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Ireland is the Western of the two British Islands. The Emerald Island encompasses around 84,500km2, of which 70,282km2 form the Republic of Ireland while 14,139km2 are part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland or Ulster. The Northern, Western and Southern coast are surrounded by the Atlantic ocean and the Irish sea separates Ireland from Great Britain. The Irish coast extends over a length of 3,170km and no place on the island is further than 110km from the sea.
The landscape is shaped by central lowlands framed by mountain ranges with meandering rivers, forbidding bogs and many small lakes. The capital Dublin is located on the Eastern coast of the Ireland at the mouth of the river Liffey.
Historically, Ireland has long been divided into four main provinces - Leinster in the East and Southeast, Munster in the South and Southwest, Connacht in West and Northwest and Ulster in the North and Northwest. The provinces are further separated into 32 counties.
The river Shannon is the longest river in Ireland, which flows over 465km from Co Cavan in Southern Ulster to Limerick in Northern Munster, before opening into the Shannon estuary and the Atlantic ocean.
Ireland is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system of government, prime minister and president. The president is the highest representative of the state and has mainly ceremonial responsibilities with limited executive powers. The government is headed by the prime minister (taoiseach), who forms the government together with the “tanaiste” (vice chancellor) and the department ministers. The “dail” (commons) nominates the prime minister who in turn nominates the ministers. The dail forms the parliament (Oireachtas) together with the president and the senate (Senead Eireann).
The local government act in 2001 lay the foundation for double layers administrative structure. 29 county council and lower town councils look after regional and local issues including infrastructure or planning.
Once known as the poor house of Europe, Ireland joined the EG in 1973 and the event of a single market in the 1990s has encouraged many companies to privatize and to become more competitive. In combination with a low corporation tax rate of 12,5% that attracted foreign investment, Ireland saw rapid economic growth which was twice the rate than that of other EU member states and low unemployment rates in the later 1990s. The economic boom was often labeled as “Celtic Tiger”. As the investment fueled growth slowed down in 2001, the political leadership turned to banking and the construction sector with the aim to maintain growth. The bubble burst in 2008 and collapse followed, leading to deep economic recession and to Ireland being bailed out by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Ireland exited the bailout in 2013 and showed signs of recovery since 2014.
Agriculture continues to play a major role in Irish economy and most of the agricultural land is used as pastures or for growing hay. The mild climate allows stock to graze all year on rich grasslands and the production of beef and dairy dominates the midlands and south of the country. Sheep herding is widespread in the rugged hills and mountain slopes while cereal is grown in the East. The majority of the agricultural output consists of beef, dairy, pigs, cereals, poultry and eggs, sheep and wool, beets and potatoes. Some of the most extensive fishing grounds can be found off Ireland’s shores. Ireland is not rich in mineral resources and the country depends on energy imports to meet its requirements. Much of Ireland’s energy potential comes from renewable sources like wave and wind energy development.
Since the 1970s, computer and software equipment and international financial and other services have become important economic sectors, offering attractive conditions to multinationals like microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard and later google or facebook.
Ireland’s chief trading partners are the US and UK, followed by other EU countries, Switzerland and China. Ireland is among the world’s leading exporters for computer software and electrical machinery, processed food, chemical products, beverages and clothing also play a role. Imports include machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food products and petroleum products.
Tourism’s value has increased since the 1950s with the establishment of the Irish Tourist Board. The US is the biggest source market, followed by the UK and other European countries and lately there has been growth in visitors from the Middle East and China.