Economy of the Republic of Ireland

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Economics

Economy of Ireland
Irish One Euro coin
Currency 1 Euro = 100 eurocent
Fiscal year Calendar year
Trade organisations EU, WTO and OECD
GDP ( PPP) €161.6 bn( 2005) ( 48th )
GDP growth 4.7% (2005 est.)
GDP per capita $41,000 (2005 est.)
GDP by sector agriculture (5%), manufacturing (46%), services (49%) ( 2002)
Inflation ( CPI) 3.9% ( 2006)
Pop below poverty line 10% (1997 est.)
Labour force 2.014 million ( 2005)
Labour force by occupation services (64%), manufacturing (29%), agriculture (8%) ( 2005)
Unemployment 4.4% ( July 2006)
Main industries steel, lead, zinc, silver, aluminium, barite, and gypsum mining processing; food products, brewing, textiles, clothing; chemicals, pharmaceuticals; machinery, rail transportation equipment, passenger and commercial vehicles, ship construction and refurbishment; glass and crystal; software, tourism
Trading Partners
Exports $102 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.)
Export goods machinery and equipment, computers, chemicals, pharmaceuticals; live animals, animal products
Main partners United States 18.7%, United Kingdom 17.3%, Belgium 15.1%, Germany 7.3%, Netherlands 4.8% ( 2005)
Imports $65.47 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.)
Imports goods data processing equipment, other machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum and petroleum products, textiles, clothing
Main Partners UK 36.8%, United States 13.8%, Germany 9.1%, Netherlands 4.5% ( 2005)
Public finances
Public debt €37.2 bn (27% of GDP) ( June 2006)
Revenues €44.3 bn ( 2006)
Expenses €45.4 billion ( 2006)
Economic aid donor: ODA, €735 mn ( 2005)
Main source
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars

The economy of the Republic of Ireland is modern, relatively small, and trade-dependent with growth averaging a robust 10% in 1995–2000. Agriculture, once the most important sector, is now dwarfed by industry, which accounts for 46% of GDP, about 80% of exports, and employs 29% of the labour force. Although exports remain the primary engine for the Republic's robust growth, the economy is also benefiting from a rise in consumer spending and recovery in both construction and business investment. The annual rate of inflation stands at 2.3% as of 2005, down from recent rates of between 4% and 5%. House price inflation has been a particular economic concern (average house price was €251,281 in February 2005). Unemployment is very low and incomes have been rising rapidly as well as service charges ( utilities, insurance, healthcare, legal representation, etc.). Dublin, the nation's capital, was ranked 16th in a worldwide cost of living survey in 2006 (up from 22nd in 2004 and 24th in 2003). Ireland has been reported to have the second highest per capita income of any country in the EU next to Luxembourg, and fourth highest in the world.


The state known today as the Republic of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922. The state was troubled by poverty and emigration until the early 1990's - these problems, though, disappeared totally over the course of that decade, which saw the beginning of unprecedented economic success, in a phenomenon known as the " Celtic Tiger". Over the past decade, the Irish government has implemented a series of national economic programmes designed to curb inflation, ease tax burdens, reduce government spending as a percentage of GDP, increase labour force skills, and promote foreign investment. The Republic joined in launching the euro currency system in January 1999 along with ten other European Union countries. The economy felt the impact of the global economic slowdown in 2001, particularly in the high-tech export sector – the growth rate in that area was cut by nearly half. GDP growth continued to be exceptionally high in international terms, with a rate of about 6% in 2001 and 2002 – and it is expected to continue at more than 4 per cent (2006 onwards). Since 2001, GNI (which measures income to Irish residents rather than output) growth has been much worse, with an almost three-fold decrease in 2001 from the previous year. After two near stagnant years in 2002, growth started to pick up once again in 2003 has been very buoyant since.


Ireland's transport infrastructure had a difficult time coping with the economic of the past decade and varies substantially in quality. Since 1993, road transport is coordinated by the National Roads Authority. The National Primary Route, which are the most heavily used roads, radiate out of Dublin and spread across the country. The National Secondary Routes act as regional road and linkages between the primary routes. The Dublin area - the best connected area in the country - is served by a light rail network (the Luas), the Dublin Port Tunnel the M50, Dublin Airport, Dublin Suburban Rail and the DART.

The DART is a key piece of infrastructure in Dublin for commuters
The DART is a key piece of infrastructure in Dublin for commuters

Ireland's rail network is run by the semi-state body Iarnród Éireann, a subsidiary of CIÉ and is made up of 9 national lines and several regional commuter lines such as the DART. CIÉ retain some freight customers, though few new freight services have started in recent years. Only some major ports remain technically freight-connected, the connection at Sligo for example was removed in 2003, while the link to Foynes has remained unused since 1999. The efficiency of the train network is poor, with regular delays and overcrowding on major routes. Some regional routes have few services, and as a result, struggle to achieve passengers. Much new rolling stock has been acquired since 1994, and as of 2004, this is finally beginning to expand capacity rather than just replacing old stock. Most major routes have been relaid with continuous welded rail, and signalling has in most cases been upgraded from the more than century-old mechanical semaphores.

The country has a total of 15 airports and airfields, of which 3 - Dublin Airport, Shannon International Airport and Cork International Airport are of a substantial size. The country is served by several airlines, most notably Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Aer Arann, and Cityjet. Air transport is relatively cheap. The main ports are Rosslare Europort, Limerick, Dublin, Cork and Waterford. There are daily ferry services to Britain.

The telecommunications network is slowly improving, admittedly from a low base. As of 2004 broadband is available to approximately 50% of homes and businesses, with about 15% geographic coverage - however it remains relatively expensive. Coverage may expand if the telephone network is refurbished - currently 25% of lines connected to broadband-enabled exchanges cannot avail of broadband, due to bad line quality. The former state telecoms giant, Eircom, is on the record as not keeping up with line degradation in their network maintenance. The mobile market has four providers - 3 Ireland, O2 Ireland, Meteor and Vodafone Ireland. The electricity transmission system is run by the Electricity Supply Board and is available nationwide. The gas network is currently being expanded.


The vast majority of Irish energy needs are met by fossil fuels. About 98% of the Republic of Ireland's final energy demand is produced by burning coal, petroleum, peat, or natural gas. This over reliance on fossil fuels - particularly oil - has left the Republic vulnerable to international price fluctuations as it imports all of its oil needs. As part of its National Development Plan the Government adopted the Sustainable Energy Act (2002) and created Sustainable Energy Ireland as the nation's energy regulator. As part of their objectives to promote environmentally and economically sustainable energy production, electrical generation from peat consumption, as a percent of total electrical generation, was reduced from 18.8% to 6.1%, between 1990 and 2004. Likewise, coal consumption was reduced from 41.7% to 27.6%. Making up for this, the share of natural gas in electrical generation increased from 26.7% to 44.8%. Renewable energy, from biomass, wind and hydro, also increased from 1.9% to 2.6% in the same time period. A forecast by Sustainable Energy Ireland predicts that oil will no longer be used for electrical generation but natural gas will be dominant at 71.3% of the total share, coal at 9.2%, and renewable energy at 8.2% of the market. Wind power is quickly developing in the country by Airtricity and Hibernia Wind Energy (a subsidiary of the Electricity Supply Board) and many other companies. As of December 2005, there were fifty wind farms operational in Ireland with a combined capacity of 500 MW - generating enough energy for 300,000 homes, depending on wind conditions. In addition, a further 600 MW of wind farms (40 more) have signed connection agreements to link to the power system at high voltage or low voltage, and up to 200 MW of wind farms have received connection offers. Should these reach capacity, Ireland may exceed its EU target of 13.2 per cent of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2010. In addition to wind farms, electricity is also generated at large scale hydro schemes on the Shannon, Erne, Liffey and Lee rivers, and at mini-hydro stations, as well as landfill gas generating plants in Cork and Dublin cities.

Peat once provided much of Ireland's energy needs
Peat once provided much of Ireland's energy needs
  • Electricity production: 23.41 billion kWh ( 2003)
  • Energy production by source: oil: 55.8%, natural gas: 24.3%, coal: 12.9%; peat: 3.8%; renewables: 2.2%; nuclear: 0% ( 2004)
  • Electricity consumption: 22.97 billion kWh ( 2003)
  • Electricity exports: 0 ( 2003)
  • Electricity imports: 1.2 billion kWh ( 2003)
  • Oil consumption: 175,600 bbl/day (27,918 m³) per day ( 2003 est.)
  • Natural gas production: 673 million m³ ( 2003 est.)
  • Natural gas consumption: 4.298 billion m³ ( 2003 est.)
  • Natural gas proved reserves: 19.82 billion m³ (As of 1 January 2002)

Monetary system

As the country is a member of the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union,the euro is the currency. The Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland is the country's central bank and financial services regulator, and an agent for the European Central Bank which sets the interest rates. The low interest rates of the ECB - to stimulate the Eurozone - has led to inflation in Ireland's rapidly growing economy. For example, increased inflation on housing, from IRE£9,000 (€11,430) in 1973 to €220,000 in 2004 has led to young couples accepting large mortgages and the wealthy buying investment properties.

While there are over 60 credit institutions incorporated in Ireland, the banking system is dominated by the Big Four - AIB Bank, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and National Irish Bank. There is a large Credit Union movement within the country which offers an alternative to the banks. The Irish Stock Exchange is in Dublin, however, due to its small size, many firms also maintain listings on either the London Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ. The insurance industry in Ireland is a leader in both retail markets and corporate customers in the EU, in large part due to the International Financial Services Centre.

Economic sectors

The chart displays the make up of Irish GDP
The chart displays the make up of Irish GDP

The Irish economy's secondary and tertiary sectors are of a similar size in fiscal terms however in terms of labour, the tertiary sector is far larger. Similarly in fiscal terms the primary sector appears small, however it still employs about 8% of the workforce.

Primary sector

The primary sector constitutes 5% of Irish GDP, and 8% of Irish employment. Ireland's main economic resource is its large fertile pastures, particularly the midland and southern regions. In 2004, Ireland exported approximately €7.15 billion worth of agri-food and drink (about 8.4% of Ireland's exports), mainly as cattle, beef, and dairy products, and mainly to the United Kingdom. As the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy takes force Ireland's agriculture industry is expected to decline in importance.

Trawlers sit in Killybegs harbour, in County Donegal, one of Ireland's biggest fishing ports. Over fishing has depleted Ireland's cod stocks in particular.
Trawlers sit in Killybegs harbour, in County Donegal, one of Ireland's biggest fishing ports. Over fishing has depleted Ireland's cod stocks in particular.

Due to unsustainable nineteenth century forestry practices the island was mostly deforested. In 2005, after years of national afforestation programs, about 9% of Ireland has become forested. It is still the least forested country in the EU and heavily relies on imported wood. Its coastline - once abundant in fish, particularly cod - has suffered overfishing and since 1995 the fisheries industry has focused more on aquaculture. Freshwater salmon and trout stocks in Ireland's waterways have also been depleted but are being better managed. Ireland is a major exporter of zinc to the EU and mining also produces significant quanties of lead and alumina. Beyond this, the country has significant deposits of gypsum, limestone, and smaller quantities of copper, silver, gold, barite, and dolomite. Peat extraction has historically been important, especially from midland bogs, however more efficient fuels and environmental protection of bogs has reduced peat's importance to the economy. Natural gas extraction occurs in the Kinsale Gas Field and the Corrib Gas Field in the southern and western counties, where there is 19.82 bn cubic metres of proven reserves.

Secondary sector

The secondary sector constitutes 46% of Irish GDP — but only 29% of the labour force. Dominated for many years by textile companies like Fruit of the Loom, the sector is now largely made up of high-tech/high value multi-nationals such as Dell, Intel, Pfizer and IBM. The secondary sector in Ireland manufactures products such as computers (25% of Europe's computers are made in Ireland, the European Headquarters of Apple Computer are in Cork City), computer parts (Intel processors are made in Ireland), drugs (much of Europe's supply of Viagra is made in Cork), confectionery ( HB, Jacobs and Cadbury-Schweppes all have significant Irish operations - although Cadbury-Schweppes does not manufacture Schweppes products in Ireland or the UK), beer (the Guinness and Smithwicks, and Harp Lager breweries are located in Ireland), high quality glass and crystal ( Waterford Crystal is made in County Waterford), software (Ireland is the world's largest exporter of software - Oracle and Microsoft both have large operations in Dublin) and machinery. The sector faces increasing competition from cheaper Eastern European countries such as Poland and many Asian countries such as the People's Republic of China, particularly in the lower skill areas such as confectionery manufacturing. The industrial production growth rate in 2003 was 6.7%.

Tourist sites such as Newgrange, County Meath are vital to the Irish economy
Tourist sites such as Newgrange, County Meath are vital to the Irish economy

Tertiary sector

The tertiary sector constitutes 49% of Irish GDP and 64% of Irish employment. The tertiary sector is by far the largest driver of modern Irish economic growth — the Celtic Tiger. It is made up of several industries such as accountancy, legal services, call centres and customer service operations, finance and stock broking, catering, and tourism. Many US firms (such as IBM and Apple Computer) located their European customer service operations in Ireland due to the availability of a young, highly educated, English speaking workforce. The Irish tourism industry attracts over five million visitors annually and employs over 100,000. The IFSC in Dublin created some 14,000 jobs in the 1990s, all in the high-value finance and legal sectors. The hospitality and retail sectors are quite large — there are hundreds of domestic and foreign retail firms in Ireland (such as Next and Argos), and most cafe and restaurant firms operate in Ireland such as McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King and Subway.

State role in the economy

State ownership and deregulation

At present the Irish Government controls several large and key parts of the economy:

  • Through Córas Iompair Éireann (CIE) it controls most of the bus and all of the railway market. A significant portion of the scheduled land transport services are accounted for through CIE companies.
  • Through the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) the government controls much of the electricity generation market, and all of the electricity transmission network.
  • Through RTÉ the government control much of the radio and television broadcast sector, although commercial enterprises are gaining market share. The state does not generally use the media it owns to spread propaganda, but it has a large financial and regulatory control of the sector.
  • Through An Post, the government has a monopoly of the light mail delivery industry and a large portion of the partially deregulated parcel and express delivery market.

Although the government owns the incumbents in the electricity, mail, broadcasting, land transport and air transport industries, many are wholly or partially open to competition from the private sector. Traditionally large and key sectors of the economy were dominated by government ownership. Some of these industries are currently being reformed and opened to competition however some of them are regarded as being slow to adopt change and reform to work practice — work pay and conditions are often much better than that in the private sector with some having overstaffing or underproductivity which is seen as an impediment to reform.

The government is currently considering the privatisation of Aer Lingus and part of the Electricity Supply Board, but it is somewhat reluctant because of an earlier situation that resulted from the privatisation of Eircom. In that case, hundreds of thousands of small shareholders lost money, private investors took control and established a virtual monopoly, while under-investment led to a slow roll out of broadband infrastructure.


The present government (1997–) has favoured a low taxation policy to encourage foreign direct investment in Ireland. Consequently, the government opposes moves by the European Commission to restrict tax competition. (The corporate tax rate is only 12.5%, versus between 20% and 60% in the rest of Europe). The income tax system is designed to redistribute wealth from the richer to the poorer segments of society. There are 2 tax bands, based on income levels. These range from a top rate of 42%, to a bottom rate of 20%.

The government receives much of its revenues from taxes on goods — these include a 21% VAT rate on most consumer goods, high levels of excise duty on tobacco, petrol, and alcohol and several smaller taxes on items such as plastic bags, cheques, ATM cards, credit cards and debit cards. The taxes in the personal financial sector, as well as the television licence, are often seen as regressive.

The welfare state

The Irish government runs a Welfare state system. The government provides free education at all levels for all EU citizens. Free healthcare is not universal, being restricted to the unemployed and very low earners at the General practitioner level. However, hospital care is free to all, although waiting lists and delays characterise the public health service. People who are unemployed receive unemployment benefits and retired people are entitled to a state pension - both benefits are quite high by international comparisons however recent changes in the cost of living in Ireland have greatly eroded their relative buying power.

Health care

All persons resident in the Republic of Ireland are entitled to receive health care through the public health care system. A person may be required to pay for certain health care received; this depends on income, age, illness or disability. All child health and maternity services are provided free of charge as is emergency care. The "medical card", which entitles holders to eligibility for free health care, is available to those receiving welfare payments, low earners, all persons aged 70 or over (regardless of income) and those with certain long-term or severe illnesses. Those on slightly higher incomes are eligible for a "GP Visit Card" which entitles the holder to free general practitioner visits. As of 2006, 28% of the population are entitled to a medical card and have completely free health care. This is a reduction from 34.5% in 1996.

People who do not qualify for a medical card, for example high-income earners, must pay for some health care services. In-patient or day services at a hospital costs €60.00 per day up to a maximum of €600.00 per year. Those who do not qualify for the exemptions can also be charged €60.00 for a visit to an accident and emergency department (only once per year) if the patients has not been referred by a family doctor. In 2002, 48% of Ireland's population had private health insurance. The majority of those with health insurance are treated privately in public hospitals. The main benefit is avoiding the long waiting lists for major treatment that those without health insurance must endure. Thus Ireland is frequently said to have a "two-tier" health service.

The health system, despite having billions spent on it in recent years, has severe problems. An ongoing issue is the "waiting lists" for those requiring, in some cases, serious operations. 24% of patients on waiting lists have been waiting for their procedures for over 12 months, with another 35% waiting for 6 to 12 months. A National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) has been set up and over 42,000 patients on waiting lists were treated between 2002 and 2006. Another problem is accident and emergency (A&E) overcrowding, with non-emergency patients frequently left on trolleys in corridors for hours. A reorganisation of the health service has been implemented, but this was also controversial, with several cases of people dying en-route to centralised facilities (the inferior nearby facilities being shut down). A 2006 report heavily criticised Ireland's health care system, and it was judged to be the second least consumer friendly health care system out of 26 European countries


The education system is generally quite good with standards in mathematics, science and technology being among the highest in OECD member nations. The state has a virtual monopoly in higher education — there are few private colleges and these are highly specialised. The primary and secondary school enrolment levels are quite high and at these levels choice is wide. Third level entry is competitive; cost is relatively cheap and courses adjusted to the needs of the economy. Irish adult literacy is 99% — in line with other OECD countries.

The only recognised universities are Dublin City University, National University of Ireland (with constituent universities at Cork, Dublin, Galway and Maynooth), University of Limerick and University of Dublin. The Institute of Technology system has recently overtaken the universities in terms of first year enrolment numbers and this trend appears to be accelerating.

Economic ties

United States

In 2003, trade between Ireland and the United States was worth around $33 billion, a $4 billion increase over 2002. U.S. exports to Ireland were valued at $7.7 billion, an increase of almost $1 billion over 2002. Irish exports to the U.S. were worth some $25.7 billion — a 500% increase since 1997. Ireland had a trade surplus of over $15 billion with the U.S. in 2003. The range of U.S. products imported to Ireland includes electrical components, computers and peripherals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, electrical equipment, and livestock feed. Exports to the United States include alcoholic beverages, chemicals and related products, electronic data processing equipment, electrical machinery, textiles and clothing, and glassware.

U.S. foreign direct investment in Ireland has been particularly important to the growth and modernization of Irish industry since 1980, providing new technology, export capabilities, and employment opportunities. The major U.S. investments in Ireland to date have included multi-billion dollar investments by Intel, Dell, Microsoft, IBM and Abbott Laboratories. Currently, there are more than 600 U.S. subsidiaries operating in Ireland, employing in excess of 100,000 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 as a member of the EU it has tariff free access to the European Common Market. 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 programme, including capital grants and favourable tax treatment, such as a low corporation income tax rate for manufacturing firms and certain financial services firms.

Once a beneficiary of the EU — particularly of CAP grant — Ireland is now a net contributor to the EU
Once a beneficiary of the EU — particularly of CAP grant — Ireland is now a net contributor to the EU

European Union

Ireland has grown much closer to Europe in recent years — particularly since it joined the European Union (EU) in 1973. It is also part of the EMU and thus has the euro as its currency. Many US companies have located their European headquarters in Ireland and this has led to increased Irish-European ties. Ireland regularly comes near the top in polls of the most enthusiastic Europeans and spent some €60m during its presidency of the EU. The EU now accounts for the bulk of Irish trade, with the United Kingdom being the largest trading partner. Ireland's main exports to Europe are beef, computers ( Dell, HP, EMC, and Apple Computer all have manufacturing facilities in Ireland) and software ( Oracle and Microsoft have their European Headquarters in Ireland). Ireland's major imports from Europe include cars, machinery, trucks, steel, oil and consumer goods. A major economic bonus Ireland has received from EU membership has been agricultural subsidies from the CAP and large amounts of EU investment in Irish road infrastructure. Since the acceptance of the 10 new Eastern European nations in 2004, Ireland's ties with Europe further increased. Since the accession event in 2004, several hundred thousand workers from countries such as Latvia, Poland and Estonia, no longer requiring work permits, came to live and work in Ireland.

Wealth distribution

Disposable income per person as a percentage of the national average.
Disposable income per person as a percentage of the national average.

Ireland aspires to be an egalitarian society— wealth is partially redistributed among the poorer segments of society through the progressive tax system. However, large disparities in wealth still exist between the employed and those dependent on welfare payments. The percentage of the population at risk of relative poverty was 21% in 2004 - one of the highest rates in the European Union. Levels of wealth higher than the national average are concentrated among people living in the central eastern region and in Dublin. Despite this, there are many areas in Dublin marked by poverty, particularly in the inner city. The poorest members of society are those entirely dependent on welfare payments. Ireland's inequality of income distribution score on the Gini coefficient scale was 30.4 in 2000, slightly below the OECD average of 31. Ireland's 2000 score was less than 9 of the OECD member states but higher than 13 members. On this measure Ireland is only a moderately unequal society.

The national minimum wage is €7.65 per hour for full time staff over the age of 18 — this is quite high by historic levels. However, this wage is taxable, and above the threshold for free healthcare assuming that the individual is single, has no children and works full-time. The minimum wage will be increased at the beginning of 2007 to €8.35 per hour and to €8.65 per hour in July 2007. Unemployment benefit (the dole) and unemployment assistance for a single person in Ireland is €165.80 per week, as of 2006. This compares to £57.45 (€83.10) per week for a single person aged 25 or over in the UK. Under the latest social partnership agreement this is set to increase to 30% of the average industrial wage in 2007, bringing the lowest individual social welfare payments to around €200.00 per week. Recent news indicates that these payments will increase by €18.00 per week in 2007, bringing individual payments to €183.80 per week.

Ireland is very different from most other countries in the European Union (with the exception of the UK, Greece and Hungary) in that rates of home ownership are quite high. In particular house ownership (at approximately 80%) is the norm. This contrasts with most of Continental Europe, where renting is the norm. Social housing schemes do exist but the government has not invested adequately in these schemes in recent years, despite expenditure of €8.5 billion and the provision of over 34,000 social housing units between 2000 and 2005. Average rents for 2 bedroom apartments in Dublin range from €1,069.00 to €1,269.00 per four-week period. A single person living in shared accommodation can receive up to €98.00 per week (€392.00 every 4 weeks) in rent supplement. Therefore house sharing in rented accommodation is quite common in Ireland among single people receiving welfare payments and single people on low pay.

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