Europe

Ireland country profile

  • 11 May 2016
  • From the section Europe
Map of Ireland

Ireland emerged from the conflict that marked its birth as an independent state to become one of Europe's economic success stories in the final decade of the twentieth century.

After the country joined the European Community in 1973, it was transformed from a largely agricultural society into a modern, high-technology economy.

However, the economy collapsed following the 2008 global financial crisis. With the help of a bailout Ireland has been recovering once more.

Its strong literary and musical traditions, as well as its long history of emigration, have given Ireland an international cultural presence disproportionate to its size.

Six Protestant-dominated counties of Northern Ireland - afraid of a majority Catholic united Ireland - in 1921 opted to stay in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland subsequently saw decades of violent conflict between those campaigning for a united Ireland, and those wishing to stay in the United Kingdom.

FACTS

Ireland

Capital: Dublin

  • Population 4.6 million

  • Area 70,182 sq km (27,097 sq miles)

  • Major languages English, Irish

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 78 years (men), 83 years (women)

  • Currency euro

Getty Images

LEADERS

President: Michael D Higgins

Image copyright Getty Images

Michael D Higgins (pictured left), a veteran left-wing politician, poet and human rights activist was elected president in 2011.

He is a former Galway university lecturer and published poet who has dedicated his four-decade political career to championing Irish culture and left-wing causes worldwide. He is an Irish speaker.

The president wields little power beyond the ability to refer potentially unconstitutional legislation to the Supreme Court, but has an important symbolic role in representing Ireland at the national and international level.

Prime Minister (Taoiseach): Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny (pictured right) came to power after winning early elections held in 2011, in the middle of Ireland's worst economic crisis in recent memory.

His centre-right Fine Gael party formed a coalition with the second-placed social-democratic Labour Party, replacing a government led by the centre-right Fianna Fail party.

Fianna Fail, which has dominated Irish politics for much of the post-Second World War period, had suffered a catastrophic defeat after many voters blamed it for the way it handled the crisis.

Mr Kenny and the allied Labour Party suffered losses in the February 2016 elections, depriving the coalition of its majority.

Following more than two months of political deadlock, Mr Kenny finally succeeded in forming a minority government, after Fine Gael and Fianna Fail hammered out an unprecedented political ceasefire. The latter, which will sit on the opposition benches, has agreed to support the government for a period of two years.

The Irish parliament, the Dail, voted Mr Kenny in again as Taoiseach at the beginning of May, making him the first Fine Gael Taoiseach ever to be re-elected.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images

The Irish are well connected, with 82% of the population online by 2015 and about 56% subscribed to Facebook.

Print and broadcast media operate freely within the confines of the law. Broadcasting - commercial and public - is regulated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The Competition Authority safeguards against unfair competition in the press sector.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Ireland's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ireland has seen much conflict, including the year-long civil war between 1922 and 1923

1801 - Kingdom of Ireland annexed to Great Britain under the Act of Union.

1840s - Great potato famine: Ireland's staple crop fails, starving a million people to death and forcing many more to flee abroad.

1916 - Nationalists stage Easter Rising, seizing the General Post Office in Dublin and proclaiming an independent Irish republic. The rising is crushed by the British who execute its leaders. Irish public is outraged.

1919 - Led by Eamonn De Valera, the nationalist movement Sinn Fein sets up a Dublin assembly, which again proclaims Irish independence. A guerrilla campaign by the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, against British forces begins with heavy casualties on both sides.

1921 - Anglo-Irish Treaty establishes the Free State, an independent dominion of the British crown with full internal self-government rights, partitioned from Northern Ireland. Dissatisfaction with the treaty prompts the year-long Irish Civil War.

1949 - Independence. Republic of Ireland and leaves British Commonwealth.

1973 - Ireland joins the European Economic Community.

Early 1980s - Ireland faces severe economic problems, with rising debt and unemployment.

Mid-1990s - mid-2000s - Rapid economic growth earns Ireland reputation of "the Celtic Tiger".

2008 - Global financial crisis hits Ireland hard. In 2010 it agrees a bailout with the EU and IMF.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The economy crashed in 2008 but Ireland won praise for recovering from the crisis

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