume governing responsibilities as early as
Principal Government Officials
Taoiseach (Prime Minister)--Bertie Ahern
Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and
Ambassador to the United States--Sean O'Huiginn.
The Irish Embassy 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 Francisco.
[end of document]
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