Eire – the enchanted land known for shamrocks, Gaelick lyrics, stone fences, and mischievious leprechauns who hide pots of gold at the end of rainbows – claims millions of people nationally who are spread throughout the world. Celtic music pervades modern society while phrases such as “Kiss me, I’m Irish” dominate t-shirts and baseball caps. In reality this island country, known as Ireland, plays a subtle, yet key, role in foreign affairs today.
Ireland’s early history consists of invasions by Celtic tribes and Danes. When the English finally invaded the country in the 1100s, they set up a dominion, forcing the Irish peoples to serve as a slave-state for England’s benefit. After centuries of civil war and dividing factions which despised England’s rule, Ireland left the British Commonwealth in 1949 and formed her own free state (CIA). Northern Ireland remains under British control while the Republic of Ireland stays free under her own constitution. However, talks are currently being exchanged with hope of a peace settlement between the two halves of Ireland, because the Irish and British governments have formed the St. Andrews Agreement which builds on the Good Friday Agreement from 1998 (CIA).
Ireland’s political structure consists of a republic which has a bicameral parliament. Political turmoil throughout a struggle for freedom from Britain has characterized Ireland’s political history. The country went through two different constitutions in the early 1900s which finally resulted in complete independence from Britain in 1948 (Compton’s, 333-334). On April 18, 1949, the Republic of Ireland formally ceded from British protection; however, Northern Ireland has relinquished some of its independence to give Britain a voice in its politics (Compton’s, 333-334).
Irish Parliament under its constitution contains a bicameral house. The House of Representatives, named the Dail Eireann, has one hundred and sixty-six members who are elected every five years (Compton’s, 332). The Irish Senate, also called the Seanad Eireann, has sixty members who are nominated by the prime minister every five years (Compton’s, 332). While national government conducts its global affairs, twenty-seven county councils and five county boroughs have control over all local governments such as planning and taxing (Compton’s, 332-333). The Fianna Fail and the Fine Gail parties are the two major political parties while other minor parties are the Sinn Fein, Green, Labour, and Progressive Democrat.
The executive office of Ireland consists of a president and a prime minister. The Irish president is elected every seven years by the people, and the prime minister heads up a cabinet called “the government” (Compton’s, 332-333). Currently, Mary McAleese resides as president and Bertie Ahern as prime minister. In 1998, McAleese, “running as the candidate of Ireland’s most powerful party, Fianna Fail, captured a record-breaking 58.7 percent of the popular vote in a runoff election against Mary Banotti of the Fine Gael party” (Compton’s, 334). Under the past two presidents, Ireland has experienced unprecedented economic growth.
The two main organizations which Ireland holds membership with are the United Nations and the European Union. In 1955, Ireland became a member of the UN and has served as an active member ever since, even sitting on the Security Council twice, in 1962 and 1981-1982 (“Ireland in the World”). Ireland joined the European Union in 1973, but only recently adopted the euro as its national currency in 2002 (CIA). Although Ireland joined the UN and the EU, she has not become a member of the Group of 77. Other organizations which Ireland participates in are the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and various UN sub-groups like the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
While nuclear weapons are prevalent to today’s society, Ireland has not developed a nuclear program. Despite the lack of nuclear power, Ireland’s military strength remains strong. Ireland has over a million people serving in her military. One of the key jobs of the military is to put down terrorism by Northern Ireland’s Ulster Freedom Fighters which have recently ceased activity (Zalman). Ireland hopes to end all terrorist activities in Northern Ireland in order to safeguard her people.
Illegal drugs and land disputes plague Ireland. Currently cocaine, heroin, and drug-related money laundering form the key issues of illegal drugs which Ireland fights on a daily basis. The other global issue which afflicts Ireland is that the UK, Iceland, and Ireland argue Denmark’s assertion about the length of the Faroe Islands’ continental shelf (CIA). All four nations claim part of this ocean floor area, a matter which still has not been resolved.
Not only do these foreign issues encompass Ireland’s dominant issues, but also environmental concerns thrust themselves to the front. Water pollution remains Ireland’s number one issue since she relies so heavily upon her fishing industry; however, some of the other environmental problems include greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion, and waste disposal (Stapleton). Ireland follows the UN’s pursuit of environmental solutions by seeking reforestation and water cleansing. She also proposes to cut energy wastes and to use more hydro power to solve her pollution problems.
Ireland imports and exports a conglomeration of products. Most of her exports consist of dairy products, office machines, electrical machinery, live animals, nonmetallic minerals, packaged meat, textiles, and fabrics (Compton’s, 332). Ireland’s imports comprise of petroleum, automobiles and their parts, industrial machinery, clothing, and chemicals (Compton’s, 332). All of this importing and exporting created a boost for Ireland’s economy whose GDP in 2007 was $186.2 billion (U.S. Department of State). Not only did trade increase her GDP, but her PPP is also high at $191.6 billion (CIA). Ireland’s economy has made her the largest entrepreneur in Europe. Tourism has helped boost her GDP as well by comprising 6% of her economy. Travelers will come from around the world in hopes of catching sight of a leprechaun. Castles, historical monuments, and ancient churches along with the beautiful landscapes – all do their part in drawing tourists to the Emerald Isle.
Part of Ireland’s success economically lies in the trading partners which she has around the globe. The United Kingdom dominates trade with Ireland, but others such as the United States, France, and Germany do not trail too far behind (Compton’s, 331). Ireland also trades with Japan, Singapore, and the Netherlands (NEB, 1002).
Ireland’s people provide her with ethnic and political diversity. The official language of Ireland is Gaelic, although English is the primary language spoken in the cities. According to the 2006 census, 87.4% of Ireland’s population was Roman Catholic (CIA). Other key religions consist of the Church of Ireland and Christian denominations; both together form 5% of Ireland’s religion (CIA).
Not only is Ireland’s religion diverse, but her people are as well. In July 2008, Ireland had an estimated 4,156,119 million people living on the island country (CIA). The ethnic makeup of Ireland subsists of 87.4% Irish, 7.5% white of other nationalities, and other (CIA). The true Irish people hold strictly to heritage and are biased against newcomers.
One surprising element about Ireland’s population is the number of adults who form the largest part of the age pyramid. Only 21% of the nation’s population are under 14 and only 12% are over 65, thus leaving 76% of the population in the workforce (CIA). The majority of the country, with the exception of 4.6%, currently serves in the workforce; however, 7% of the population lives beneath the poverty level (CIA).
Irish ties with America remain strong through trade, economics, and missionaries. America is one of Ireland’s key trading partners and her relationship with America has consistently been strong throughout its history. While Ireland plays a subtle part in global politics and her name is not always the first heard in the news, Ireland does play a key role in British affairs which keeps her in the forefront of global policy.
American missionaries also help keep ties to Ireland for the United States. Christian camps, campus Bible studies, and Bible institutes run by missionaries have proved to be some of the best ways to reach the Irish young people. Various mission organizations have established churches; however, true fundamentalists are in the minority for planting churches. Most current missionaries in Ireland are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Pentecostals, and Presbyterians (Johnstone). Missionaries must fight for the hearts of the Irish people which remain caught up in centuries of superstitious rituals based on the beliefs of the Catholic Church.
Ireland – a land which continues to enchant tourists from around the world – pursues a subtle role currently in foreign affairs. This island nation has experienced monumental changes over the centuries but especially in the last couple of decades. The myth of the four-leaf clover continues to bless this beautiful land called appropriately, the Emerald Isle.
– Hannah S. Bowers
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