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Factba.se: Australia DFAT Country Briefs - Ireland


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Ireland, also called the Republic of Ireland, has a population of almost 4.5 million. The country occupies 26 of the 32 counties that constitute the island on which it is located. The remaining six counties in North-East Ulster are part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Ireland was founded through the conclusion of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. The Constitution of 1937 and the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 severed Ireland's last formal links with the United Kingdom. Ireland remained neutral during the Second World War and does not belong to any military alliance. Ireland became a member of the United Nations in 1955 and joined what is now the European Union (EU) in 1973. Ireland will chair the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2012.

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Political system/structure

Ireland is a republic, with a system of parliamentary democracy. Under the Constitution, legislative power is vested in the Parliament (Oireachtas). This consists of a President (HE Michael D. Higgins), who is head of state; the Lower House (Dail); and the upper house (Seanad or Senate). The President and Senate have limited functions and powers. The Dail, consisting of 166 seats, is the primary legislative body, and it selects the Government. It is directly elected at least once every five years by a system of proportional representation. The Senate, which has 60 members, is elected through a system of electoral colleges and its periods of office correspond with those of the Dail. In Ireland, the Prime Minister is known as the Taoiseach (pronounced 'Tee-shock'). The next Presidential elections will be held in 2018. Parliamentary elections were held in February 2011.


At the February 2011 elections Fine Gael won the largest number of seats (76), and subsequently formed a coalition government with the Labour Party (37 seats). The former governing party, Fianna Fail, won only 20 seats, down from 81. In March 2011 Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, was elected Taoiseach. Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore, was appointed Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Major parties

The two main parties, Fianna Fail (http://www.fiannafail.ie/) and Fine Gael (http://www.finegael.ie/) , do not divide on a right/left basis on political, economic or social issues. Both are centre-right and have their roots in differing community attitudes to the 1921 Treaty of Independence (from the UK). Fine Gael represents the tradition that accepted the treaty as a stepping stone to an eventual republic of the whole island. Fianna Fail represents the tradition that rejected the treaty because the present six counties of Northern Ireland were excluded from the outset. These traditions are still reflected in slightly different approaches towards the Northern Ireland issue but there is bipartisan support for the current peace process and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (see below).

EU/European issues

Active participation in European Union policy-making is a priority for the Irish Government. Ireland joined the (then) European Community in 1973 and, through the frameworks of European Political Cooperation (EPC) and now the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), has sought to coordinate its foreign policy with other member states. Despite the strong support of the Irish Government, the Irish voted 'no' to the Lisbon (EU reform) Treaty in a referendum on 12 June 2008. A second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was held on 2 October 2009, and Irish voters supported the 'yes' vote by a margin of two to one, with 67.1 per cent of the electorate voting in favour of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, and 32.9 per cent against.

Northern Ireland Peace Process

In December 1999 the Westminster parliament devolved power to the Northern Ireland Assembly (http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/) and its Executive Committee of Ministers. The Northern Ireland Assembly was established as a result of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 10 April 1998. The Agreement was the outcome of a long process of talks between the political parties of Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments. The Belfast Agreement significantly reduced terrorist activity and delivered tangible, community-level benefits. Australia retains an interest in the promotion of reconciliation and reconstruction of the border areas of Ireland, through meetings of the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), where Australia is an observer. Australians continue to contribute to these processes through organisations such as the Australian Ireland Fund.

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In the 15 years to 2007 Ireland's GDP growth per capita was the fastest in the OECD. However, Ireland's economy quickly declined in 2008, with output contracting by about 10 per cent over 2008-09. Ireland's economy contracted by 0.4 per cent in 2010, however grew marginally by 0.4 per cent in 2011.Spending cuts and tax increases will need to be expanded for Ireland to reach its target of reducing fiscal deficit of 3 per cent of GDP by 2015. The Central Statistics Office Ireland reported unemployment of 14.2 per cent in 2011. This is an increase of 0.5 per cent from 2010.

In November 2010 the former Government reached agreement with the EU and IMF on a financial stabilisation package amounting to €85 billion. The EU contributed €45 billion, the IMF €22.5 billion and the Irish Government €17.5 billion. The agreement required robust action to reduce the large budget deficit including the implementation of austerity measures and financial and structural reforms. In Ireland's 2011 Budget, the Government implemented spending cuts and tax increases to address its budget deficit.

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Australia has had an Embassy in Dublin (http://www.ireland.embassy.gov.au) since 1946.

Australia and Ireland have a number of bilateral agreements (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/dfat/countries) covering areas such as taxation, social security, medical treatment for travellers and working holidays for young people. Australia and Ireland signed the bilateral social security agreement on 9 June 2005 to give improved social security protection to people who have lived and/or worked in both Australia and Ireland. The social security agreement also exempts Australian employers from the need to provide Irish social security support for Australian employees sent temporarily to work in Ireland, provided the employee remains covered in Australia, by compulsory superannuation arrangements. Further information is available on the Australian Taxation Office website (http://www.ato.gov.au/superprofessionals/content.asp?doc=/content/46340.htm) .

People to people links

The Irish were among the first settlers in Australia and contributed substantially to the development of contemporary Australian society. Irish migration has been almost continuous throughout the period of European settlement of Australia. The first 155 Irish convicts (from County Cork) arrived in Sydney in 1791. In addition to convicts, more than 300,000 other Irish settlers migrated to Australia between 1840 and 1914. In the 2006 census about 1.8 million Australians said they were of Irish background and 457,000 Australians indicated they had one or both parents born in Ireland.

There are approximately 80,000 holders of Irish passports who are permanent residents in Australia. The Working Holiday Maker scheme between Australia and Ireland has been very popular. Some thousands of young Irish people may be visiting Australia at any one time. In 2010-11, there were 76,432 Irish visitors to Australia. Although Ireland is not a major source country for international students (514 Irish students were enrolled in Australian institutions in 2010-11) both Governments are supportive of the development of the bilateral research relationship. The Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) has developed a relationship with its counterpart in Australia, the Academy for the Humanities. University College Dublin hosts the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History.

On 24 March 2010, former Irish President HE Mary McAleese visited the Gallipoli Peninsula, marking the first official recognition by the Republic of Ireland of those Irishmen who served in "British and ANZAC uniforms" during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. The President visited memorials at Cape Helles, the ANZAC Commemorative Site and Green Hill Cemetery, where she unveiled a commemorative plinth dedicated to the 10th (Irish) Division.

High level visits

High level visits and meetings are important in promoting cooperation and understanding between Australia and Ireland.

-- The Governor General, Ms Quentin Bryce met the former President of the Republic of Ireland, Ms Mary McAleese at the 150th Anniversary of Italian Unification held in Rome in June 2011.

-- The Minister for Trade, the Hon Dr Craig Emerson MP met the Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Eamon Gilmore TD at the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris on 25 May 2011.

-- The Irish Minister for Children, Ms Frances Fitzgerald attended St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Australia. Ms Fitzgerald met the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP and her Australian counterpart, the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, the Hon Peter Garrett MP.

-- The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, met former Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin TD, on 20 September at the 2010 UN General Assembly in New York.

-- An Australian Parliamentary delegation led by President of the Senate, the Hon John Hogg, visited Ireland 27 June – 3 July 2010. The delegation reviewed and strengthened relations with Ireland's Oireachtas (national parliament) and parliamentary counterparts.

-- The then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Stephen Smith MP, met Irish former Foreign Minister, Micheal Martin TD, on 3 May at the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York.

-- Former Irish Minister of State for Trade and Commerce, Billy Kelleher TD, visited Australia 12-23 March 2010, and 3-7 May 2010, accompanied by an Irish trade delegation.

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Ireland was Australia's 29th largest merchandise trading partner in 2010-11. Total merchandise exports to Ireland were valued at A$123 million and total merchandise imports were valued at A$2.177 billion over the same period. Major Australian exports include wine, medicaments (including veterinary), and electrical machinery and parts. Major imports from Ireland include medicaments (including veterinary), food items, and orthopaedic appliances.

Australia's services export trade to Ireland in 2010-11 was valued at A$414 million and our services import trade from Ireland in the same period was valued at A$883 million. Recreational travel remains the largest component of Australian service exports to Ireland. Intellectual property charges were a significant component of services imports in 2010-11.

Australia has significant investment links with Ireland. The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that in 2010 Ireland's investment in Australia was valued at A$3.0 billion. Of this, A$412 was foreign direct investment. Australia's investment in Ireland was valued at A$4.1 billion, of which A$633 million was foreign direct investment.

Harvey Norman continues to have the largest Australian retail presence in Ireland. Former Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, launched Macquarie Capital Europe's Dublin Branch, which is performing well, in September 2008. A number of Australian wine brands such as Wirra Wirra have established themselves in the Irish market.

Trade and investment strategies

The former Irish Government launched a new trade and investment strategy aimed at boosting exports, tourism and FDI by 2015. It aimed to do this by developing a stronger international reputation for Ireland in high growth markets and repositioning its reputation in existing markets, potentially generating 300,000 jobs. Cohesive, market specific strategies would be deployed combining economic, tourism and cultural identities.

Ireland's primary export destination is the European Union and this heavily influences Ireland's trade policy agenda. Ireland has benefited significantly from the Common Agricultural Policy, receiving guaranteed prices for its exports and free access to EU markets. However, following the support of the Irish Farmers Federation, Ireland did not oppose June 2003 reforms that introduced greater market orientation into EU farm production.

Though Ireland's trade policy is determined at the EU level, Ireland and Australia share many common objectives in international trade policy, such as liberalisation of services, e-commerce and provision of technical assistance to developing countries.

The Irish Government has renewed its interest in the economic possibilities of engaging to a greater degree with the Irish Diaspora (estimated to number 70 million worldwide), through a strategy progressively developed from the Global Irish Economic Forum (http://www.globalirishforum.ie) which was convened in Farmleigh in September 2009. The strategy focuses on promoting Irish culture and business abroad. A second Global Irish Economic Forum was held in October 2011. The aim of the forum is to engage with Irish Diaspora both to develop Ireland’s business and trade relations and promote Ireland’s international reputation.

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Last Updated: March 2012

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