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 visit Ireland.

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 energy.

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.

   Did you know?
Many of Ireland's glassworks, such as Waterford, were founded in the 18th century. The industry declined in the 19th century because of heavy taxes, restrictions on exports and the Potato Famine. In the 1940s, a group of Irish businessmen re-established several glass factories. By the 1980s, Waterford had become the world's largest producer of crystal.