Ireland has recently been nicknamed "The Celtic Tiger"
because of its rapid growth in the 1990s. The average standard of living in
Ireland is now higher than that in the United Kingdom.
Low tax rates and a highly skilled work force have attracted foreign investment, which has spurred industrial growth. Women are entering the work force in greater numbers every year and many Irish who were living abroad have returned to Ireland. Still, a large proportion of the Irish population is under the age of 25, so although the unemployment level is now lower than 5%, the number of young people looking for work is increasing.
The sectors that are currently expanding include
pharmaceuticals, telemarketing and the information technology industry.
Ireland also produces a wide range of manufactured goods, including
electrical machinery and equipment, computer software, processed foods
and beverages, chemical products, and clothing and textiles. More than
800 foreign firms employ close to half of all workers involved in
manufacturing. Another major source of income for the country is tourism.
Each year, more than two million people many of whom are of Irish descent
Almost a quarter of the work force is involved in food production and processing. Income in the farm sector has doubled since the 1970s. Most farms are still family-run. The country's most important agricultural products are livestock (mostly cattle and sheep) and dairy products. The thoroughbred industry is a thriving sector of the economy and Irish-bred horses are world-renowned. Ireland also exports oats, potatoes, barley, wheat, turnips and sugar beets.
Ireland is not rich in mineral resources, but
there are deposits of zinc, lead, silver and copper. Petroleum and
natural gas wells have been discovered off the southern coast, but
at present, the country must still import fuel to cover its needs.
Recently, windmills have been set up on the Atlantic coast to generate
The right to form associations and unions is protected in the Irish Constitution. Irish unions are considered among the strongest and most militant in the world. More than half of the working population belongs to a union. During periods of labour conflict, employers, unions and the government work together to establish recovery programs. Ireland's social welfare system provides unemployment benefits and family support for people with low incomes.