Ireland country profile

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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 20th 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 an international 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.

In 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty established the Irish Free State. The island split into the newly independent mainly Catholic South and the mainly Protestant North, with Northern Ireland opting to remain in the UK.

Northern Ireland subsequently saw decades of violent conflict between those campaigning for a united Ireland, and those wishing to stay in the United Kingdom, until a communal power-sharing agreement came into force in 1999.


  • Capital: Dublin
  • Area: 70,273 sq km
  • Population: 5.1 million
  • Languages: Irish, English
  • Life expectancy: 80 years (men) 84 years (women)


President: Michael D Higgins

Image source, Getty Images

Michael D Higgins, a veteran left-wing politician, poet and human rights activist was elected president in 2011. He ran for a second term as president of Ireland in 2018 and was re-elected in a landslide victory

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): Leo Varadkar

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Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar became head of the coalition government in December 2022. Previously, the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had been the coalition's prime minister, and the two swapped roles of prime minister and deputy prime minister.

The coalition between traditional rivals Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, plus the Green Party, formed in June 2020, after closely-fought elections in February had put the resurgent left-wing Sinn Féin party in second place. This is the first time the two main parties have served together in government.

The economic impact of the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the maintenance of the Good Friday peace accord in Northern Ireland have been key considerations for the government.


Image source, Getty Images

Public Raidio Teilifis Eireann (RTE) provides TV, radio and online services in English and Irish and is the main player in the broadcasting sector.

Media outlets operate freely, although Reporters Without Borders has raised concerns about the impact of highly-concentrated media ownership.


Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dublin can date its history to before the 7th Century

Some key dates in modern Ireland's history:

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 millions more to flee abroad.

1914 - Outbreak of World War One delays implementation of new home rule legislation which would have restored the Dublin parliament following centuries of unrest over British dominion in Ireland.

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, including all seven signatories of the declaration of the republic. Irish public opinion is outraged.

1919 - Led by Éamon De Valera, the nationalist movement Sinn Féin ('We Ourselves') sets up a Dublin assembly, the Dáil Éireann, 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 Irish Free State, an independent dominion of the British crown with full internal self-government rights, partitioned from Northern Ireland which remains part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

1922 - The Dublin parliament ratifies the treaty despite the opposition of De Valera and others. Civil war breaks out and hundreds are killed.

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

1932 - De Valera becomes head of government after previous administration fails to deal with economic difficulties.

1937 - New elections. The voters return De Valera and also approve a new constitution which abolishes the Irish Free State and proclaims Éire (Irish for Ireland) as a sovereign, independent, democratic state.

1939 - Outbreak of World War Two. Country remains neutral, but many Irish citizens join the Allied forces.

1949 - Independence. The Republic of Ireland leaves the British Commonwealth.

1973 - Ireland joins the European Economic Community. Violence in Northern Ireland intensifies. Relations between Ireland and Britain are strained.

Early 1980s - Ireland faces severe economic problems, with rising debt and unemployment. Three elections are held in the space of less than two years.

1983 - Amendment to constitution enshrines right to life of unborn child, laying the foundation for strict anti-abortion laws.

1985 - Anglo-Irish Agreement gives Republic consultative role in government of Northern Ireland.

1991 - Ireland signs the Treaty on European Union at Maastricht and receives a guarantee that its anti-abortion law will not be affected.

1992 - Irish voters approve loosening of the abortion law. Access to information guaranteed, travel abroad for abortion permitted.

1997 - Divorce becomes legal under certain circumstances.

1998 - Good Friday Agreement approved by voters in Republic and Northern Ireland, establishing cross-community power-sharing assembly in North and ending Troubles.

2002 January - Euro replaces punt as national currency.

2002 - Small majority of voters rejects government attempt to tighten already strict anti-abortion laws in constitutional referendum.

2006 - Government launches a 20-year strategy to create a bilingual, Irish- and English-speaking society.

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

2008 - Global financial crisis hits Ireland hard. Unemployment reaches 11% in 2009 and 100,000 people protest in Dublin at the handling of the crisis. In 2010 Ireland agrees a bailout with the EU and IMF.

2011 - Queen Elizabeth pays official visit to Ireland, the first by British monarch since independence and symbolising the new relationship since 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Vatican recalls its ambassador to Ireland amid tension over the issue of child abuse by priests.

2013 - Taoiseach Enda Kenny formally apologises for the Irish state's role in the Magdalene laundries - harsh institutions in which "fallen women" were forcibly detained and made to work without pay between 1922 to 1996.

Parliament passes legislation that for first time allows abortion in limited circumstances.

2014 - President Michael Higgins makes official visit to Britain, the first by an Irish head of state.

2015 - Referendum approves same-sex marriage by large margin.

2016 - UK votes to leave the European Union. The issue of trade between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland becomes a significant political issue for both London and Dublin.

2021 - Republic of Ireland receives €920m (£782m) from a European Commission fund designed to "mitigate the impact of Brexit".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The economy crashed in 2008 but Ireland wins praise for recovering from the crisis

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