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Ireland: country overview

21 June 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 25 January 2017

Since joining the European Union in 1973, Ireland (Éire) has transformed itself from a largely agricultural society into a modern, technologically advanced Celtic Tiger economy. The most important sectors of Ireland’s economy in 2015 were industry (39.1 %), wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation and food service activities (12.8 %) and public administration, defence, education, human health and social work activities (12.3%). Ireland’s main export partners are the US, the UK and Belgium, while its main import partners are the UK, the US and France.


Irish flag

Capital: Dublin

Geographical size: 69 797 km2

Population: 4 628 949 (2015)

Population as % of total EU: 0.9 % (2015)

Gross domestic product (GDP): € 214.623 billion (2015)

Official EU language(s): Irish, English

Political system: parliamentary republic

EU member country since: 1 January 1973

Seats in the European Parliament: 11

Currency: Euro. Member of the eurozone since 1 January 1999

Schengen area member? No, Ireland is not a member of the Schengen Area.

Presidency of the Council: Ireland has held the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU 7 times between 1975 and 2013.

Map of Ireland

Country overview

Since joining the European Union in 1973, Ireland (Éire) has transformed itself from a largely agricultural society into a modern, technologically advanced Celtic Tiger economy.

Agricultural lowlands make up most of the interior, which is broken in places by low hills and includes considerable areas of bogs and lakes. There are coastal mountains to the west, rising to over 1 000m in places. Nearly a third of the population lives in Dublin.

The Dáil , or lower house of Parliament, is composed of 166 members while the Seanad , or upper house, has 60 members. Parliamentary elections are held every five years. The President, elected for a seven-year period, mainly performs ceremonial duties.

Although the history of Ireland has seen troubles and turbulence, its people have always been associated with a love of music and storytelling. Often referred to as the land of saints and scholars, the country is the birthplace of many famous English-language writers, such as Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, Wilde and Shaw. Ireland is home to internationally known rock bands and singers such as U2, The Corrs and Sinéad O'Connor.

Simple meat dishes and boiled vegetables such as the potato, carrot, turnip and parsnip form the principal ingredients of traditional Irish cooking.

Economy overview

Ireland is a small, modern, trade-dependent economy. Ireland was among the initial group of 12 EU nations that began circulating the euro on 1 January 2002.

GDP growth averaged 6% in 1995-2007, but economic activity dropped sharply during the world financial crisis and the subsequent collapse of its domestic property market and construction industry. Faced with sharply reduced revenues and a burgeoning budget deficit from efforts to stabilize its fragile banking sector, the Irish Government introduced the first in a series of draconian budgets in 2009. These measures were not sufficient to stabilize Ireland's public finances. In 2010, the budget deficit reached 32.4% of GDP - the world's largest deficit, as a percentage of GDP. In late 2010, the former COWEN government agreed to a $92 billion loan package from the EU and IMF to help Dublin recapitalize Ireland's banking sector and avoid defaulting on its sovereign debt. In March 2011, the KENNY government intensified austerity measures to meet the deficit targets under Ireland's EU-IMF bailout program.

In late 2013, Ireland formally exited its EU-IMF bailout program, benefiting from its strict adherence to deficit-reduction targets and success in refinancing a large amount of banking-related debt. In 2014, the economy rapidly picked up and GDP grew by 5.2%. The recovering economy assisted lowering the deficit to 2.5% of GDP. In late 2014, the government introduced a fiscally neutral budget, marking the end of the austerity program. Continued growth of tax receipts has allowed the government to lower some taxes and increase public spending while keeping to its deficit-reduction targets. In 2015, GDP growth reached 7.8%, the highest growth in the EU for the second consecutive year.

In the wake of the collapse of the construction sector and the downturn in consumer spending and business investment, the export sector, dominated by foreign multinationals, has become an even more important component of Ireland's economy. Ireland's low corporation tax of 12.5% and a talented pool of high-tech laborers have been key factors in encouraging business investment. Loose tax residency requirements made Ireland a common destination for international firms seeking to avoid taxation. Amid growing international pressure, the government announced it would phase in more stringent tax laws, effectively closing a loophole.

Useful links

The Commission's Representation in Ireland

European Parliament office in Ireland

Financial crisis: assistance package for Ireland

Irish Government

Tourist information

Source: European Commission, CIA World Factbook

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