Head of State: President Mary McAleese
Head of Government: Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
Foreign Minister: Brian Cowen
Area: 70,284 km2
Population: 3.74 million
Language: English, Irish (Gaeltacht)
Per capita: GDP € 27,322
GDP growth: 5.7% (2001)
Constitution - Domestic politics
Ireland is a parliamentary republic. The National Parliament consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives with 166 members and the Senate with 60 members. The head of state is the president, who is directly elected for a seven-year term and whose duties are largely ceremonial.
General elections are held at least once every five years using a form of proportional representation. Executive power is exercised by the cabinet, led by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president on the recommendation of the House of Representatives. Legislative power is vested exclusively in the Parliament.
After victory in May 2002 general elections, Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats agreed to continue their coalition government first formed in 1997.
Ireland has the fastest-growing economy of any country within the EU. Growth has exceeded both the EU and OECD average for more than a decade. The 'Irish miracle' of the 1990s is largely attributable to successful exploitation of foreign direct investment, low corporate taxation, political consensus on economic policy and a growing supply of skilled labour.
The Irish economy is mixed with a large, export-based agricultural sector and a largely foreign-owned manufacturing sector. Tourism and construction also make an important contribution. Industrial production is dominated by high technology products such as chemicals, computer hardware and software which are almost entirely destined for export markets.
Ireland has traditionally supported a high degree of European integration, but in a June 2001 referendum, Irish voters said No to the Nice Treaty. In a second referendum sixteen months, which contained a declaration on Irish neutrality, the vast majority of the electorate voted in favour of ratification, putting the process of EU enlargement back on track.
Since gaining independence in the 1920s, neutrality has been the accepted policy of Ireland in military matters. However, Ireland's contribution to the Headline Goals of the EU has signalled an acknowledgement of the need for a deeper security policy commitment. In November 1999, Ireland joined the Partnership for Peace. The country takes an active part in UN peacekeeping operations and participates in the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) and the Kosovo Force (KFOR).